Monday, November 24, 2008

I did it!!!! -Philadelphia Marathon 2008-

I did it!!!!! woohooo! I still have trouble believing I actually completed my very first marathon. Everyone keeps saying its such a huge accomplishment, but to me, it really doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I just went out for a (somewhat) leisurely very long run. So what if it was 26 miles? No big deal or anything. I really took it easy & went at an easy pace, I took my time and paced myself, I was very optimistic going into the race, and terribly excited as I lined up at the starting chute.

The entire thing was such an emotional experience. I was so filled with emotion that I broke down in tears immediately after crossing the finish line. It was so incredibly moving to run by all the spectators lining the finish chute and see everyone out there showing their support and cheering us on at the very end. The energy was contagious & I felt my speed pick up directly in proportion to the level of cheers around me. I'm not really sure what came over me, I was just so overcome by emotion, at the fact that I survived and I actually did it!! I was crying so hard after I finished, that I crumpled to the ground. I was convulsing in streams of tears. Some lady was kind enough to stop and pick me up, she asked me if I was okay, if I was hurt, and if I needed to find my family. Then she put her arm around me and walked me over to the massage tent where it was warm, and she comforted me the whole time, and let me borrow her phone so I could call my parents.

I was actually quite nervous at first. I legitimately felt sick to my stomach with dread for a few weeks leading up to the race. I knew deep down inside that I did not train as much as I should have, I did not run as far or as often as I could have, I did not push myself as hard as I should have, and I was in no shape to perform my absolute best in the marathon. All that aside, I knew deep down inside that I was perfectly capable of doing this race and there was no doubt that I was going to complete it. There was no question about it. That's the easy part. Now, completing it with a PR... that's an entirely different story altogether!

For the last week leading up to the race, I had a terribly sore throat. It was incredibly painful! It hurt to swallow just about everything, even plain water. I subsisted almost entirely off of tea with lemon, honey and cayenne pepper in varying amounts. (I read somewhere online that the cayenne pepper is supposed to clear your sinuses, but all I got was teary eyes and a burnt tongue.) As a result, I didn't get to properly fuel or hydrate as I knew I should have. I was really nervous about that, coupled with the fact that I didn't run AT ALL the entire week before race day, which wasn't such a hot idea either. Yes, I did get plenty of rest (8 hours every night!) but in all honesty, considering the lack-luster intensity of my training regimen, I really didnt need that much rest time. I really could have ran the entire week with minor tapering and still been sufficiently rested for the marathon. I also hoped that resting would help the sore throat heal faster. No such luck.

The night before the race, my throat was like sandpaper covered in miniature razorblades. Swallowing water was next to impossible and it hurt just to talk. Imagine me sitting at the dinner table with my parents who haven't seen me in so long, with them yapping away and asking tons of questions, me having a lot to tell them, but barely being able to eek out a word here or there with minimal discomfort. I went to bed extremely early. Sunday morning my throat was even worse! I swear I coughed up a tiny bit of blood in T-3 hours to the starting line.

It was FREEZING! We began the race in 27 degrees, and by the time I crossed the finish line, it was a whopping 30 degrees! Of course, after running for 4+ hours, I didn't notice the cold at all, but as soon as I stopped for a bit and let my body temperature drop, I definitely got the chills. At that point, no mylar blankets and no amount of warm, dry clothing was going to help me.

I got a medal! Everyone gets a medal just for finishing, but it is still awesome!! It's a good quality medal, and such a cool memento to have from the race and commemorate my accomplishment.

After the super-kind woman walked me to the massage tent, I stayed there and got a free massage. It was wonderful. I had to wait in line in the freezing cold long after I'd cooled off for almost an hour, but it was so worth it. The woman had a magic touch - she knew exactly where to focus - on my glutes and hamstrings. My glutes were killing me!!! I am seriously going to hurt tomorrow I'm sure.

Aunt Linda came to watch me! It was awesome to have her there along with my parents, cheering me on at the 19 mile mark... and again at the 21 mile mark! (the course went out & back at one point during the second half.) The crowds were pretty sparse throughout most of the marathon course. They arranged sections ahead of time called "cheer zones", where spectators could all gather to cheer together and get a clear view of the runners... so whenever we ran past said "cheer zones" it was simply awesome. The energy of the crowd carried me forward, and the running felt truly effortless, like I was floating along, whenever I passed a crowd of spectators. It didn't matter if it was mile 3 or mile 20... whenever I passed a crowd, I felt like I had just begun and could keep running forever. Which made it that much harder when we hit the long stretches of no spectators at all. Miles 14-19 and 21-25 were by far the longest stretches and the most boring parts of the entire course. This part was very scenic, running along the Schukyill River out to Mannayunk & back, but it was such a drag.

Mannyunk was awesome, with the crowds lining the streets, spectators cheering loudly, offering everything from beer, to cookies, brownies, and oranges, and the band playing right at the 20-mile turn around mark. The energy was incredible. It was by far the best most exciting part of the entire course. and right there in the middle of it all was my aunt & my parents! My dad even recruited a few surrounding people to cheer for me as well. I loved it.

I only wish that more of my friends could have come out to watch. I know so many people in Philly & South Jersey, yet not a single person made it out to cheer me on. Poor planning, lack of planning altogether, inability to get out of bed at 8am on a Sunday, and inability to find me on the course. Desirae Brown did come though!! she drove all the way down with her bf, but got stuck in traffic that was re-routed around the course & I never got to see her. She apparently was sitting alongside the course & saw me go by though! I also received so many text messages & phone calls that morning wishing me good luck!!

It was so cold that the foghorn froze at the start! The mayor had to speak a verbal countdown to get the race started. They did a tiered start... I think that's what it's called... when they let runners go off in waves? I read that this was something new they tried and it seemed to work well, it definitely alleviated over-crowding early in the course. However, it still delayed my start. It wasn't until about 15-20 minutes after the scheduled start time that I actually crossed the starting line. In the meantime, I was standing in line trying to stay warm and limber as my HR slowly dropped in the sub-freezing weather. I was surrounded by runners with similar sentiments.

At one point, just before the start, a woman with a camera and notepad who looked like a reporter came up to me and asked: "have you run this marathon before?" to which I replied "no, this is my first time." I thought this would interest her because 1) it is the truth and 2) it might be interesting to get a first-timer's perspective on the whole marathon gig. but no such luck. she responded "oh. well good luck!" and moved on to seek out her next prospective interviewee. I was heartbroken. I was SO close to being in the news! I guess I should take it as a complement. Perhaps the way I was dressed with my shorts layered over my leggings, my nifty fuel pack, headband, and Philly marathon long sleeve tee-shirt, coupled with the way I bouncing around the starting chute, perhaps all that coupled together screamed "experienced marathoner right here folks!" in which case I should be extremely flattered.

It was even so cold that the water froze on the ground at all the water stops! Every single time we approached a water stop, all the volunteers yelled "watch out for the ice!" I heeded their warnings & drastically reduced my speed to save myself from an unsightly fall on the ice. My strategy proved effective until the very last water stop. By the time I got there, I was so exhausted & famished that all I could think about was water, water, water, water... I was so completely focused on the outstretched hand in front of me offering that liquid manna, when just as I reached out to grab that glorious cup, my foot hit a slick patch of ice and slipped right out from under me. I dropped straight down into a hurdler's pose. Immediately, a bunch of runners gathered around me asking if I was okay and offering to help me up, it was touching to see so many people stop their marathon progress to make sure I was all right. I wasn't hurt though. I just got right up again, drank my water and kept on running!

My fueling strategy worked out very well. I bought a small, lightweight waist pouch at the expo the night before the race. I had planned on running the entire marathon with a plastic bag of candy & dried fruit in my hand!! How naive. That definitely would have screamed "beginner" to everyone around me, and probably would have been terribly annoying after a while. I brought gummie bears, sweedish fish, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and orange sports beans. I stopped every time I felt like I needed a little nourishment, and every time I stopped, I ate a few pieces of everything (a mixture). I ate more sweedish fish earlier in the race because they have the most sodium, and saved the sports beans for later in the race when I was famished & really needed the extra push. My sore throat miraculously disappeared mid-way through the race & I easily gulped down water at about 6 water stops, maybe more, to be honest, by now I can't remember such details. Just like I can't remember exactly what miles/times I stopped to re-fuel. I need to work on eating while continuing to run, it will save me SO much time.

I had to stop 3 times to stretch. It was so cold, and I was so late that I had time to warm up before the start, but no time to stretch properly. I thought I would be okay, but the lack of stretching caught up with me around mile 10. My hamstrings were so tight, I almost thought I was going to have to give up & finish with the half marathoners back at the art museum. I stopped for a good 2-3 minutes to stretch my legs, then resumed running. Less than a mile later, I realized I needed to stretch more effectively, stopped again & dedicated a solid 5 mins or so to loosening my overly tight muscles. It was enough to get me past the mid-way point. I flew through the crowds at the Art museum then dragged myself along the long stretch from 14-18, slowing practically to a walk here and there, for about 1 or 2 miles, picked up the pace again as I approached Mannayunk, and really started moving around the hairpin turn, then dragging myself once again along the longgg Schuykill stretch... the only good thing about it was that it was easier to cope with mentally knowing that I was on my back towards the finish! I had to stop again around mile 22 or so, just before the water stop where I slipped & fell on my ass. I stopped for a long time, stood in the grass, laid down on a wall and really stretched. I didn't think I was going to finish, my hams were so tight. I just plowed on through. Those last few miles were the longest miles ever.

All in all it was an amazing experience and I can't wait to do it again. Next time I will be absolutely committed to training the way I'm supposed to. I'm incredibly optimistic. Now that I know I can actually survive the marathon & do decently well with minimal preparation, I know that I could do so much better if I actually focused on training and really worked at it! I now have 2 goals: breaking 4 hours and qualifying for Boston. I'm going to use Philly as my qualifying race, because it's supposedly a great course for PR's and Boston qualifiers. In the meantime, I need to find a marathon to run this spring. And in the short interim meantime, I'm going to keep running... because that's what I love doing. I've always loved it, and this marathon experience just solidified that for me. I was so excited all throughout the race, I kept thinking, this is awesome, this is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. This marathon will be the first of many. I am officially a marathon runner! cool. I absolutely can't wait for the next one!

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