My first marathon ever.
Many people take their time building up to a full marathon. They start with 5km, then 10km and work their way to a half marathon. Once they are comfortable with the half marathon, some will consider training for a full marathon, 26.2 miles or 42.2 km. Not me. I went straight from being able to do 5km comfortably to signing up for a full marathon. Possibly a little foolish on my part, but I was stubborn and determined and that was all the push I needed to sign up for the Ottawa Marathon in May 2013.
Signing up for a full marathon so soon was never a plan. I only started running in September 2012 and in January 2013 I signed up for the marathon, in May. I always had the goal of running a marathon in the back of my mind, but I thought it was something I wouldn’t accomplish for a few years at least. Then I made a new friend who told me that she was thinking of signing up for her first marathon and of course I couldn’t resist the challenge and the opportunity to share an experience with a friend so despite the fact that I had only just gotten comfortable with running 5-10km distances, I signed up. I knew that if I didn’t sign up, it could have been months, maybe years before I signed up for one all on my own.
I should also mention that my mom has been my biggest cheerleader and supporter from the beginning. When I told her I was thinking of signing up for the Ottawa marathon, she emailed me the next day with hotel reservations for the race weekend. Best mom ever!
I followed a Hal Higdon 16-week marathon training plan and I highly recommend his training programs if you are looking for a plan when training for a half or full marathon. I didn’t take my training schedule as seriously as I should have, which I learned the hard way the day of the marathon…let’s get into that!
I made a lot of mistakes training for this marathon. Maybe one day I will make a blog post of all the mistakes I made so that at least you can benefit from knowing what NOT to do! I didn’t do any of the scheduled long runs 3 weeks from the marathon, because I was really sick 2 weeks before and then the week before I went on a last-minute trip to Hawaii (can’t say I regret the Hawaii part too much!). So the week before in Hawaii I only did one 5km run.. clearly it hadn’t really hit me that I would soon be attempting to run 42.2km, although the week before is supposed to be a taper week anyways.
The day before the marathon, my amazing mom drove us up to Ottawa from Toronto, leaving the house at 3am. I seriously don’t know what I would have done without her. We left early to avoid traffic and to make it to the expo in time to catch a shuttle bus tour of the marathon course. I slept the whole ride up and by the time I woke up, it was time to hit the expo! The expo was very well organized, picking up my race kit was a breeze and checking out the stands was fun. We didn’t stay for long though as my mom wanted to get tickets for the first bus tour of the course. I ended up falling asleep on the bus ride, but my mom enjoyed seeing where I would be running. The bus tour ended up being about 90 min long, perfect for a quick nap! 😛 The rest of the day was spent relaxing, carb-loading, and going to sleep early.
The marathon started at 7am and our hotel was a 10 minute walk from the start area, so I was up around 5:30am to get ready. Remember how I said I have the best mom ever? She woke up even earlier than me to go get me a bagel with cream cheese and milk from the Tim Hortons down the street for my usual pre-run breakfast, ready by the time I woke up. I love you momma! I ate quickly, got dressed and then as I was pinning my race bib onto my shirt, it hit me: I was going to run a marathon.
I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the day seeing as how poorly my training had gone. I also didn’t own a Garmin or any sort of GPS watch, so my plan was to run at a comfortable pace for as long as I can and feel no shame in walking through the water stations. I was secretly hoping for a 4:30 finish but knew that 4:45 would be more realistic. As long as I managed to sub-5:00 I would be happy.
We stepped outside of our hotel and started the walk to the start area. All around us were runners headed towards to same place we were. My nerves were starting to get to me and my heart started to beat faster with every step. Then I looked ahead and spotted about 10 of the elite athletes, the Kenyans and Ethiopians leaving their hotel. They walked a few steps and then as a pack broke into a light jog away from us, towards the start. I say light jog, but let’s be real their light jog pace is pretty close to my full out sprint pace. I was in awe. A friendly runner ahead of me with a marathon bib pinned on her shirt excitedly exclaimed to me that she had met one of the elite Kenyan athletes the day before and his marathon time last year was 2:09. All I could think was man, I can’t even run a half-marathon in that time!
We finally got to the marathon start and my mom wished me luck and left me to find a spot a few km in the course to cheer me on. I was left alone, with my nerves and jumbled thoughts and my music and I found my way over to my start corral. Before I knew it, the race had started and the elites were off! Then soon enough my start corral shuffled our way to the start line, and we were off!
Obviously beginner me got caught up in the excitement and ran much faster than I should have the first few km. 2km however I had a problem, I really had to pee. What the heck?! Despite the fact that I had gone right before the race had started, I really needed to go again. I skipped the first port-a-pottie at the 3km because the line-up was insane (guess I wasn’t the only one with nervous bladder problems) but at the 6km I hopped in line for the port-a-pottie. There were only 2 people ahead of me, but still a few valuable minutes were lost in that line (not that it was really a big deal seeing as I wasn’t attempting to PR or anything, I just wanted to finish!).
Just as I was heading out of the port-a-pottie, I saw the 4:30 pace bunny go by and felt determined to keep up with him for as long as I could. I managed to hang in for about 15 km, but I was still going faster than I should have been going. At the 21.1km mark there was a big sign that said “You are halfway home!” and I got a little excited inside. Then I heard a volunteer yell out “YOU ARE ALMOST THERE!” and the lady running in front of me stopped mid-stride, turned around and yelled back “YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO TELL A RUNNER THEY ARE ALMOST THERE UNTIL THEY HAVE 200M LEFT TO GO!”. It was hilarious, but true. A few steps ahead I heard that lady mutter to her friend “She’s lucky I didn’t clock her in the face for saying that.” I guess running a marathon really brings out some emotions!
By 22km I was starting to feel tired which was not a good feeling to have so early on. The course was pretty nice though and the spectators were great in certain parts. I enjoyed reading the signs to keep me entertained. The 4:45 pace bunny had already passed me at that point and I was really starting to slow down. At 23km the 5:00 pace bunny caught up to me so I forced myself not to fall behind him because I may have been tired but I sure as heck was not going to finish with a 5:00+ time. The pace bunny was actually amazing and had a group of maybe 10 people sticking close to him when I joined in. He was saying the most encouraging things that kept me and I’m sure everyone else going. He was doing the 10:1 method, so run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute so although I had never trained that way I decided to try it out and it worked. We slowly made our way through to 25km, then to 30km.
The longest training run I was supposed to do according to my training plan was 32 km. The longest run I did was 30km and it was awful. So being at that 30km mark was a crazy feeling. I was tired, but determined to make it 12 more km.
At 31km, our little 5:00 pace bunny pack saw a runner vomiting on the side of the road and crying. Our pace bunny immediately stopped to console her and handed over his 5:00 sign to one of us and we kept going, one foot in front of the other. We were only 31km in and I was so tired. One step, then another, then another. (Our pace bunny caught back up to us a few minutes later once he was sure the lady runner was being taken care of).
At 32km, I told myself I only had 10km left to go, and I’ve done so many 10km runs before so this last 10km should be a breeze!
35km, and I was feeling pretty empty inside. Everything hurt, my legs were so heavy, my arms were so tired of swinging back and forth.
36km, and all I could think was why the heck did I ever think I could run a marathon? I can’t do this. But I’m still going to keep my feet moving. Just stay with the 5:00 pace bunny.
37km, and I’m choking back tears. This is hard. Really hard.
38km, and I can’t do it. I start to fall behind, or the pace bunny starts to pull ahead I don’t know, but I’m just so tired and everything hurts so bad.
38.5km and the pace bunny is up the hill and I’m still at the bottom of the hill.
39km and through the thick fog of pain I was in I see and hear the most glorious sight in the world: my mom, shouting as loud as she can “YOU CAN DO IT, KEEP GOING!!!”
I know my mom must have been pretty concerned at that point because she knew how badly I wanted to sub-5:00 and she had seen the 5:00 pace bunny pass without me in sight, until now. My mom could not have picked a better place in the race to have been at that point, because she was exactly where I needed her to be. Her words of encouragement sparked one last shred of determination that had been hidden deep within me under the pain and suffering of the past 4 hours, and I felt that flame burn bright in me as I dug deep for a strong finish. I slowly started to pick up my pace and soon enough the 5:00pace bunny was back in sight. I focused on his pink bunny ears and in my mind I’m picturing a bull charging towards a red sheet, but the real life version of me running to catch up to the pace bunny was more like a slow-motion bull but whatever. I caught up to the 5:00pace bunny and I didn’t stop, I kept going. The spectators were getting louder and louder and I knew the end was near. I saw the 40km marker and at that point it was a U shaped loop to the finish line, so I could see the runners on the other side of the canal heading to the finish line. I forced myself to keep going, and once I saw the 41km marker I started a very slow sprint (lol). I had already lost my mind at that point and I must have had a crazed look in my eyes but I kept going, and I started passing a few people (what?!) and I thought surely I should see the finish line soon, and then I saw the 500m countdown sign and I’m thinking what the heck, I still have half a kilometre to go?! And then the 400m sign, and then the 300m sign, and then I turned the corner and the finish line was 200m away and people are on both sides cheering and ringing cowbells and I’m trying really hard not to cry because it’s hard to do a slow sprint when you’re crying and gasping for air, and then I passed the 100m sign and didn’t know if I would actually sub-5:00 but I didn’t care, I was so happy to be finished, and my legs felt like lead but as I passed that finish line I made one last attempt to smile and not look as desperate as I was feeling for the cameras.
I read once before that you find out what you’re made of when you run a marathon. In the 4 hours, 59 seconds and 4 milliseconds it took me to run 26.2 miles, I found out exactly what I’m made of. And it’s a piece of me that I’m going to hold on to forever.