This weekend, I completed a marathon. 26.2 miles. For 6 hours, 43 minutes, and 29 seconds, I pushed myself harder than I have ever done before. That’s longer than labor lasted with my first child! And much like with my births, here I am to type up my story.
I signed up for the MO Cowbell race here locally in St. Charles, MO back in April after weighing a lot of options in my mind. I ran my first half marathon in April 2015. I picked to Go! St. Louis half in downtown St. Louis and really loved the course and race. The after-party was great, the mood of the race was great. I loved everything about it. In 2016, not ready for another half, we opted for the 7k they offered instead. As we finished I remembered everything I loved about the year before and decided the following year I was coming back for the full marathon.
I started doing some research and reading reviews and unfortunately, many runners didn’t have great things to say about the Go! full marathon. This is how I found to MO Cowbell. At the time I was also signed up for my doula training. My original plan was to wait until the twins were in kindergarten so I had plenty of time to train but I started thinking that once they started kindergarten I wanted to be able to use that “free babysitting” time for my birth work. Everyone thought I was crazy but the idea was stuck in my head so with the reluctant support of my husband, I signed up for an October race. That meant I had just six months to go from not able to run a half because I didn’t train enough to completing 26.2 miles!
Training was HARD. I am not going to sugar coat it. I skipped so many workouts. I purposely picked a plan that was extra lenient too. It only required 4 days of exercise but life was busy and many got left behind for high priority items on my to-do list. Then as if there wasn’t enough on my plate already (marathon training, doula training, etc.) I received a job offer I couldn’t pass up. Adding a 20 hour work week into my already busy schedule was tricky but I kept up with as many long runs as I could and snuck in some treadmill time or short easy runs after getting the kids in bed. That’s when summer hit and oh my gosh, it was HOT. When its 95+ degree temps still at 8 pm, all motivation goes out the window. Plus we had a family vacation, an anniversary trip to Niagara Falls, Girl Scout camp and my brother’s wedding competing for my energy and time too on top of being a wife and mom of course.
As if all that weren’t enough, I had some major gear issues. I worked with a local running store to get fitted for the right shoes and talk about energy options like chews and gels. All set to go I went on with my months of training. I quickly discovered that my new shoes were causing some major blisters. I went back to the running store to discuss and their best explanation was that I was dealing with moisture issues. I took their advice, gave it a few more weeks and guess what? Blisters didn’t stop! I went back and it turns out my insoles were too small for my shoes. We fixed that and again, I tried it out for a few more weeks. There was an improvement for sure but by the time I reached my 18 and 20 mile training runs, I felt like my feet were being crushed by the seem on the shoe that bends by your toes. On top of that, I was getting side cramps every time I used a gel and chews were just not giving me enough umph. It was a couple days after my 20 mile run that I discovered gluten free running waffles. The store I went to carried this brand and I was very specific about my dietary needs when asking about energy. I was so shocked that this was the first time I learned about the gluten free products! Needless to say, I made a crazy move and changed up my running routine with no more long training runs scheduled before my race. On top of adding in the waffles, I switched shoes! This is a huge no-no in the running world but I decided to go back to the brand I trusted from my half. It paid off big time as I came home with only 2 pinky toe blisters and otherwise no issues. And the waffles were perfect for my race to hold me over.
Finally, race day arrived. I saved a screen shot on my phone of some positive affirmations and studied them the night before. Race morning, I kept telling myself that this was what the entire, extremely difficult last 6 months were all about. Hubby came to the start line with me and saw me off. I knew from training that if I started out slow and tried to pace myself like every running post ever recommends that I would be even slower in the back half and risk disqualification from not finishing on time so I went out with everything I had. It was a rather flat course. I use the Galloway method for doing a run/walk so my intervals were set and I was keeping a great pace.
At mile 10 was the only major hill in the first half. My mom, husband and kids were all there to cheer me on. I could hear the girls screaming for me as soon as I rounded the corner. I planned on just waving but I couldn’t resist so I went off course a tad and ran over to them for hugs. It was such a great moment. That hill took a LOT out of me and added over 30 seconds to my average pace. As I got near the 12 mile mark, all of the runners that were keeping pace with me left the course to head towards their half-marathon finish line and I was all alone. Nearly a mile later, marathoners started passing me on their way back from the last turnaround. They were finishing their full before I would have even finished my half! My mind really started playing tricks on me so I had to pull it together. Pain wise, I was in control but self doubt was heavy. I began using tricks I learned in doula training to get back on track. I focused on each breath and each step and pushed everything else out of my head. My best friend was sending me messages every 30 minutes or so for encouragement as was my mom and husband. These all went to my fitbit so I could quickly see their words but keep going.
I found my groove again and felt slightly comforted once I could see that a few runners were in fact in front of me heading towards the turnaround still and a handful were behind me too. Mile 17 came another huge hill and all in straight sunshine. The weather was nice and cool, in the 60s but the sun was brutal. I hit my wall at the top of that hill, earlier than I thought I would. But by mile 18 I was greeted by my cheering zone again who had packed back up in the van and come to find me! More hugs from them and a quick pick up of more chews and I was on my way. Less than 2 miles to go till the turnaround. By this time I was literally like a laboring mom. I was talking to myself out loud. I was grunting. I was directing my breaths. I high fived every mile marker sign as I kept going. The moment I reached 23 miles, knowing I only had a 5k left, I was well under sag wagon pace and I knew all I had to do was make it back even if I had to walk the whole way. I was so tired and hurting bad by then so with each run interval I shuffled my feet forward as fast as I could just so I could be done. And with each walk, I had to shout off “left, right, left, right” as I pushed my feet forward for one more step.
At mile 25 I could see the finish line. I just had to go down the path, around the corner and back down the home stretch. Hubby starting running towards me across the field and suddenly I spotted my dad! He was hunting but had made it back in time so he came to see me finish. Both of them took my hands and ran with me for about a quarter mile. I suddenly felt a surge or energy, knowing I was right there at the finish so I told them to go back and watch me cross the line and that I was okay. I rounded the corner and took off as fast and hard as I could, literally sobbing as I crossed the line and collapsed to the ground in my husband’s arms. For a split second I felt nothing at all but immense accomplishment.
I got my medal, started drinking some water and ripped off my shoes and hydration pack. We took some fun pictures and by then my adrenaline had crashed hard. I had to use an umbrella as walking stick to make it back to the van. The rest of the day was spent stretching, eating, soaking in the bathrub, cuddling with my medal and napping. The girls recounted their stories about seeing me run and their excitement.Most of it was a blur.
I woke up this morning and was greeted by a “How do you feel?” to which my only reasonable reply was… “Like I just ran a marathon!” And for once, I truly know exactly what that feels like.
Next up for me is well, getting my health back. On top of very hard training, three different medical providers recommended that I stop running. Nothing life threatening was going on but it was impacting my fibromyalgia and adrenal health. I refused to quit so far into my training but promised this was it for me. And I am absolutely keeping that promise. Training for and running a marathon has made me forget why I actually liked running in the first place. It became a hated chore rather than a welcomed way to clear my head or a fun way to spend time with my family. It took up time from the things and people I love the most and I began to resent it. I don’t regret my marathon at all but I am ready to start my life again now.