I’m going to apologize right off the bat for the fact that this picture right here is the only one that will be in this post. One reason for this is that I don’t have many pictures to post. I brought my camera with me when I left for Philly, but since my fiancé, Nat, never made it to the City of Brotherly Love, I didn’t have anyone to give it to before the race. So it ended up sitting in my purse. Another reason for this is I’m feeling lazy tonight. Sorry 😦
Anyway, on to the interesting stuff, right? I already told you all about my horrific experience with Megabus, the end result of which was Nat not making it to Philadelphia to see me race. This just means he’ll have to be there next time, and every subsequent time. Luckily, my friend Mike was running the half-marathon, and both my sisters, along with my older sister’s entire family, and my mother were coming to the race to cheer me on. My mother, older sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew got up around the same time I did so that they could drive up from Maryland and get to the race in time to see me and Mike at the halfway point (or the finish line for Mike), and my younger sister stayed up all night (long story) so she could get off work early to come. My family doesn’t mess around when it comes to cheering me on at marathons, and I love them for it!
Since I’ve already talked about a lot of the details related to how the race was organized, the course, etc., I’m just going to focus here on my personal experience.
The race started early–7 a.m.–and I was in a pretty good mood considering everything that had been going on leading up to the race. I was planning to run with Mike for the half since it was his first race and I wanted to see it through with him. I made the mistake I usually make, though, and I went out too fast. Around mile 7, as we were getting to our first hill, Mike and I got separated. I was disappointed, since, like I said, I was hoping to run with him to the finish line, but some things can’t be helped, I guess. I continued on my merry way, and felt really good until I got to mile 12. At that point the course runs along the highway on one side and the river on the other. We were running directly into the sun and even though it wasn’t hot, I found this to be really draining. I’d felt so strong up until that point, both mentally and physically, but all of a sudden I started having doubts. I was approaching the halfway point and started toying with the idea that I could just run a half-marathon and be done with it. It was hard to push that thought out of my head as I continued toward the art museum, but I told myself I’d be seeing my cheering squad pretty soon and that I’d feel better after that.
I don’t know what happened, but no one was at the halfway point cheering for me! I looked all over the place trying to find a familiar face, but I didn’t see anybody. I found out later that because the course had changed from previous years, my family had a little trouble finding a place to position themselves so that they could cheer for both me and Mike. They ended up seeing Mike and cheering for him, which I was happy about because like I said, he was finishing his first race, and that’s something worth cheering for! I was kind of down about not seeing anyone, but that feeling quickly wore off and I caught a second wind. By the time I hit mile 14, I felt really good.
The next 8 miles were pretty uneventful. As I ran along, I realized how much I love running the marathon. There’s something about the feeling you have while you’re doing it that is unlike anything else. Well, for me, anyway. It’s a combination of a sense of accomplishment and a sense of wonder at what your body is capable of doing. As much as it hurts, and in spite of all the ups and downs, it’s really easy to understand what brings people back to it over and over again.
And then I hit mile 22, also known as the wall. Hitting the wall is not fun. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never had a really bad experience with it–even this time around it wasn’t terrible. Mostly I felt emotionally exhausted. It was like everything started weighing on me: the fact that Nat wouldn’t be at the finish line, all the stress I’d experienced just trying to get to Philadelphia, the trouble Nat is having trying to find money to pay for his last semester of school, how unhappy I am in my job, how I don’t even know where we’ll be living or what we’ll be doing once January (and the new semester) rolls around. It all just came down on my shoulders and made itself comfortable. I felt heavy and tired and my attitude changed entirely. Before, the positive thoughts had been coming pretty easily. All of a sudden, I was struggling to keep myself believe that I could make it to the end of the race. 4.2 miles seemed like an interminable distance.
Even though I felt like I was getting nowhere, I also refused to give up. I knew how close I was to finishing, and how hard I’d worked to get to that finish line, and how much I’d worried about whether or not I’d be able to do it. I knew, deep down, that I had it in me. I was just going to have to push past everything going on in my head and dig as deep as I could. So I did. First, I gave myself a break and let myself walk. I walked 3 or 4 times and spaced it out so that I didn’t walk more than .1 mile every mile. Second, I focused on the fact that I was going to see my family soon. Third, I thought about how much I really loved what I was doing and how great I would feel once I’d finished. I never managed to shake off the feeling that I was barely moving, but I did make it across the finish line.
As I walked through the finishers’ chute, my older sister called to me from the sidelines. She was standing right next to a place where the make-shift fence they put up had been opened to let people through. I slipped through the gap to get to her and immediately burst into tears as she hugged me. This was the hardest marathon I’d ever run for so many reasons, and I’d been doing all I could to stop those tears for nearly five miles. I felt a little bad that this was how I greeted my sister, but she was very understanding! Mike appeared out of nowhere and they led me to the rest of my family.
As I’ve said before, I didn’t really have a goal for this marathon. I finished in 4:26 (my Garmin shows the course as 26.42 miles, and my time when it hit 26.2 was 4:24), which is faster than my first marathon, and which I’m proud of. Up until mile 22 (and for a bit ten miles earlier), I really felt great. I realized that I’m physically a lot stronger than I thought I was. I also realized that I’m mentally a lot stronger than I thought I was. I’m glad I was able to push through without breaking down or giving up, which is something I might have done at one time in my life. Now, I’m excited to move forward and see where I can go with my running. I’m hoping to set some goals for my next marathon, and race a few half-marathons to get ready. It’s more than likely that the next time I run 26.2 miles will be at MCM in October 2011, but I’m already looking forward to it!