I’ve been putting off writing the recap of my first marathon and I’m not exactly sure why. It was a pretty great weekend, a good race, and I’ve been TALKING about it nonstop to anyone who will listen. Yesterday I finally figured out the main reason I’ve been so hesitant is that once I finish this recap, my first marathon is officially over. And I’m not sure I’m ready to let go of all that hard work of training, the excitement at the start line, the pain of mile 24 and the overwhelming sense of pride at mile 26.2.
Long before I registered for the Houston Marathon I knew that running my first marathon would be a family event. Justin and I had previously talked about a few other races out of state that I thought would be good choices, however he was fairly adamant that both he and the kids should be there to help celebrate my accomplishment. I wavered on whether this was really a good idea, considering travelling with kids is never easy and then throw in the whole stress of race day and I was a nervous wreck. Looking back though, I’m so very glad the whole family was there, not just for race day, but on Saturday to help distract me from thinking too much about what Sunday would bring.
I made reservations at the Courtyard Marriot downtown, and several times considered finding something farther out that wouldn’t be quite as expensive. I’ve never made a secret of how cheap I am and how I hate giving other people my money. In the end though, the convenience of being right near the start won out, and I’m very glad it did. The hotel staff was incredibly friendly and on Saturday the walk to the expo was just long enough to loosen my legs after being in the car for three hours. I had intended to buy all the things at the expo, but it was so crowded and I was so overwhelmed that I left after grabbing my packet. I took zero pictures with Meb (who was signing autographs when I got there) and bought no commemorative key chains. I do actually regret not spending more time at the expo, or at least taking one picture to prove I was there.
Sunday morning dawned dark and early, and after a less than desirable amount of sleep (I won’t name names, but children are noisy) I decided to get up before my alarm went off, I wasn’t sleeping anyway. I did all my routine morning stuff and made my way downstairs to be with all the runners. It wasn’t until I was a block away from the convention center that I realized I had only eaten half of my bagel. For some people that’s no big deal, but I’ve had many training runs go painfully wrong due to lack of food. I am the luckiest girl ever though, because my training partner A who had driven from San Antonio just to watch me run, was staying at the same hotel. A and her adorable 2 year old walked super early to the convention center and brought me some snacks. I have the best friends.
I met up with blogger Tara and her running group, The Cypress Running Club who were all super easy to spot in their neon green and incredibly friendly and welcoming. One of the many things I love about runners is that we may be strangers but it will never feel as though we aren’t best friends. I somehow lost Tara and her group as we were making our way out of the convention center. But I did see her a few times along the course and she looked to be having an amazing race.
As I made my way through the streets of Houston and toward my corral and the starting line, I was by surprised by my lack of nervousness. I was excited to finally be running the marathon after months and months of training. Normally before a race my heart is super crazy out of control fast and panicky and I can’t seem to get myself to calm down. I didn’t experience any of that, just pure happiness to be among so many runners on a gorgeous day.
After crossing the start line my only goal was to not go out too fast and crazy like ever.single.runner who crossed with me. As I like to do, I had obsessed over the course for a few weeks, memorizing the various roads and turns. Though I’d never run the route, I knew exactly where each turn was going to be and approximately how far until the next one. I had also mapped out several different spots for Justin and the kids to try to find me, so I knew it would be less than an hour of running before I saw them. I was eagerly looking for them as soon as I got to the first suggested spot. Like an idiot, I had left my sunglasses in the car so the plan was for Justin to give them to me around mile 4, which would be just about the time the sun got too bright to run without them. I didn’t find them until closer to mile 7 or 8 due to poor planning on my part. Apparently they have to close streets or something.
Once I did see them I was super excited, probably overly so, and I maaaay have cut off another runner on my way to the side of the street. Oops. I was feeling fan-freaking-tastic (it was still early) and I wanted them to know how good I was feeling. I hope I conveyed that with the sweaty hugs and kisses. And I got my sunglasses, which I was very grateful for since the sun was now out in full force.
The full and half courses split just before mile 8, and I expected the crowds of runners and spectators to thin out significantly. Much to my surprise though a lot of runners made the turn with me, and there were still a ton of fans along the course. The next few miles were my favorite as we ran along Rice Boulevard and through West University Place, both beautiful neighborhoods with incredibly supportive people. I kept waiting for a spot for there to be fewer spectators so I could turn up my music and just zone out. But there was never more than a block without at least a few people, and I felt guilty for turning up my music and tuning them out, so I never did. I saw A for the first time right in front of Rice Stadium, I was still feeling awesome was full of smiles.
There was a lot of shade through this stretch, which was a very good thing because the sun was feeling way too hot. Fortunately we were under trees and shade until around mile 11 or 12. Every mile I would check in with myself (sounds so technical, it’s not) to make sure I wasn’t pushing myself too much and wearing myself out too early. My hip flexors were pretty tight, and had been for a couple weeks before hand, I think I mentioned that in a previous post. I was hoping it wouldn’t be a huge issue for the race, but it was very noticeable starting around mile 10.
I saw Justin and the kids right before turning onto Westpark at mile 12, they did such an amazing job getting to so many different spots along the course. Justin hates driving and I can’t full express how appreciative I am that he ferried the kids to and fro for four hours just to spend a few seconds cheering my name.
Along Westpark was the first real hill, an overpass, on the course, and I was surprised to see so most people walking it. I’m not the world’s best hill runner, I don’t consider myself a super excellent runner, but I wasn’t quite ready to let the hills win. And despite some tightness, I was still feeling pretty good, though I was starting to get thirsty. Which is never a good sign when it comes to my running. So I started taking water at every water stop and instead of only a few sips from each cup, I would drink the whole entire cup. And get a second cup at the end of the line. Because I felt like I was running in the desert and I might never see another water stop again.
Westpark was hot and I tried to stick to the shade along the side of the road but there wasn’t a lot to be had. Right near the 13 mile mark there was a crazy-tight hair pin turn, so you could see all the runners ahead of you and all the runners who were behind you after the turn. I feel I kind of lost my rhythm right along this part of the course. Maybe it was that the sun was beating on my head more, or the previous mentioned thirst, but I think here was the first time I lost my smile. Though I found it again as we ran through the Galleria because there were so many spectators. They were loud and amazing and I’m so glad they were there! I still hadn’t turned my music up very loud and the constant cheers of “Go Steph” helped me get to the shade I knew we’d be in once we turned onto Tanglewood.
Again with amazing spectators. So many of them out along this part of the course. I want to move to this neighborhood (and all of them along the course) just so I can sit in my lawn chair and cheer for runners. How can I make this happen?
I’ve looked at the elevation map, and I swear it is wrong, wrong, wrong. Because once we turned onto Chimney Rock after mile 16 it felt like it was ALL up hill. But the course map says otherwise. As does my Garmin data. This is where the wheels officially fell off, so maybe that’s why it felt worse than it was. I was still so thirsty, despite all the extra water I was drinking. Normally when I run, I have to sip at my handheld every few minutes because my stomach just can’t handle large quantities of water while I’m running. I KNOW this, I have experienced the consequences time and time again, only to hate myself after. The whole reason I was running with my handheld was so that I would not have to take in a lot of water at each water stop. And yet, I am an idiot who apparently does not learn from past mistakes. Because just water wasn’t cutting it anymore. I started to take one cup of Gatorade and one cup of water. Lots of gulping was happening. Which inevitably led to horribly painful stomach cramps starting about mile 18. I’m not sure describing the pain as a stomach cramp is really doing the pain justice, but it’s the best I’ve got so I’m going with it.
Miles 20-24 are a pretty big blur of misery. I was so thirsty, but my stomach hurt so much that I finally stopped taking water in hopes that it would help. Running made me feel like I was going to throw up, but walking only made the stabbing pain in my stomach more noticeable. It’s best if we pretend these miles didn’t exist. The family was waiting for me around mile 21, and I nearly missed them. I was pretty miserable, despite photographic evidence that I’m actually smiling. I guess I’m really good at pretending. I saw A again at 22 and gave her a big thumbs down. Sadly, there is no photographic #proof of that, but I promise you it happened. I was ready to be done.
Despite how horrible I was feeling, when I looked at my watch somewhere after mile 24 I was surprised how close I was to meeting my A/if the stars align/the weather is perfect/unicorns and rainbows fall from the sky-goal. I warred with myself about how much I really cared about a stupid time goal. I wanted to run under 4:30, and for the entire course my splits said I’d easily run that. But that was before the stomach pain started and before I stopped looking at my watch and started hating goal setting. Before hating the sun and water and Gu. Running is hard, yo. I decided that no, I didn’t care about a time goal, I cared about not throwing up. But…but…then I saw the 40K sign.
I was walking with a guy who looked just as over it all as I was, after some internet stalking I found out his name was Chris. I pointed to the 40K sign and told Chris we were going to start running as soon as we hit it, and we wouldn’t stop until we crossed the finish line. Another thing I love about runners is that when we say such crazy things to strangers, it’s usually met with a nod and hopefully a smile. Chris did both and we took off once we hit the marker. That last stretch was far and away my fastest of the course, I wanted to stop and throw up, but I didn’t want to let Chris down. After all, it had been my plan to run, so I was stuck running.
Running down Lamar, all I could think about was the finish line and I could SEE the convention center but it was still so very far away. So, so far. It was so loud (maybe that was just buzzing in my head?), and I think I heard Carla call my name, but other than that it all blurred together and I couldn’t really hear anything.
Finally, after four hours and thirty one minutes I crossed the finish line.
Somewhere after getting my medal I lost sight of Chris, so I never had the opportunity to thank him for running with me at the end. I know I wouldn’t have finished as strongly if he hadn’t been there. Instead, I am able to forget the horror of the later miles, and focus on the strong, kick ass race to the finish. After getting my medal I walked and walked and walked and I swear to all that is Holy, walking into the convention center and getting my finisher shirt was harder than running the marathon.
Houston has amazing post race food options, sponsored by HEB, with lots and lots of snacks and ice cream sandwiches and a full breakfast. Due to my stomach still hating me, I wasn’t actually able to eat any of the delicious food, but I tried to eat part of an ice cream. I managed to hobble my way to the reunion area to find the family, who had gotten stuck in traffic and missed the finish line. Which was ok with me, since I would rather have had them at mile 21 when I really need them, than at the finish when I would not have spotted them.
I loved everything about this race (remember we’re forgetting about those crappy miles) and somewhere around mile 8 or 9 I had already decided I would run another marathon. I may never qualify for Boston, or run a marathon in under four hours. But those will never be my goals. At the start of 2013, I swore I would not, could not, run a marathon. How would it be possible for me to run for that long? Not to mention the impossibility of fitting marathon training into an already hectic family life.
Slowly I stopped thinking in terms of what I could not do, and focused on what I might be able to accomplish. I stopped putting limitations on myself, because I don’t want to be defined by the things I did not do, but rather by the challenges I’ve faced.