I did it! After starting to dream about running a marathon in 2009, on November 8th, the dream finally became reality at the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, GA. Countless miles, GUs, chats with my bestie, and viewing of Spirit of the Marathon went into the last six months.
Still high off the Publix Half from March, RunningBFF and I signed up for our first full. Unfortunately, our training was plagued by illness, injuries, and a growing sense of impending doom. While we got up to about seventeen miles for our longest run, neither one of us felt great about our training, and our goal was simply to survive and finish within the seven hour time cap.
The course is billed as flat and fast, and while it was pretty flat, there were a fair amount of small rollers and one big hill at mile three where they have drill sergeants out to “motivate” you up the climb. I discovered that years after high school and collegiate sports, I still respond to yelling for motivation.
RunningBFF and I got really lucky and found a pair of sisters (shout out to Andrea and Laura: you guys saved our race!) who were also coming off of a less-than-ideal training cycle and were doing run-walk intervals. We hung with them for the first sixteen miles until we got derailed for a few minutes by angry stomachs. We picked our way home, running and walking, for the last ten miles, taking our time. After we hit the twenty mile mark, we knew we were going to finish without a doubt, which was by far one of the greatest moments of the race for me.
The crowd support on this small race (1,500 runner cap) was incredible! I was so impressed by how loud everyone at all of the water stations were, even after standing out in the cold for five-plus hours. They made a back-of-the-packer like me feel just as special as the top finishers. Also, they gave out GU at four different stations along the course. I was thankful to be able to carry less with me at one time! Speaking of top finishers, the last eighteen or so miles of the course is an out-and-back to Phenix City, AL. This meant that as we were headed out, we were able to see and cheer for everyone else as they came by.
And then I finished. It’s been a week, and I don’t know if it’s completely sunk in that I finally finished my marathon. After building something up in my head for five years, it seemed simultaneously like the biggest deal in the world and strangely anticlimactic. I hugged RunningBFF, got my dog tags from the (very cute) soldiers at the finish line, then grabbed water and a bagel and hopped in line for a post-race massage. I think immediately afterwards, my normally very emotionally contained father was more excited than I was. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited and proud, but I think I was more contemplative than anything else.
Of course, I’m super proud. The marathon always seemed like an unattainable fool’s errand, even on race morning. And I finished it. At the same time, I feel ready to move on and focus on other things. I’m ready to run faster at some shorter distances and get back to a place where training doesn’t feel like a chore. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll ever be back for another marathon. I certainly won’t become a marathon maniac anytime soon. One is enough for right now. It might be enough forever, and I know that separates me from a lot of other bloggers who run. And that’s okay.
The biggest thing this whole process taught me is to believe in myself. RunningBFF and I overcame an awful lot just to get to the start line, let alone to finish, and I went to some dark places in the training cycle and in the race that I now know I can overcome. I know how badly I can hurt, and how much tougher I am mentally than I thought. Does that translate to another marathon down the road? I don’t know. It does translate to a new sense of perspective on myself. What else can I overcome? What’s my next challenge?
While my next challenge isn’t another marathon, I can’t wait to see what it is.