Saturday, November 19, 2011

Just keep running

When I first got back from Scotland, I wrote that some of my best decisions have been made on a whim. This year presented a new challenge of sorts: I had graduated, I got a job, got an apartment, was committed to two weddings and a graduation – the year looked to hold a lot of responsibility, and not a lot of flexibility for ‘whims’.

Challenge accepted.

When I was in Edinburgh I ran my first Half Marathon, something I was fairly convinced I had no desire to do. And it was awesome. My support crew pointed out that the obvious next step was a full marathon. If I had never had any desire to do a half, a full was definitely not even on the table as a remote possibility. I scoffed, and went back to enjoying my Half Marathon runners high…and my epic post run meal at the all you can eat Indian buffet.

Fast forward to January 2011 when I was officially locked into all that grown up responsibility, and basically snowed into the city. I desperately needed a new adventure. I happened to read an article about the Best First Marathons and thought, well, why the hell not? It’s easy enough to take a weekend trip and it would be something to keep me occupied. My theory was along the lines of: This year I had to stay moderately grounded, and what better way to do that than running, making myself acutely aware of the ground and every forward step I took on it. Deep right?

Anyway, I chose the Marine Corps Marathon, put the registration date in my calendar, and when the day came, I managed to sign up in the 28 hours it took to sell out.

This was happening.

I had nine months to get ready, and ridiculously quickly it was October.

The Marathon Weekend was incredible. The article I read wasn’t lying, I can’t imagine a better first marathon. The Marine Corps knows what it’s doing in terms of organization and support, and I was amazed at how much camaraderie there is amongst 30,000 runners (plus spectators, plus Marines, plus…etc). Friday night there was the First Timers Rally, where experienced Marathoners were on hand to give last minute tips and encouragement. Saturday, was the Expo where we picked up our numbers and could browse dozens of vendor stalls (and stock up on a whole new wardrobe of Marine Marathon merchandise…not that I did that or anything…). A lot of Marathoners were staying in the same hotel I was and they adopted me for the trip to the Expo. When I thanked them, they actually said “Please, you’re one of us” and even better, they looked and acted like they meant it. Saturday night was the Carbo Dining in and another couple adopted me and gave me a run down of other marathons I should put on my “to do” list. I had heard from a lot of people during training that I’d possibly run one and be done, check it off my bucket list, and move on. OR, and this seemed too be the more common prediction, I’d be hooked. So it didn’t hurt to have some others ready for consideration.

Even though Saturday was a random snow/hail/rainstorm, Sunday morning was cool but clear and dry. While there was some stress (ok, a lot of stress) getting to the start, I finally found someone headed over, who happily let me come along. He was working towards fifty marathons in fifty states. He’d already done the seven continents. So, it was an interesting walk, and I managed to get to the start just in time.

Which actually was a good thing. While I would have loved to have a more relaxed morning, I was just so relieved to start running. It’s a little odd to think that the thought of running a marathon was the most relaxing part of the morning, but who am I to fight it?

Anyway, the course was gorgeous and the amount of along course support from random spectators and Marines was incredible (have I mentioned that yet? No, but seriously, There aren’t really words to describe the awesome energy on course). From mile 1-16 I was flying. On the recommendation of one of my many Marathon Mentors from the weekend I had decided to try wearing pace bands. Going in, my main goal was to finish, I really wanted to finish in under 5 hours, but secretly I was shooting for 4:30. Early on I checked my bands and realized, 4:30 wasn’t a stretch so I went for it. Anyway 1-16 were fabulous. At every mile I stopped (not literally) and thought, yeah, I would do another marathon. Miles 17-21 I could feel the distance, but was still loving it and knew another one was going to happen.

Mile 22 I decided I was perhaps ready to be done, but by that point, I almost was. Mile 23 I was not amused. Mile 24 I sadly passed the Dunkin Donut Munchkins food stop. I didn’t have time to stop to throw up AND break 4:30, so sadly the donuts did not make top priority (If I hadn’t been on track for my goal time, however…). Mile 25 I stopped thinking and just RAN. The final 0.2 was up a steep hill, and I’m not sure it even really registered because I had DONE it!!! (Ok, Ok, I felt that last hill. But I also told myself to stop being a baby, suck it up, and run damnit. So whatever.)

I crossed the line and pretty much almost burst into tears from happiness and a massive overwhelming high. Add the fact that I was being congratulated and thanked by Marines (when it really probably should have been me thanking them for everything), it was an emotional moment. And I’m definitely not usually one to admit to emotional moments willingly, so this was big.

I got my awesome warm shiny blanket, and my medal (!!) and took my picture in front of the Iwo Jima memorial. Next I was handed a bagel, banana, and Gatorade (Life is so good) and I walked to the Finish Festival. I collected my things (a random woman actually came over when she saw me with all my stuff, took my jacket and put it on me because she said I’d done enough for the day! Seriously, people were so amazingly nice), took a picture with the race mascots (Miles and Molly), bought a shirt that said “Finisher” (which I will now wear as frequently as I can get away with) and headed back to my hotel. Mission Accomplished.

I can’t say enough good things about this race, nor can I truly describe how it felt to be there. I can say that even at that worst mile, I knew this wouldn’t be my only marathon. And I think the quality of the MCM, and all the amazing people I met, had a lot to do with that conclusion. OORAH!

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