I did it! I met my goal. Last Sunday, I completed the 26.2 with Donna, also known as the National Breast Cancer Marathon. I’m a marathoner!
Now, here’s probably where you’re expecting me to describe how gratifying and exhilarating the finish was. About the adrenaline and camaraderie and self-satisfaction that got me through those last few miles. And don’t get me wrong, I’m plenty proud of my accomplishment. But there’s a lot more to the story. My marathon experience was, in a word, BRUTAL. So let me share the ugly, beautiful, REAL truth about those 26.2 miles.
As you may recall, this was technically my second marathon, as I did a 26 mile training run with my group back in January. It was extremely difficult, especially those last few miles when I began experiencing severe pain in my right knee. But there were things that made it tolerable. We ran at a comfortable pace, and we stopped to rest for water and bathroom breaks. We stuck together as a group. We helped each other through the difficult moments. When I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the end, my amazing group leader stayed behind to run with me and encourage me to get to the finish line.
While I certainly expected race day to be different, I had no idea how very different it would be.
- The weather was fairly miserable – very cold and windy, especially during the portion of the course that was on the beach. We stood in a crowded pack at the starting line for about an hour before the start of the race. It was nearly impossible to do any kind of warm up, so we began running with cold bodies and cold muscles.
- I had trained at a 2.5:1 interval (meaning that we ran for 2.5 minutes and walked for 1 minute). If I had stuck with this pace, my approximate finish time would have been 4:45. I decided to play it “safe” and run with the 5:00 Galloway pace group, which ran at a 2:1 interval. But I knew almost immediately that this group would be way too fast for me. I practically had to jog to keep up with just the walk breaks. I stuck with this group for about the first 5 or 6 miles, but I just couldn’t maintain the pace.
- I’d made plans to run the marathon with some of my friends from my training group. But on race day, some of them made last minute decisions to run with faster pace groups. I decided to stick with the original plan and run with the 5:00 group, and one of my friends did run with me for about the first 6 miles – however, he was running the half marathon, and his course took him in a different direction about halfway through. So I ended up RUNNING ALONE FOR 20 MILES. Not fun, my friends. Not fun at all.
- I tried to limit my fluid intake on race morning. I had a cup of coffee and a bit of water in the morning, but drank almost nothing for two hours prior to starting the race. I also used the restroom twice before lining up. Still, I had to stop many, many times during my 26.2 mile run to use the restroom. I estimate that I made at least 7 bathroom stops. There were portable bathrooms throughout the course, and after the first 10 or so miles, none of them had a waiting line. Still, each stop added a couple of minutes onto my finish time – and every time I’d stop, I’d lose whatever pace group I’d been trying to keep up with.
- I ran with tons of food and drink and race day supplies, but it turned out that I would need hardly any of it. The water and Gatorade provided throughout the course were plenty. And there were so many GU (fuel) stops on the course that I didn’t need any of the food I’d brought with me. I could have left my cumbersome waist packs behind, which would have lightened my load and sped up my stops in the bathroom.
Now – with all that said, the fact remains that I am a marathoner! I finished in 5:34:44, a pretty respectable time for a first time marathoner, especially considering that my right knee was in terrible pain for the last hour or so. The crowd throughout the entire course was amazing! This marathon is a huge deal in my hometown, and tons of people came out to support us. And since I was running by myself, people were looking me right in the face and cheering for ME! I must say, that was pretty cool. My dad and my sister came from out of town to watch me run, and they were right there cheering for me at miles 9 and 17. Seeing them at mile 17 with a sign that said “Run, Sharon, Run” was absolutely one of the best moments of the race. And, of course, seeing them along with my husband and beautiful daughters at the finish line made it all worth it.
Will I do another marathon? Yes, I think so. But I’m going to give my body plenty of time to rest and recover. I’m going to focus on shorter races and improving my speed for a while. And I’m going to do my best to correct the things that went wrong during my first marathon so that next time I can run a smarter and more successful race.
Sharon is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a background in mental health, substance abuse, and child welfare.
“I tried my hand at being a work at home mom, but in 2009 I decided that being a stay at home mom is what works best for me and my family, at least for now. As my kids like to say, I’m “The Boss” of the family, which includes my husband of 9 years, two daughters (ages 4 and 6), and a giant goldfish named Princess Leia. My girls are beautiful and curious and wild and exhausting, and life is never, ever dull! I love reading, traveling, trying new restaurants, and shopping for bargains. I’m also training to run my first marathon in February 2013.”