I literally walked through my front door no more than 10 minutes ago, but I’m already in front of the computer, anxious to get my thoughts down in writing before other distractions take hold or this beaming smile fades from my face. This past weekend feels like a dream, as all particularly sweet occasions have a tendency to do. It was every bit as perfect as I’d hoped… it just transpired too quickly. Instead of eagerly counting down the miles as I ran the marathon course, I actually prayed for time to slow down, for miles to pass less quickly in order to savor the enjoyment. So needless to say, that will not be my last marathon. Right now, I am overflowing with love for the sport… love for all of mankind… and I just hope I’ll be able to return to these memories like a box filled with secret treasures whenever my spirits need to be lifted. As for all virgin marathoners, this was an extraordinary experience… and as a result, it merits an extraordinarily long and sentimental blog post, so please bear with me. Or skip it. Whichever you prefer.
Going into the weekend, I felt extraordinarily strong, confident, and well-prepared, not just because of my (mostly) diligent training but because of the overwhelming outpouring of support from my friends and family. Nothing compares to coming home after a rough day at the office to a care package from my best friend Katie with an inspiring note and a silver running necklace. Except another care package from Katie with another inspiring note and Gangnam Style socks. Or arriving to my hotel room in Disney to a bouquet of flowers from Katie and Karen. I could never achieve my dreams without the support of the incredible people in my life and I am forever indebted to you all for running alongside me (metaphorically) on this journey. As far as training goes, trust the taper, as they say. Tame the crazy. By Saturday night, I was desperately craving a run like a fiend. My parents and I had to sprint no more than 50 yards to catch a bus from the pasta party to our hotel, and that fleeting burst of exertion filled me with such joy. You could not wipe the smile off my face. I just love to run.
The biggest variable this weekend was the weather. The minute I stepped off the plane on Friday night, the heat and humidity hit me like a wall despite the face that it was 8pm. I had trained in cold, dry, windy conditions and was suddenly panic-stricken by my body’s reaction to the Orlando weather. Nothing I could do about it, though, so aside from regulating my water and salt intake, I attempted to push these concerns to the back of my mind. The forecast for Sunday was 83 degrees and sunny; I wanted to do well, of course, but I didn’t want to be foolish. I would just have to play it by ear on race day. On Saturday, I got a chance to meet the Runner’s World Challenge crew for the first time and go for a run with Bart Yasso, who quite possibly has one of the top 10 best jobs in the world. They had a job to do and couldn’t entertain my conversation forever, but there is nothing as enjoyable as hanging out with people as passionate about long-distance running as I am. We speak the same language. And most of all, I was just eager to learn from their experience. After picking up my bib at the expo, I headed back to the hotel for a lazy afternoon by the pool, reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed recalls that at a particularly trying point in her multi-month hike, she asked herself, “Who is tougher than you? No one.” That would be my mantra for the marathon, I decided. If I felt weak, I just had to remind myself: there is in fact no one tougher than me.
On Sunday morning, I woke up at 2:30am. My mind was a little hazy, but a couple of Diet Cokes did the trick. My body felt well-rested, healthy, and eager to run. I caught a 3am bus to Epcot where the Runner’s World Challenge participants got to hang out in the VIP tent before the race. There was so much nervous energy in the tent, and it was torture having to wait for an hour amid so many anxious athletes. I was doing my best to put a dent in the gallon jug of water that I brought with me. Between the water, nerves, and outstanding toilet facilities, I think I peed four times in that hour alone. At 4:30am, it was finally time to walk over to the corrals. This was it. I would finally get to pour my 16 weeks of training out onto the concrete. In the hour we spent waiting in the corrals for the marathon to start, I jumped the fence another three times to pee in the bushes. Just to be sure. I didn’t want to squander precious time on the course on bathroom breaks. As the fireworks erupted above us, announcing the start of the marathon, I felt stronger and more prepared than I had for any training run, and as the crowd started moving forward to the starting line, I accelerated into a jog. One of my biggest fears was going out too fast and then feeling my energy fizzle over the course of the race. However, another of my biggest fears was going out too slow and then playing desperate catch-up for the rest of the race. The second fear won over, as I started weaving around runners to get an open lane and hit my stride. Luckily, the first leg of the race was open highway, so the density of the field thinned out fairly quickly and my confidence grew. I was aiming for a pace around 8:00 at that point, which felt slow to me. Over the course of the race, my body accelerated naturally, especially after the banana and gel fuel stations, but at any given point until mile 20, I felt like I could sustain that pace indefinitely. I kept waiting for exhaustion to kick in or see my pace slowing, but the opposite happened. I don’t know if it was the race day atmosphere, the hydration strategy, or the taper, but my body felt comfortable for much longer than it ever had in training. Mentally, nothing lifted my spirits or kept me distracted as well as the copious quantities of Disney employees and volunteers lining the course. I was so grateful for their presence and enthusiasm in areas of the park where spectators couldn’t go. Although I wasn’t jeopardizing my BQ to stop and take pictures with characters, the miles flew by as I kept my eyes open to spot the next one. Only around mile 20 did I start to feel some stomach cramping, but once I mentally calculated that I could slow my pace by a full minute and still qualify for Boston at that point, it took all the pressure off me to maintain a hellish pace and instead allowed me to focus on comfort.
Although the sun started coming out and the temperature began to rise, it was still fairly early and the heat wasn’t affecting me. At every rest stop, I made sure to dump one or two cups of water over my head, which proved to be an effective way to cool off. I also made a point of fueling early and often, starting at mile 5 rather than 7 like I did in training. As a result, the fatigue really only hit me around mile 23 or 24 when I saw my pace drop markedly to around 8:30. At that point, I knew I had locked in my BQ if I didn’t do anything foolish, so all of my energy was concentrated on making myself comfortable for the last few miles, not pushing myself, just putting one foot in front of the other. The finish line appeared much sooner than I expected it to… one minute, I was rounding the World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot Center and the next, I saw signs indicating less than 400 yards to go… and suddenly, the risers full of spectators and the finish line. At that point, I caught a second wind and felt my body accelerate. I could not believe I was about to cross the finish line, beat my goal by over six minutes, vindicate my months of training, and prove that I was capable of anything I set my mind to. I could feel myself start to get emotional on my approach to the finish line and then throw up my hands in victory… and then break into uncontrollable sobs thereafter. It all happened so quickly. Just like that, 26.2 miles and 3h 28m were over. Like a dream. I have a feeling I will update this post 20 times over the course of the next few days as I process my experience because the weekend is just a flood of emotion right now. Also, I will have some cool pictures to share once they become available. But for now, this is my marathon recap! Ohhhhh… one more thing. What’s next? As I was sitting by the pool today, I learned of the World Marathon Majors. New York, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Tokyo. So now you know where to look for me next! Disney was just the beginning…
I would be remiss if I did not share what I believe to be the secret behind my marathon success — besides diligent training, of course. Pickle juice. On Saturday, my parents brought me a jar of pickle juice, and I drank a glass around 4pm and ate a few pickles. On Sunday morning at 2:30am, I drank another glass. If you don’t believe me, read this. Give it a shot. You have nothing to lose!
Also, I highly recommend the Runner’s World Challenge to anyone contemplating a marathon. You get a fool-proof training plan, but more importantly, a sense of community before, during, and after the event. Because honestly, the only way to be a successful marathoner is to love running.
The calm before the storm… my mom and I on our way to the pasta dinner the night before
Official time: 3:28:59