I posted a bit ago about how I trained for my first marathon and I wanted to take some time to finally share the race experience with you.
The Week Before:
In the process of looking up and researching tips, tricks, and advice for running your first marathon, I stumbled across a ‘warning’ of sorts. This ‘warning’ mentioned that runners may feel more anxiety and stress the week leading up to the race itself. You may begin to doubt your training and second guess the whole thing.
Add that to decrease in training from taper (ie: way more time on my hands than before) and it spelled a recipe for an anxious, stressed mess. The whole week before I was CERTAIN I wasn’t going to finish, I doubted all the months of training, and I was a short tempered grouch. Needless to say I was a hot mess.
Week Before Race Tips:
- Water. Drink all the water. I kept a half gallon water bottle with me and drank AT LEAST two of them a day.
- Try to get decent rest. You will feel restless, maybe anxious, or stressed but rest is important.
- Eat normal, well balanced meals. Eat like you trained. So if you weren’t downing a plate of pasta every other Friday night, no need to start now.
- Make a list of everything you need for race day. Then pack it all in its own bag (if you’re traveling for the race.
The Day Before:
The race I chose was the St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee. The race was scheduled for bright and early on Saturday so we arrived in Nashville early Friday morning. After getting lunch and checking into our hotel, we headed to the expo to check out that part of the city and pick up my race packet.
In previous half marathons I have completed I have only walked through the expo enough to get my packet and check parking info and then I leave. And while it is advised to avoid “expo-lingering”, I did spend a bit over an hour taking it all in. For some, a marathon might not be a big deal, but for me it was months of training, sacrifice, and time away from my littles. So I wanted to take it all in. Every. Single. Bit.
At one point in the expo, we were asking about parking, and an expo staff member asked if this was my first marathon and when I told him yes he smiled and said “No matter what, enjoy every second of it! You will never forget your first marathon!”
In that moment I vowed to do just that! No matter the outcome the next day, I was going to be present and joyful in each moment.
The race was set to begin at 7:15 so I wanted to get down to the starting line no later than 6:30. I was further back in the corrals but I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the area so I wanted to have plenty of time.
In the hotel room, in true mom-style, I shared a bed with little miss Ellery. I was paranoid I would get no sleep, so we wore them out and went to bed at 8 am. The stars aligned and Jesus shined on me because for the first time, like ever, Ellery slept through the night. I woke up at 5 am feeling like a goddess!
We dressed quickly, made breakfast to go, and were out the door! I was a nervous wreck, convinced we weren’t going to make it or that traffic would be a nightmare. BUT it was perfect. They wished me luck and dropped me off with a couple thousand other runners also heading to the start line.
After visiting gear check and using the facilities, I walked around and found my corral. I ended up having quite a bit of time so I sat on the curb and just took it all in. I couldn’t believe I was about to run TWENTY SIX miles!
Before I knew it, it was time to start moving! Being further back in the corrals, I knew I would walk a distance before reaching the starting line. I was surprised how quickly the waves went once they started.
One thing I was concerned about with this race was the weather. Up until the week before the race all my runs had been in unseasonably cold temps. Most of my runs took place in the snow and of course race day was projected to be a sunny 75-80 degrees. I had considered a hat, but since I hadn’t trained with one I decided against it. So I put on some sun screen and hoped for the best.
The start was mid-60s and cool. The crowd was amazing! So many people stopped and talked to me while we were moving forward to the start line. There is just something about the camaraderie of runners that makes my heart happy. It doesn’t matter if it is your first or 100th race, everyone will celebrate with you! The whole atmosphere ooozes joy and happiness.
Initially I hadn’t planned to listen to music because I wanted to take in the race, but somewhere around mile 3 I popped in my headphones and settled in, focusing only on the mile I was working on. I had trained for a 10:00-10:30 pace and was staying consistent around 10-10:15/mile. The course was true to its description of “rolling hills” but I was actually enjoying them!
One of my favorite parts of the whole race was the “Mile 5 party”. The fifth mile ran through a beautiful, older style neighborhood and the residents were out in the street celebrating with the runners. Libations were shared with some brave runners, music was playing, and cheers of good luck were given. It was so fun!
These 10 miles aren’t very memorable for me. I think I just settled in and pounded out the miles. I made sure to hydrate at all offered stations and was feeling really, better than anticipated. I was staying on or just slightly faster than pace and enjoying this race.
During this portion the half marathoners split off (I believe around mile 10?) and I experienced, for the first time, the seriousness of a marathon. Once the half-marathoners split, the fuel stations became more substantial with actual food (fruit), the aid tents were more ‘in-your-face’ with salts, electrolytes, sunscreen, and the crowds cheering you on were thinner. It became clear this is when mental toughness would need to take over.
I learned during this time, that I much rather prefer real food fuel to gels, bars, or beans. In this portion of the race I went against the sage advice of NOT trying new things on race day and decided to take the bananas and oranges on for fuel. Outside of being stickier than expected, I much preferred these sources. They didn’t upset my stomach and seemed to be absorbed faster. So bless you sweet people who were handing out chilled orange slices…you are angels!
During mile 15 I saw my people for the first time! Ellery was asleep in the stroller but Asher was awake and frantically waving at me! Blame it on being mentally and physically drained…but I shed a few tears seeing them there! I want my kids to be proud of their mom and they were a huge motivator for this race! I quietly dedicated many of the miles to them this race and it felt so perfect to see them!
Around mile 17 is when I hit “the wall”. During this portion we were running through an “in-and-out” route where I saw runners, coming “out” nearly 5 miles ahead of me. It was hot, I was sweaty, and there was hardly any shade!
Something about this portion just destroyed me mentally and I walked for the first time. Looking back, I don’t think it was physically needing to walk but more a mental break. My body felt decent but my mind was screaming “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?!” and frankly I was just kind of over it.
I probably seemed like a crazy person because during this time I played games with myself to get through the mental mud because I had to finish. I would tell myself I could only walk once I reached a certain point or distance on my Garmin. And I literally said out-loud, “Just get through mile __” to keep pushing through. And it worked! Despite feeling like garbage mentally and having to walk a handful of times, I made it over the wall!
Miles 20 to 26.2
Right around or shortly after mile 20 something clicked for me. In training the farthest I had run was 20 miles so each step I took after mile 20 was adding to my “longest run”. Something about that fact pushed me further.
We also headed into a park in this portion of the race. The area was beautiful and the tree coverage provided some much needed reprieve from the sunlight. It was in this portion that I realized I WAS going to finish. My mental outlook perked up immensely. I was moving better, smiling more, and overall feeling like a new fire had been lit.
As we came into the city again I knew we were getting close to the finish. As each mile marker came I had a renewed sense of energy. It was truly a strange experience because we all know I had depleted my energy stores.
I walked for the last time around mile 25 and for the last stretch I pushed through and crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 38 minutes!
I wondered if I would be emotional at the finish line. And I was a bit teary eyed, but not because of over-whelming pride or anything. I was so, indescribably happy that I had done it and it was finally OVER. All of it. The early runs, the long runs, the cold runs…it was all finally over.
How I felt after the finish can only be described as DEPLETED! I was in a good mood. I was so happy to see my family at the finish line. Asher and Ellery were pumped to eat my post-race goodies. And I wanted, more than anything, to change out of my sweaty clothes!
Looking back I really enjoyed the course. The race was well organized and well managed. The volunteer staff was amazing! I loved seeing the pride Nashville neighborhoods took in hosting the race.
I was worried I hadn’t adequately prepared for the ‘rolling hills’ but in truth I felt better after that race than I had after any of my training runs.
Going into this race I said I only ever needed to complete one. One and done I thought. Now that I am on this side of the race, I don’t know for sure if I will ever run another BUT I just might. If I do run another though it will be a long time from now. For now I think I will just focus on the half-marathon length.