I did it. I finished 26.2 miles in 4:40:48. There is a list of people who I want to thank as well as my NOLA trip overall, but I will save that for subsequent posts. I do want to talk about the day and how the whole thang went down!!
I woke up pretty early and made a peanut butter sandwich for John and me in keeping with my long run routines. We grabbed coffee at the hotel’s breakfast bar and walked a 2 mile warm up on St. Charles Avenue to Start Village. I didn’t really drink my coffee, I just used it to keep my hands warm. I could tell the weather would be absolutely perfect because there was barely any wind and the morning sky was free of clouds.
We talked about how crazy this was about to be and John says, “Embrace the fact that this is going to suck.” I laughed him off, but his words would come back to me later that morning. Once at Start Village, all of the pent-up energy of 22,000 people was in the air and if I weren’t running that morning, I would’ve just sat around and people watched. People stretching on one side, tutus grouped on another, boxes full of bagels for the last minute carbo load, and all the people in line for the portapotties. I kept looking at everyone’s hydration choice: handhelds, fuelbelts, camelbaks. I chose to rely on the water stations for this race because it seemed alright to do so (no RnR Vegas scenarios here), but one of my future purchases will be something fancier than my Dasani bottle.
Getting into the corrals was pretty easy. As far as I could tell, there was no one enforcing the corral which didn’t bother me, but I can see how it would bother someone else. We were in corral 14 and once the race was underway, we found ourselves darting through slower runners and walkers. I expected this from running in larger races, but I still feel that they should move right. Well, I probably should get faster and move up corrals, instead.
Anyway, I forgot my Garmin back home, so I relied on my watch and wouldn’t you know, once we stepped off the finish line, I forget to start it. Luckily, John reminds me about a minute in and I decide that I will run according to how I feel and not so much on my watch. My strategy was to be super conservative for the first 20 miles and then run the last 6.2 according to how I felt.
Miles 1 – 7: I am just so happy to be here. With my armwarmers, the morning feels just right and I look forward to seeing my in-laws when the course passes in front of their hotel. I stop to use the portapotty once or twice, drank way too much water this morning. I stop at one water station to take off moleskin that is causing a big toe blister. The bands sound great (especially Tulane’s brass band) and those crazy spectators with their hilarious signs make me smile. My favorite: WORST PARADE EVER. TAKE A CAB. GET THERE FASTER.
Miles 8 – 10: Begin GU-ing. Running along Magazine Street, I get offered my first free beer – sorry, have to pass this time. Strains of bag pipe music are in the air as we approach the World War II museum and this initiates Emotional Moment #1. I’m so happy to be alive and running, I think to myself. We pass underneath a massive Rock and Roller inflatable on Decatur Street, towards Jackson Square and through the French Market. The support crews are lively, dressed up in costumes and I’m drinking water and Gatorade at each station. There’s a runner who is wearing a bunch of placards dedicating the miles to someone and he changes the placard to someone new as I pass by.
Miles 10 – 13: We begin running up Esplanade, past Checkpoint Charlie (it’s a bar and a laundromatt!) and into an area of New Orleans that I’ve never been before. I strive to take in the sight of the houses, but the narrow lane and other runners around me make it difficult. John reminds me that our race begins at mile 20 as a lot of the half-marathoners begin to turn it up. There was a lot of online discussion about Esplanade being riddled with potholes, but it wasn’t. The spectators and support crews on this stretch were really supportive, but then I heard one of them say, “You still have a long way to go, marathoners!” At the edge of City Park, us full runners took a hard left and continued on while the halfers were thatmuch closer to their finishing glory. I give John a high-five.
Miles 13 – 16: As the road empties of those running the half, I begin to feel a little antsy. I soo want the rest of this to go well. We run along the outskirts of City Park and at one water stop, I accidentally hit one of the teenagers with my emptied water cup. At this point in the race, I see that I’m running 10:30 miles so I focus on increasing my pace to 10:20, 10:15. I start to gain on people, but I try not to be too annoying about it, making sure I say hi and giving them a thumbs up as I shuffle by. The faster runners from the earlier corrals begin passing us by as they head to the finish line. First the guys, then the women, but I try not to watch them too much lest I get demoralized by their swiftness and muscular bodies. John stops to use the portapotty and he tells me that he’s not going to catch up with me anymore and we agree to see each other at the end. Again, the bands and support crews are wonderful on this stretch. One support crew offers me a mini martini, but I politely decline and grab a handful of pretzels instead. I begin to walk the water stations now, making sure I hydrate enough and replenish my salt for what’s to come.
Miles 16 – 20: I have been listening to the bands and the sounds of the course so far, but something about running along Lake Pontchartrain made me put in my earbuds and turn on my power playlist. Among the songs, one comes on that causes Emotional Moment #2: David Guetta and Sia, “Titanium” Sample lyric: “You shoot me down, but I won’t fall. I am titanium.” Titanium sustained me through a bunch of long runs and the instant memory of those training runs flashing to now, this moment, made my breathing a little heavier and labored. Can’t cry here, I’m not done yet! More walking of the water stations and eating pretzels and GU.
Mile 21: What.Is.That.Sensation.In.My.Quads? I’m pretty sure my body just said, “Why are we still moving?” I get cramps in both of my quads like I’ve never felt before. It’s as if they were about to seize and I would fall on my face. So I stop to walk and rub them out, trying not to panic, taking deep breaths and just taking it easy until I feel like I can run. Is this what John was talking about? The moment where it all begins to suck? What is this PAIN? Do I keep walking? Do I walk faster? When the cramps started to subside, I began a slow shuffle until I was back to pace.
Mile 22 – 24: Begin run-cramp-walk-rub-it-out cycle. This would’ve been a rough moment, but I knew that there was a difference between Pain-I-Can’t-Really-Move and Pain-This-Will-Suck-But-I’ll-Keep-Moving. It’s different for everyone and I think this is the adrenaline fueled moment that endurance athletes live for. I, looking back, am scared of it now! As we pass the same support stations from Miles 15-16, I absolutely accept a mini-martini and eat the olive. I also high-five a wonderful woman with the most fabulous nails.
Mile 25: We’re now back at the City Park perimeter and I can taste the finish line. I feel like the only way to get rid of these quad cramps is to run them out so I really pick up my pace to where my breathing is double time (in-in-out, in-in-out) and decide to just go for it. If I have to throw up at the end, I will, I just want to get there so I can stop. I pick up the pace and run past a ska band, The Local Skank, where I give them the last of the applause that I’ve been giving to all the bands and dig in. I can’t believe I’m almost at the end after those awful cramps. I run around the Museum of Art and approach the chute where spectators have lined up. Casting Crowns’ “Courageous” comes on my iPod and so begins Emotional Moment #3.
Mile 26 – 26.2: Inspired by the man wearing placards, I told myself that I would run Mile 24 for my Grandma who passed away, Mile 25 for my Auntie Beth who also passed, and then the last .2 for my two cousins, her daughters. This dedication coupled with the meaning of “Courageous” and the imminence of the finish line made for the peak of Emotional Moment #3. My ugly cry face comes on as I hurry to the finish line and once crossed, I scream/cry out of delight/amazement/thankfulness. Yes, please give me that medal, take my picture, I did it with the grace of God!
I was told that there was nothing like finishing your first marathon and that your main goal should be to finish with the desire to run another and for me, those two are true. The feelings I had that day made me feel so high on life and so appreciative to people who inspired me and family and friends who motivated me. While I didn’t go to church that Sunday, I definitely prayed for God to guide me through the race and let whatever will happen to be His will. I had Philippians 4:13 temporarily tattooed on my left hand so that I would be reminded of His strength as I made use of what He gave me. The whole thing was amazing and exhilarating.
On another level, I was really satisfied with my time: 4:40:48. I wish it were closer to my 4:30 goal, but I know that I ran the best I could with what I had. Maybe next time, I’ll learn how to gauge my hydration so that I’m not in line for the portapotty or I’ll add speedwork to my training and shave some time off. My marathon was no Boston qualifier, but it sure was a Bucket List qualifier.
PS: I got sick right after the race, it was expected. I wish I would’ve wrote this sooner, but my body had other plans. I guess part of my recovery is clearing out the phlegm. 🙂
Thanks for reading this far. More to come on the rest of my exciting race weekend.
I hope you all enjoy your run, no matter the distance! 🙂