The majority of this post was completed from my iPhone on Monday’s plane ride home because I didn’t want to forget all the little details. I’ve waited a little bit to post it though because I wanted some more time to digest the race. I don’t know about anyone else, but my immediate and initial reaction to a race is usually a lot different than 3-4 days later and the last thing I wanted to do was forget parts in between. Unfortunately, that means I have a lot to say. Some is for me only; I want to remember what I struggled with and what worked well, but the rest I hope helps somebody else!
I already wrote a brief recap, but to sum that up in three words: I did it. I ran a marathon. I’m a marathoner. It still hasn’t totally sunk in, though it crept up a few times during the race itself. “Hey,” I said to Laura after a couple miles. “We’re running a marathon.” Around mile 8, I thought about it to myself again and the tears started to well up. No, way too early to lose your shit, Brittany! Finally within the last two miles, it happened again but between all the other things my body was experiencing, adding “bawling like an idiot for 20 minutes” was not what I wanted to do. I held it together and when I finished, I might have cried if I wasn’t puking on the side instead.
One thing I know about the weekend that won’t change is it left me exhausted. To be honest, exhausted doesn’t even begin to cover it. Some of the 26 Strong group might attribute that to the “partying” us New Yorkers did (hey, we have fun!) but it was a jam packed weekend and over 4 hours of running will certainly do that.
I went to bed somewhat early on Saturday night after ordering in pizza with Laura and her Mom. After setting up my entire morning (Gen UCAN mixed in the fridge, bagel with cream cheese set to go, and all my race gear put in one spot), I started to open the cards a few people gave me to read on the night before the race. I was already an emotional mess! Between the messages on facebook, the texts I received and everything else it made me nervous that I’d hold myself together the next morning.
Despite some weird stress induced dreams, I slept really well. I was fortunate to not feel nervous at any point, too. I like to attribute that to having a wonderful team of people with Saucony and Competitor Running who took care of everything but also a coach who prepared me to get to that finish.
Before meeting with the group at 5:30am, I ate half a stale bagel from the prior day’s breakfast with cream cheese and brought my cold Gen UCAN in a disposable water bottle. I’ve found that keeping it mixed overnight in the fridge helps keep it from being chalky. A little after 5:30 we walked together as a team to The Bean for a last minute photo before going our separate ways.
Fortunately, Laura and I navigated pre-race rather effortlessly. The security line was easy enough, though it did take 10 minutes, gear check was quick once you walked to it (another 10 minutes), and the bathroom lines weren’t too awful for being one of the Majors (at least I didn’t think so). By the time we moved into our corral, I’d say we spent about 35-40 minutes getting through all the processes.
It was chilly at the start and thankfully Laura brought long sleeve throwaways for us. We were in the corral stretching and I kept trying to warm up my frozen hands. The corral wasn’t jam packed like some smaller races I’ve done, so clearly the marathon organizers did something right. It took about 12 minutes for us to cross the starting line and we were off.
Miles 1 – 6 (average 9:37/mile)
These miles had the essential goal of “don’t screw up”, with a little more colorful language. Adrenaline was pumping, weather was beautiful (albeit warm in the corrals) and the crowd was roaring but all I could think about was keeping it controlled. Laura and I discussed a pacing strategy of maintaining close to 10:00 pace for the first six miles and then go from there into the next “chunk” of time.
My initial goal for the marathon (prior to the foot mishap) was to finish sub 4, which I still think I’m capable of with this level of fitness, but more on that another day. I opted to start much slower than 4 hour time due to that extra long taper and to ensure I wasn’t going to totally blow up at the finish.
I had my Garmin on but the actual pace feature was useless because of the buildings. Thankfully, a kind tip from Allison at Inverted Sneakers made me aware of this weeks before going into the marathon and I was prepared. We didn’t bother running tangents because it probably would have been more effort than it was worth given the amount of people running near me.
We started to drop pace again and I continually had to remind myself to stay calm, but my breathing felt good, I wasn’t really sweating. I’m an awful judge of my own goals and we were being consistent so I just let it go, remembering the last true goal race I did in 2013. I was aiming for about a 5 minute half marathon PR (1:57 to 1:50-1:52) but my early pace was flying and felt good so I ran with it (literally) and got a 15 minute PR (1:42)… so as much as I think I know what my body is capable of, I’m really bad at knowing it.
Miles 7 – 12 (average 9:15/mile)
These miles continued to fly by and as each marker approached, I kept saying out loud things like, “this mile already?!” but I honestly felt that way. I only hoped the rest of the run was going to continue feeling like this.
The crowd support never really dwindled here. It may have thinned out and people weren’t cheering 24/7 but they were engaged. We passed by some DJs who were rocking the tunes so we danced and sang, continuing to act like fools. We yelled “Go Bills” to a few football fans (didn’t elicit much reaction) and enjoyed every moment. Hey, I was running my first marathon. I knew there would be terrible miles ahead so I wanted to enjoy each and every moment while I could.
There were a couple tiny uphills and downhills throughout here, so I tried to pick up the pace a little and change my stride while I had the opportunity. I felt my hip being tight but I knew that once I stopped for it, it’d become a constant so I put it out of my head.
Miles 13 – 18 (average 9:39/mile)
We hit the half marathon point around 2:04. I was still feeling great! Since I had been fighting the pee urge I had at the start (I went beforehand, but I was super hydrated!) I had to stop around mile 14 to use the bathroom. I hurried up, hoping I could find the pep in my step quickly after stopping. After a short hip stretch, I carried on. Impressively, that stop only took an extra 90 seconds, if that, for mile 14.
I hung on for another two miles before my hip was starting to affect my stride. Here we go, I thought. I told Laura that after this next aide station, we’d pull to the side and stretch. She agreed. It was a quick stretch and helped immensely but as expected, it started my demise.
I was still focusing on the bright side as much as I could. Little things like knowing I only had single digit miles to run until the finish was awesome, but it was daunting at the same time. My spirits were dwindling and though my fueling was on point throughout the race, the sun was starting to take its toll.
We kept pushing through, but around mile 18 things got a little dark. I stopped talking. I didn’t care about the dogs we were passing, though Laura kept pointing them out. I knew she was trying to bring my head back in the game, but I was starting to check out. Each mile marker came and we pulled to the side to stretch. It was only 20-30 seconds each time but I needed it. It was the mental chunks I was taking to break the race apart into manageable pieces. I still felt strong and focused, but I was on the verge of being like “Okay, this race is long enough.”
Miles 19 – 21 (average 10:44/mile)
I kept telling myself I could hold onto a 10:00 pace and finish in an hour. I knew I could. Yes, my hip hurt. Yes, it was hot. Yes, my concentration was weaning and my head felt out of it, but I had it in me to actually run to the finish. The problem was that we started to walk through water stops and it felt great.
Once you allow yourself to walk in any workout or race, your mind thinks it’s okay. I don’t want to say walking is not okay because it is! For me though, I was capable of running this marathon. My legs weren’t dying. My lungs weren’t on fire. Mentally, I was just sick of doing it. I just wanted to be done. I was thirsty and I used whatever excuse I could muster to get around running consistently.
I opted to use the heat as my excuse. Trust me, it was a factor; I sucked at every run this summer in the heat, but it was more of a mental issue than physical all summer and on Sunday. It was my crutch and obviously, was an easy out for those last six miles. I had a run once this summer where I bonked in the heat and was actually nervous because I’ve had an experience with heatstroke once in my life previously. Unfortunately, I let the fear get the best of me, especially on Sunday.
I was hot and I was dehydrated so I started to take in more Gatorade and water. This led to a lot of sugar and a lot of liquids. We took walk breaks of about a minute at a time but each time I stopped, I verbally picked a spot to start running again. I needed somebody to know this is where we start again and make me do it.
Miles 22-26 (average 11:32/mile)
We just continued with our theme of walk through the water stops, then start running for a few minutes at a slow pace, then walk again. I got to a point where I didn’t want to walk anymore, I just wanted to pull to the side and trot slowly. I wanted to get to the finish and drink my beer! As we’d do this, every so often I’d get a feeling like I’ve had just before my ears get buzzy and my eyes go black, so I’d walk. Then we’d start running again and all the extra Gatorade I’d be taking in would threaten to come right back up. It was somewhat of a no-win situation to the finish as far as running. I started tossing cups of water down my back to cool down, but really it wasn’t doing much.
The funny thing (looking back) is how my hip magically stopped hurting in those last six miles. My mind was entirely focused on not vomiting and not passing out. I just imagined how I’d feel if I passed out and couldn’t finish the race, which unfortunately stuck me in that whole “walk/run” phase. Laura kept trying to encourage me to pick up the pace and run it in, but I just wasn’t having it. I tried a couple times, especially after seeing some friends near the finish, but my stomach was ensuring that I didn’t push it until the very. last. minute.
I saw 800m to go and I said to Laura, “I’m going to the finish!” thinking it’d be like two minutes away. Oh hey marathon brain, you can’t do math. You’re not finishing in two minutes. As soon as I took off I realized I was not sprinting that far. I slowed back down. “Too soon, too soon.” I think Laura gave a little chuckle and said it was okay, we were still really close. I knew seeing the finish was going to be the visual I needed.
The Final Kick
I saw 400m left and I started to pick it up. I heard the crowd but I didn’t really hear the crowd. I was so in my own head that I realized I hadn’t been digesting everything I was truly hearing, so it didn’t even affect me. I didn’t get that “OMG finish is here!” feeling I often get during races. Again, 400m was instantly too soon to pick it up no matter how many times I thought about my track workouts and how short that really was.
But then we turned the corner and I could see the finish. I saw a line down the left hand side and I just took off without warning. The previous 4 hours and 19 minutes I made sure Laura knew what I was planning, but this time… I just went for it. Fortunately she noticed and dodged people like it was nothing to be next to me.
As we got to the finish, I felt all the Gatorade. You know how I kept saying every time I tried to pick it up before that it was just a little too soon? I found out just how close I was cutting it when I finished. In fact, I think I ran a little quicker to make sure I made it past the timing mats and was able to pull to the side and promptly hurl every last ounce of Gatorade onto pavement. Laura patted my back, “YOU DID IT!” and a concerned volunteer came over, “Are you okay?” I’m fine, it’s just Gatorade. No really, that’s not a lie. It tasted the same going down as it did coming up.
And just like that, the slow walk to water, beer, my medal, our Bills gear, and Mom (okay, it was Laura’s Mom, but she gave me Mom hugs just the same) began.
I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little disappointed I didn’t run the full 26.2 miles because after finishing, I felt like I wussed out a bit, and even after a week of reflecting, I still think it was possible. I didn’t slow down because I bonked or I was injured, but I let the mental part of the marathon get to me. Laura called it a bit of “self preservation” and I kind of liked that terminology. I probably wasn’t going to pass out in the heat, but I wasn’t willing to find out.
I don’t think I started out too fast, I fueled consistently and appropriately for the race I was trying to run, I just let the mental part get to me. I think if that’s the worst that happened in my first marathon, I’ll take it. It’s hard to prepare for the mental part of 4+ hours of running when you’ve never done it. You can read all the tips and tricks you want, but until you’re faced with what your mind is going to do, you’re kind of stuck hoping for the best. At least for the next one (yes, you read that right) I know what to expect of my body and mind, so I’ll find a good strategy to employ on race day that’ll hopefully work for me.
[Want to read more about Saucony 26 Strong and my road to the Chicago Marathon? Posts are all linked here!]