“Pain in the back, pain in the knees, pain in the feet… but I knew nothing would hurt worse than the pain of giving up.”

A week later, I guess it’s about time I got down to that marathon recap, eh? Okay, here we go, a Rocket City Marathon race report:

I and almost everyone I knew that was running the race had spent the entire week leading up to the race fretting about the weather. The forecast was 100% chance of rain and cold temps. When we awoke, the sound of pouring rain greeted us. I felt a small amount of dread beginning to creep up, and I actively tried my hardest to stay positive. “You’ve run in the rain before,” I told myself, “A little rain isn’t going to stop you from running this marathon.” Because of the weather, I was a little unsure of what to wear. I finally settled on an outfit that would be warm, but with easily removable layers in case I heated up.

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(All photos with a WRH watermark are credited to Gregg Gelmis of We Run Huntsville)

Our pre-race routine was the same: using the bathroom, eating breakfast, slathering body glide, filling water bottles, and packing gels. Soon enough, we were on our way to the race start. The rain had lessened slightly, but it was enough to get pretty wet in, so we immediately darted into the hotel that serves as the marathon headquarters. Inside, the atmosphere was electric. Racers and their families were crowded elbow to elbow in the lobby and eating areas, everyone talking loudly in excited voices. Our marathon group had a room reserved that we could all meet in for a pre-race pep talk, so we headed that way, saying hello to familiar faces along the way. We chatted with our training group friends about our goals, wished for the rain to stop, and in what seemed like too short a time, we were being summoned to the starting line.

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As we all crowded behind the start line, the rain slowed and was barely a drizzle. That lifted my spirits considerably, and I started to get excited. We found our way to the 5:10 pace group and stood with them, excitedly chatting with friends and trying to contain our nervous energy. After the singing of the national anthem and a few words about the history of the race, the gun shot rang out and we were off!

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As we passed all the people lined up on the sides near the start, I tried to take everything in. One of my running mentors reminded me to do this, actively try to appreciate everything, because you only run your first marathon once. For the first of many times that day, I was filled with emotion. Nervousness, excitement, and just plain running joy bubbled up inside me and I let out a loud whoop– we were really doing it! MARATHONING!

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I started off the race being chilled, but handed off my pull over to my sister, Roo, at mile 3.5, and kept my gloves and neck gaiter until later in the race. We stayed just behind the pacers, and enjoyed the historical neighborhoods that the first few miles looped through. I felt strong and happy, and I remember feeling like the miles were flying by.

Much of the beginning miles passed by uneventfully. I continued to feel great and was just trying to enjoy the race. At about mile 10 we began running down my least favorite part of the course– a long uneventful road that goes in a complete straight line for 5 miles. Strangely, it was at this point that I started feeling GREAT. I sped up slightly and left mom behind. We passed numerous entertaining cheer groups, a couple of which were handing out beer, and my spirits were high. The only problem was that I had to use the bathroom– but I didn’t want to stop because I had such a good groove going.

Around mile 14 I felt a change happen– slowly I started to feel fatigued and various parts of my body had a dull ache. By mile 15 I saw Roo again, picked up my iPod, and handed off my gloves. I walked to eat some chews and situate my iPod, and realized I could NOT wait any longer to use the bathroom. About a mile later I found a porta potty and stepped in– there was poop all over the floor… ugh. I did my business and went to pull my tights up, which were damp from the rain and my sweat. I could barely get them up, and as I pulled on my waistband my triceps suddenly cramped up and I gasped in pain. I started to hysterically laugh at myself– stuck in a nasty porta potty, struggling to pull my pants up, and still over 10 miles to go.

Aside from the porta potty incident, miles 15 through 20 passed uneventfully. My iPod was definitely helping to perk me back up mentally, but my body still felt very tired; my feet and lower back aching the most. During mile 18 I listened to Katy Perry’s Roar on repeat, during mile 19 I listened to Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger on repeat, and during mile 20 I listened to I’ll Make a Man Out of You from the Mulan soundtrack on repeat. During those miles I passed by a cheering group holding signs that had one of my favorite bible verses (also the tagline on my blog) on them:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with endurance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith

Upon reading that, tears started to fill my eyes. I had no idea why I was feeling so emotional– perhaps just from being so tired– but I couldn’t stop the few tears from rolling down my cheeks. The people holding the signs looked at my sympathetically and yelled out encouraging words.

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At mile 20 I caught up with a group of runners that were doing 5 – 1 intervals– running for 5 minutes, walking for 1 minute. At this point I was taking occasional walk breaks, so I figured that sticking with them would help keep me on pace and away from the temptation to walk super slowly for a long period of time. I listened as they all chatted and tried to just focus on continual forward motion. The main thing that was keeping my spirits up was the knowledge that I’d have my friend, Tristan, meeting me at mile 23 to run the final miles with me. At mile 22 I saw two of my aunts and one uncle– Leigh Ann, Lita, and Mike. I was not expecting to see them at all so the sight of their smiling faces brought up another wave of emotion in me. I heard them cheering for me, although now I can’t remember what they said, and I tried to hold back the tears.

Finally I turned a corner at the start of 23 and I heard Tristan’s voice– I cannot describe with words just how happy I was to see her. We walked for a moment and then she gently coached me back into running. I asked her to tell me stories– about her family, her boyfriend, whatever, anything to keep my mind off of how tired I was. I was so happy to be running beside someone who was upbeat and not halfway dead (as I and all the other racers around me felt). Finally we turned the corner to run the last .2 miles. I was greeted with the most glorious sight I have ever seen in my life: beneath a gigantic American flag suspended by a crane was the finish line. For the third time that day I teared up, only this time I couldn’t hold them back… I was doing the full blown UGLY CRY. On the way there I saw one of my dear running friends, Kim, who had already finished the race and was holding a special sign and cheering for me. Next I saw Scott, wearing his finishers cap and wrapped in a foil blanket, with a giant smile on his face. Last I saw my aunts and uncle, Scott’s parents, and my brother and sister in law– all cheering I suppose but I couldn’t hear anything other than my thoughts of “OH MY GOSH I DID IT.”

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After crossing, I walked straight into the arms of a couple of my dear running friends, Marty and Carol. I was still doing the ugly cry, and as they wrapped me in my foil blanket and put my medal around my neck they asked, “Are you okay? Do you need medical attention? Or are you just emotional?” I nodded my head and tried to explain that I was just crying because I was happy, but I’m pretty sure it all came out as incoherent babble.

Shortly after that, I saw Scott coming through the gates and into the finish area. He gave me a huge hug and I cried some more. I was extremely happy and extremely tired. The longer I stood still the worse I felt, so after saying hello to friends and family members that came to cheer, I asked Scott to take me back to the place he was cheering from so I could sit down, drink some Coke, and wait for mom to come in.

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As we waited for mom I kept feeling worse and worse– I started to feel disoriented and dizzy, and knew I probably needed something to eat. After mom crossed the finish line I followed her inside the hotel and found some warm soup and crackers. Eating that made me feel much better, and shortly after that we left to get lunch.

My final finish time was 5:22:50. A little slower than I had originally anticipated– but I’m not sad about it at all. I mean… I DID IT. I RAN A MARATHON. When we first started training, I had so many doubts… Several times along the way, especially while I was dealing with my resurfacing injury, I asked myself, “Why in the world did I ever think I could run a marathon, anyway?” But through all the pain, frustration, and hard times, I never gave up– questioned, but never quit. When the long runs got tough, I got tougher. I might be slower than the average run-blogger, but I can still cover those miles on my own two feet.

Rocket City Marathon– you are the first of many. 🙂

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