The alarm goes off at 4:00 (am!) and I begin my pre marathon ritual which consists of eating a large bowl of oatmeal, drinking a glass of water, hair styling (long thick hair if left alone will result in a sweaty rat’s nest) and making sure my running outfit is perfect for the upcoming conditions.
I head to the buses that will carry the runners on a 26.2 mile journey away from the finish line, along the race route to the start of the marathon. It is along this drive, my seat passenger points out various aspects of the race that we will encounter along our run. She shows me the road that drops us into the town that only leads us to our steep climb along miles 7 and 8. We see groups of volunteers preparing each water stop that we will soon partake. After what seems like a journey in itself, we leave the buses and enter phase two of any marathon, the bathroom lines.
It is dark. It is windy and extremely cold. The lines are tremendously long and I search for the “best” one. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, my turn finally comes.
By now, the marathon start time fast approaches. I quickly place my valuables in the designated drop off area and make my way to the start.
I am alone as I stand in line with thousands of runners. I am okay with being alone. I truly believe running a race is an individual journey. Although I know not a soul in my sight, I feel the support of friends and family with me. I know they have seen my hard work. They know how much this race means to me and will be awaiting to hear from me at the end of my chosen adventure. This gives me strength as the gun sounds.
I always seem to tear up just a bit as I begin the first miles of a marathon. The miles of running, the early mornings, late nights, tempo runs, speed workouts…the commitment to a goal and the knowledge that I did everything I had promised to do takes center stage. I am ready to face the hills, the heat, the muscle pain, muscle fatigue, mental struggles…I am ready to race.
The first few miles whiz by as my body wants to keep up with others running too fast (for we all are fresh), jockeying for positioning and adrenaline pushing me along.
The sun begins to rise above the mountains and its warmth settles on our backs. Extra clothing quickly starts to fly over head as runners now get serious about settling into their paces.
My mind gravitates quickly to the daunting miles that lie ahead and I wonder if I will be able to keep my pace and succeed with my goal of breaking my personal record of a 3:30 marathon. It is here, during these early miles, that I remind myself, I am capable of reaching my goal. But in order to accomplish it, I must try. I know it will not be easy but it is possible…if I simply try.
With that I begin my descent into a little town…with a “big” hill. I hadn’t really expected many uphills along this race but had been warned about it by my friends. As the road turned, I looked up, and there, in the distance, I see it, the longest uphill road in history.
It is here, the pace group for the 3:25 runners (a pacer leads a group of runners with the goal of 3:25 along, giving advice, encouragement and keeping pace) approaches from behind. I can hear the lead pacer saying, “Okay, runners, gear up for this hill. Keep a steady pace…we can do this!”
For a moment, as the group of about 20 runners passes along side me, I think I will jump aboard and give this pace a whirl…but seeing how fast they approached and passed me, I decide to forgo that stupid idea and keep my current pace.
Running up that hill was completely insane. Runners were walking. Runners were huffing and puffing. Runners were suffering. I was suffering. But I decided to try to keep moving forward and that I did. Before I knew it, mile 7 and 8 were a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, the uphill climbing did not agree with my previously pained hamstrings. I had taken a few Advil before the race and had planned on popping a few during…but alas, I had forgotten them in my bag. After a few miles of some good pain in my right hammy, I chanced upon a spectator offering tissues and Advil. I quickly put out my hand, receiving the blessed pills.
At mile 10, I notice that at the water stops, there is also a med tent. There, two or three people are down on their knees ready to rub “Ben Gay” on any area in need of attention. I decide to make a quick stop, where a person dabs this much needed cream onto my right hamstring.
Miles pass, with even more hills and I anticipate the promise of a 2000 feet drop in elevation. I can't wait to let my hamstrings take a break and let my quads take over.
It doesn't take long before the downhill portions begin. I immediately and without much effort, begin making my way, down…down…down into Snow Canyon. Here the constant red rock is met with white rock making for the most beautiful vistas.
My body is pleased with this new arrangement, letting the quads finally do some work. I begin to pick up my pace and quickly fall into a comfortable groove.
As mile 19 approaches, I look ahead and in the distance, I can see the 3:25 pace group. I thought to myself at the time, “maybe I can catch them.” I begin to slowly pass people and begin anticipating the descent into St. George. It would be here that my friend Amy would be cheering. I am so relieved I feel so good at this late stage into the race.
Sure enough, right at mile 23, I see Amy and Reed. Sign in hand, they cheer for me, giving me that final push to keep going. Newly charged, I notice the balloons carried by the 3:25 pace group only a few blocks ahead. I quickly gain and by mile 24, I have reached them. I can't believe I have actually caught them. I know at that moment I will beat my 3:30 time. But now, I might actually beat it BIG time! I am surprised I feel as good as I do. Normally in a race, there is a mysterious point of time that “a light switch” goes off and I feel horrible both in body and mind. But here, at mile 24.5, I feel fine. Stride in stride with the other runners, I make my way to the final mile. As I turn the corner, the crowds are cheering, “One more mile!” But then, it happened, the switch is flipped and my body says, “I have had enough.”
It is strange when this happens. You wonder why you can’t simply keep running at pace when you only have a half of a mile left. But you can’t. In fact, you can barely keep running. Your mind is screaming at you to stop this nonsense…stop! In fact, other runners around you are already walking.
With the temptation to stop looming, there is comes, the light ahead, the blessed finish line. Turning the final corner, I see the balloons in the distance…only .2 miles to go. The crowds cheer with words of encouragement, “Only two more blocks!” I can do this!
My mind wanders back to the start of the race. The place I was only 3 hours ago, with a long and an arduous 26 miles to go, now with only 2 blocks to go. I can do this!
The pace group I have joined finishes. Countless others have too.
And now it is my turn. I cross the finish line. Not only can I do this...I just did (and shattered my previous time by over 5 minutes) coming in at 3:25:27.