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February 4, 2014

That time I ran a marathon.

March 24, 2013

I don't know how it happened, but it was an interesting experience and I'm glad that I did it.

Once upon a time when I first moved to Baltimore, I joined the Hopkins marathon team. I wanted people to run with and know that runners are usually instant friends. The team was training for the spring DC rock and roll marathon, and I had a moment of insanity and decided I should run it too.

Reasons why I signed up for a marathon in a moment of insanity: I thought having something to train for would keep me motivated to run during grad school. Plus if I ever was going to run one, I wanted people to train with.

What didn't occur to me:  how much time it would literally take away from other important life tasks, like studying and homework and work and sleep and relationships, and how little time I had actually given myself to train properly.

How I trained: I probably would not have been able to finish this marathon if my coaching friend Tom had not intervened and helped me realize I was headed for disaster. I had planned to just increase my long runs and hope for the best. It did not take much to convince me that this was not a great way to approach a first marathon. Tom made me a great plan, and all I had to do was follow it!

For three months, I squeezed long workouts and gym sessions between classes and early in the mornings. Adding a marathon to the mix of grad school, an internship, a consulting job in DC, and volunteer conference planning was right on the edge of overwhelming, but I stuck to my plan right up until the week before the marathon. Then, of course, my immune system caved and I got sick.

Why I almost didn't run it at all: A week before the race, I got a chest cold that kept me awake all night for several nights in a row. As the marathon drew closer and I got no better, I started to doubt that I would be able to run it. Just 3 days before the race, I tried to go for a jog and stopped after just 2 minutes because my chest ached so bad. It was pretty safe to say that I would be dropping down to the half, if running at all. I would just have to forget about all of those hours I'd given up and move on.

Why I did end up running it: Friday morning I woke up to the most brilliant sunshine. I was done with finals and on my way to pick up my mom from the airport.  I made it through a short run without stopping. I started to wonder if running the race might be a possibility again. When a few runner friends told me that they all knew people who had their best races while sick or sleep deprived, I knew that I had no choice. I had to go for it. 

Just 16 hours before the race, I made up my mind to run it.

After a restless 3 hours of sleep, Jimmy's roommate Ray and I were up and headed to the start.

Due to major bag drop delays, we ended up sprinting a half mile to our corral and barely made the start!

And then... it was over in a flash! No, not really. My mom asked me later in the day what I was thinking the whole time, and I have no idea. I wish there was a way to record those thoughts, because I'm sure they were pretty hilarious. And obscene.

Going into the marathon, my goal was to stay with Ray for as long as I could. I hoped to run around 3:30 at best. I did not expect to feel great because of my cold, and I fully expected to walk at some point after the half.

It did not go at all how I thought it would. I ran slightly negative splits and did not stop to walk at any point. What I am most happy about from the experience is how positive I stayed the whole time. I've had more mental breakdowns in one mile races than I did during this entire marathon!

A breakdown of the 26.2 mile experience:

The first 6 miles were fun! The course followed a path I used to run everyday when I lived in DC. During that stretch I focused on NOT thinking about how much was left. I just enjoyed the cheers, the bands, Ray's yelling about all of the signs, and looking forward to seeing my fans at mile 6.  :P

Miles 6-12 weren't as fun, but they still weren't hard. I learned while training that I feel the worst for the first hour of the long run, and then almost always feel better after that. I worked hard NOT thinking about how much was left.  I thought about which beers I was going to drink afterward when we passed a  huge banner that said "Pain now, beer later!" I also had my first packet of frosting (aka vanilla Gu) during this window. Mmm.

Miles 12-14. Once I got to the half, I finally let myself acknowledge the fact that I was running. I knew I would probably slow down later on, but was encouraged that I could slow down by 20 minutes and still qualify for Boston. After the half, the crowd thinned out dramatically. I had a feeling that the second half was going to be much quieter, so I grabbed my headphones from our fans at mile 14. 

Miles 14-20. This was my favorite part of the race! I was on my own, I had my music, and I broke it down into mini-milestones:  Get to 17, and then its single digits to go. Get to 18, then it's 8 left which is only an hour! Get past 20 miles, cause that's as far as you've ever run! I ran the fastest splits during this stretch. I also spent a lot of time recovering from the water stations, where most of the water would end up in my nose and all over my clothes.

Miles 21-24. This is when I started to feel the pain I'd been expecting. I didn't really ever hit a wall, but pain and tightness sort of creeped in over these miles. I would have waves of feeling strong, like I could finish and wanted to pass more people, and then feeling like it was all I could do to just keep moving. Eventually, there were no more waves of feeling strong and it took everything to just keep moving my legs.

Each of these miles was the longest, most painful single mile of my life. I kept seeing the 25 mph speed limit signs and wondering what I would be thinking when I finally got to mile 25. Would I even make it to 25? 

During these miles I was sure that I was causing permanent damage to my hips and legs. I thought that whether I made it to the finish line or not would depend on if they broke before I got there.

Around mile 24 I saw a finisher wrapped in a foil blanket jogging backwards along the course and thought, "F--- you." Other than that guy, there was nobody in sight.

I don't remember anything from the long anticipated mile 25, except that it was an eternity to 26. After 26, you enter the chute:

And that was it. Sooo much pain for one silly moment!

I wobbled around aimlessly for a while before reuniting with the fans:

I owe such a tremendous thanks to everyone who listened to me talk about running, get woken up by my alarms, allow me to be late or leave things early, save me from failure with awesome training plans, console me when I was frustrated and sick at the worst moment, cheer for me and share in the joy that was the running of my first marathon. You guys are the absolute best. 

Now, the big question. Will there be another?

Jury's still out.

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