I was so happy that I had made this ridiculous goal, carried through with it, didn’t quit, and now I was a marathon finisher!
The last time in my life that I enjoyed running was about nine years ago, when I ran my first half-marathon. I was a freshman in college and coming off of a year of high school cross country. I didn’t really consider going beyond the half-marathon at that point, and, not long after running the half-marathon, my runs became far and few in between. Eventually I got to the point where I gave it up completely…until six months ago, that is!
That’s when my sister, Bessie, ran her first marathon. I was so amazed at her accomplishment (she didn’t do just any marathon; she chose one of the most challenging marathons out there, The Equinox). I wanted to experience that feeling of setting and achieving a difficult goal myself. Additionally, I was really impatient. I knew of one marathon coming up in Baton Rouge—the Louisiana Marathon, in January. That gave me about four months to go from barely being able to run a mile to finishing 26.2 miles! If that sounds ridiculous, it is, and I quickly reset my goal to finishing the Louisiana Marathon Half as part of my training for the Rock n’ Roll New Orleans Full. This gave me about six months total to train. Still ridiculous, but slightly less ambitious.
Surprisingly, when I told Pete about my plan, he was all on board to do the marathon with me. Thank goodness he was, because I honestly don’t think I would have gone through with this without his company. We made a great team, encouraging each other along the way and holding each other accountable to finishing those long training runs.
Despite a few setbacks in training and an injured ankle for Pete, we completed the Louisiana Marathon (half) and had a blast. Well, I did, anyway. Pete’s ankle held him back quite a bit. But that was okay, because it was merely a training run for our eventual 26.2 miler! The half-marathon got me excited about races in general, since it had been years since I’d competed in a race. We continued with our training, working up to 18 miles for our last long run before the marathon (in hindsight, we should have done at least a 20 miler, but we both had borderline injuries by this point and didn’t want to take any chances). The weekend before the marathon we completed the Mardi Gras Mambo 10k, which was also a blast! And refreshing, too…a six miler felt like a walk in the park compared to our grueling long runs.
Marathon day itself was gorgeous. Temperatures climbed from the 40s to the 60s over the course of our run. Not a cloud in the sky (I have the awkward tan lines to prove it). The race began at 7am in downtown New Orleans. I felt great. I was so relieved that everything went smoothly up to that point (so many variables could have ruined the run for me—bad weather, an unsettled stomach, no sleep the night before). The only setback I encountered was the pacers didn’t show up. The marathon website had advertised pacers up until a few days before the race itself, and I found out just a day before the race that they wouldn’t be there. Disappointing, but not the end of the world.
As we moved up corrals one by one and took off at the start line we were in great shape. We felt strong through the entire first half, honestly, even beating our previous half-marathon time despite the fact that we were trying to hold back (cause, hello, 13.1 more miles to go!). The point where the marathoners veered off from the half-marathoners (just before the half-marathon finish) was a bit disheartening for me. It felt like 90% of the runners and cheering crowds just disappeared. Things got eerily quiet. And hard. I hung in there by making myself focus straight ahead and falling into a “trance”. This strategy was great for me because minutes would go by without thinking about the pain or how tired I was. The miles went by…14…15…16…but I was getting slower and slower.
At this point we had reached the Lakefront. I was excited to have reached another milestone, a change in scenery. However, there was no longer any shade at this point and the sun was relentless. Pete and I were mostly staying together, but occasionally one would fall behind the other, catching up again later. It didn’t matter, there wasn’t much to talk about other than whatever encouraging words we could muster. We kept trucking along, losing speed with each new mile. Lucky for us, we had a huge support team during this race. My family was amazing and did their best to track us along the course. Everytime we passed they would cheer, and we’d go for a round of high-fives. Just enough to lift our spirits and keep going!
Finally, we reached mile 20. This was make it or break it time. I had been looking forward to this point all throughout training, because I knew that final 10k was going to be the hardest thing I’d done. I saved a Girl Talk album just for the occasion, since I consider it my most motivational running album on my iPhone. I told Pete, “Let’s just pretend we were doing a warmup all this time, and now the real race is starting!” He looked at me like I was crazy. And, it turns out I was. My initial burst of energy was quickly stifled by the return trip over a huge bridge we had crossed earlier. And then, just plain exhaustion. This is the point where I wondered why we didn’t do more long training runs…you know, like over 18 miles? Yes, next time I will be more prepared. This time, I just need to finish. That was the longest six miles I’ve ever run (no, literally, the longest, slowest, running I’ve ever done). Around mile 25 I entered City Park, wondering where the finish line is, please let me see a finish line soon! This, too, was a long and slow mile that seemed like it was never going to end. And then, mile 26. .2 miles to go! Finally, the finish line was in view. I crossed it, trying to “sprint” the way I would normally finish a race, but my legs were jelly. Crossing the finish line was one of the best feelings I’ve ever encountered. I was so happy that I had made this ridiculous goal, carried through with it, didn’t quit, and now I was a marathon finisher!
It wasn’t pretty, but I’d say after two days of barely being able to walk my muscles were feeling a lot better. I attribute the relatively quick recovery to two ice baths following the run (which I never thought I’d be brave enough to do to myself…it’s amazing what pain will motivate us to do!). One week later I feel great. We did our first run since the marathon yesterday and took Nico along. It feels good to finally be able to just focus on shorter runs and start improving our pace. Our goal the past six months has been all about going long distances, so my next goal will be to start setting some PR’s in 5ks and 10ks. We’re also planning to run the Louisiana Marathon (half) next year.
As for another marathon? Don’t hold your breath!