I was your regular tomboy growing up. I played every sport imaginable from soccer to swimming to tennis to softball to basketball. All required some form of running…and I would do the running…but my running would always be part of an act of the sport. I never “went running.”
That all changed my senior year of college. I was tired of huffing and puffing and shocking my body back into the swing of things the first month of basketball practice… so I decided to join the cross country team – it wasn’t difficult since our assistant coach was also the head coach for cross country whose trail warrior team was severly lacking members. That summer and early fall introduced me to the sport of running faster than someone else…and that should have been just fine. I am extremely competitive…and I HATE losing more than just about anything…but during cross country races it was all I could do to finish.
The women’s race was a standard 5k. Just 3.1 miles. Doesn’t sound far…but when your coach pops out from behind trees when you’re just about to collapse, jumping up and down, yelling at you to “Go faster! Relax your upper body! Swing your arms!”…and fast was a 7 minute mile and your legs were jello and your lungs were on fire…3.1 miles feels like an eternity. The first race I ran I was out of steam with about a mile to go and ran-walked the rest of the way, thinking to myself that this was the worst idea ever in the history of my decisions. I dreaded every race after that. Immediately after crossing the finish line at the conference championship race, I peed myself. It was completely involuntary and the first and only time it happened where I remembered it. My body was so relieved to be finished that it just…went… I guess. I still have no idea what really happened there… Right before the race, the coach pulled four of us aside and said, in his hyper-active excited “go get ’em!” voice that in order to win, we all had to come in under 10th place. I don’t know why I was included in that little pep talk…I was by far not one of the fastest…but my competitiveness took over even my dignity. I was 9th.
Since then I’ve taken to the road as an outlet to my stress…to try to stay in shape…and to run races. I like races now…because I’m not racing to beat someone else. I’m racing to beat myself – my own time in that distance…and if you pick the right races, everyone is a winner because we all get medals and t-shirts and congratulations from strangers like we’ve just beaten a world record. Who doesn’t enjoy that?
A few years back I was jobless…and so to calm my brain and make it think I was doing something productive…I decided to train for a marathon. I like to do things all the way – kind of on the extreme side. Tim now has to warn me to hold back when I want to start something new…because I want to do or try the most advanced way immediately. Case in point: the third time I had ever- in my life – gone mountain biking, Tim and I went on the Olympic mountain biking course in Georgia – yes, the one the professionals raced on in 1996 to win a gold medal – and I almost flipped over my bike, flew into a tree and lost complete control at least a dozen times. But I survived and I’d do it again.
I started my marathon training after researching dozens of training schedules and race locations and what to eat and how to remain sane after being out on the road for hours and what kind of pronation I had and how and when to buy shoes… I read dozens of race reports and training experiences on the Runnersworld and Cool Running websites… finally I felt like I knew enough to pick a race. I found a marathon within driving distance and was also 18 weeks away – the length of the training schedule I picked. It ended up being the Chickamauga Marathon in the Chickamauga Battlefield in North Georgia. After a month or so into the training, Tim started calling it the “Chick-chick-chick-a-maaauuuuugaaa” marathon.
Based on all of my “research” I knew I needed to run a marathon when it was cool outside – the fall or early winter. Since we’re down in the South…fall is still too hot so winter it was and the marathon was in November. The only problem with that was I had to train throughout the blistering heat of the summer months. My long runs began at 4:30am and ended anywhere between 9 and 11am and by then it was a humid, stifling 80 degrees. Not fun. One morning during a 21 mile run, I ran out of water and gatorade and still had about three miles to go. I think I understand why dehydrated people hallucinate mirages… I passed a group of construction workers with a HUGE orange thermos. I swear that thing had arms and legs and big googly eyes and was calling out to me, convincing me that it held the sweetest, most thirst-quenching liquid in the whole universe. It took every ounce of will-power not to run up and start drinking right out of the little nozzle. To make things even more prophetic – I locked myself out of the house. The only thing I did right was to carry my cell phone with me…so I called Tim and begged for his help…30 minutes later I was finally able to quench my thirst. I learned two very important lessons that day.
My goal was to finish under 5 hours. I didn’t care if it was 4:59:59. Anything less than 5 and I was happy. On race day, Tim and I left the hotel early and on our way had to make a stop at a McDonalds…my nerves started getting to me and the business I had to do was not happening in a port-o-potty. It was unusually warm – about 50 degrees. I decided to wear shorts, a wicking under armor shirt and thin long sleeved wicking under armor top. I knew to dress to be cool but not cold, at the start.
The marathon was small, which I liked – only about 400 people participated. Tim and my family were going to meet me at various points throughout the course. It was a double loop so I had to run the same thing twice. It was a more of a curse than a blessing…and I will never do it again. When it comes to race courses, I do not like to know what to expect. I’d rather find out as it is happening. With this race…I knew exactly what was coming and knew exactly where hills and hard parts and the smelly horses were. They put mile markers down that served a double purpose. One my first loop, mile 8 and mile 23 were on the same sign – that didn’t do much for the confidence scale.
By the time I reached that mile 23 sign again I may as well have been walking I was so slow…but I kept going. Everything hurt. EVERYTHING. The location of the last few miles didn’t allow for any spectators…so it was just me, the ghosts of the battlefield and the paved trail. At this point, if you are not self motivated, you’re in trouble.
The race started and ended at a church and when I saw that white steeple I almost started crying. I found some kind of spare energy and picked up my pace from snail to turtle speed. As I crossed the finish line, I saw the clock say 4:49 and then the rest was a blur. I remember a medal being placed around my neck and my brothers surrounding me and my dad telling them to back off. I just kept walking…tears welling up…the realization hitting me. I finished. I did it. I was a marathoner.
In all of the stories I read, everyone said how hungry they were a few hours after finishing. I was looking forward to that…eating whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted because my body would surely be on empty. It never really happened to me… I wasn’t hungry at all…which was really a disappointment.
The next morning I could barely walk. It was painful to even breathe…but it was worth it every second…every day of training where I dreaded going out to run… Just thinking back to that whole experience makes me want to do it again. Tim and I run half marathons…but 13.1 miles really aren’t the same kind of challenge for me…26.2 miles takes me to a whole different place – mentally and physically.
Here’s me. Before, during and after the Chickamuaga Marathon. Emotions…as you can see from my face…are all over the place.
Here’s the training schedule I followed. It is in a post all by itself…until I can figure out where to put it.