I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging the past month, as I’ve been laser focused on training for the 120th Boston Marathon. Although I thought about writing about my feelings and training for my first marathon, it was ultimately something I felt I needed to internalize a bit more than most things, rather than hashing it out on the web every single week. I decided I wanted to wait until post-marathon to really write about it, so here’s my story in nutshell…
Back in late fall, I applied to run the marathon through one of my running groups. Still being a newer member of the group, I figured it was a shot in the dark that I’d actually be accepted. I remember telling my husband, “If I get a number it’s meant to be, and if I don’t, then it’s not my time yet.” Running a marathon has been on my bucket list for a while now, but it’s also been something that I never in a million years thought I’d ever be able to carry out.
Sometime in January, I found out I was given one of the two numbers through my group to raise funds for a local private tuition free school. I immediately text my husband who said, “You absolutely HAVE to take the number! This is an incredible opportunity!” After the shock wore off, I did some thinking, chatted with my husband some more and decided to accept the number.
I had dealt with an on and off IT band injury, and I only had about 13 weeks to train, which is an aggressive time frame for someone who had never run more than 13.1. But it was something I wanted really bad, so jumping in full throttle I began training to conquer the road to Boston.
During my training I had some really great runs, but I also had some very frustrating and painful ones. I did my 5th half marathon in the midst of my training, as I used the race as a dress rehearsal for Marathon Monday. My training plan called for two 18-20 mile runs, but due to my ITB injury, I only ended up training to 16. I had attempted a 20 mile race, but because my ITB was so angry, I shut it down at mile 12.5. I went home crying feeling completely defeated, thinking I was totally out of my league and wondering how on earth I was going to get through 26.2 miles.
After a lot of talking to my coaches and hiring a new physical therapist, I was assured that 16 miles for a beginner marathoner was enough to get me through, and that many studies have shown it’s an ideal mileage for a newbie. I put my trust in their encouragement, took their advice and my last month of training consisted of alternating between running and a lot of cross training on the bike along with some core and glute exercises provided by my new PT.
While my last three training runs went well, I thought for sure that I’d be walking half the marathon due to my ITB. I knew I wouldn’t be able to correct the real problem until after the marathon, so I figured I’d run for as long as I could and then walk when the show stopping pain hit. But come race day, I was pleasantly surprised with a fun and amazing 26.2 pain free miles.
My coaches and veteran marathoners all told me that my one and only goal with a first marathon should be to finish. So, finishing was my goal. Well, that and not needing the medical tent! The week before I took a look at the big picture and broke it down…
1. It was my first marathon
2. I had an injury
3. Boston is a technical course with a lot of hills (downs and ups)
4. Race day was calling for very warm temps, and it was in fact a warm day!
Given all the above, I made a pact with myself to go out very slow and reserve my energy for the end of the race. While I knew I could do this, I was worried how I’d actually execute my plan knowing that all five of my half marathons I went out far too fast and felt horrible by mile 10. But I stuck to my guns and kept a slow and steady pace throughout the entire race.
Miles 16-22 were actually where I felt my strongest, and I was passing people on the ever so famous “Heartbreak Hill.” Although, I have to be honest, I crossed the finish line still wondering where exactly this big hill was, because it wasn’t nearly as “heartbreaking” or tough as I expected it to be. In fact, I found the downhills to be far more of a challenge because it was hard to hold back my pace, and they totally crushed my quads!
I also made sure to hydrate and fuel from the get-go, never allowing myself to really bonk or get behind on what my body needed to get me through. I walked through almost ever water stop to drink and I walked a few times to fuel. I saw and hugged family, friends and even strangers along the way and got more high-fives than I ever have during a race.
It wasn’t until mile 22 where my legs really started to get cranky. The last 4 miles I took 1-2 minute walking breaks followed by my tempo running pace, which helped me from losing too much time on my overall average pace. But I can confidently say that I ran most of that race, and walked very little. I wasn’t fast, but I was strong, steady and smiling from miles 1 to 26.2.
The Boston Marathon was a day and race that has truly transformed me in more ways than one, and I learned so much about myself out on that course… I learned that I’m a lot fitter than I gave myself credit for. I learned that I’m a lot mentally stronger than I ever thought I was. And I learned my desire to succeed and cross the finish line was far greater than my fear of failing. I never once had a moment where I felt horrible, and it never once crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I stayed in the moment and enjoyed every second, taking as much of the day in as I possibly could, and I kept telling myself, “I’m running the Boston Marathon right now!”
I remember when I accepted the number, it felt like forever until the “big day”, but now, I can’t believe it’s already been one week since the race. I find myself reliving those moments of fear, excitement and victory over and over, feeling so incredibly grateful for the opportunity, and proud of what I accomplished.
I crossed the finish line feeling strong, healthy and elated. And believe it or not, thanks to my slow and steady pace, I felt like I could have kept going. I immediately told my husband that it was easier than I thought it was going to be (not to be mistaken for a marathon being easy!), and that I’d do it again. Oddly enough, I felt better after finish a full than I did for all five half marathons I’ve done, and I feel like I raced it smarter.
I have so many happy memories from that day. From hugs and cheers from family, friends and strangers along the course, to the miles on my feet and having the medal put around my neck, it was definitely an experience that I will never forget, and a race that has inspired me into wanting to run more marathons.
One of the biggest motivators driving me to that finish line was my daughter, and being able to show her, and tell her one day when she’s old enough to really understand that throughout all my doubts and fears, I never gave up. I will teach her a lot of things in life, but quitting will never be one of them.
From the once unfit girl in high school who couldn’t even run around a track once to a Boston Marathon Mommy, I hope I can inspire some of you to realize that no dream or goal is ever too big to accomplish, and that anything is possible if you work hard enough, believe in yourself and want it bad enough.
As always, thanks for reading and happy Monday Runday 😉
Fun Boston Marathon fact: This was the 50th anniversary for women being allow to run the Boston Marathon. In 1966, Bobbi Gibb hid her ponytail under a hooded sweatshirt, and was the first woman to complete the marathon. She is recognized by the Boston Athletic Association, and made it possible for women to accomplish their Boston Marathon dreams.