Reflections on my First Marathon

***While I am only posting this now, I wrote this over a year ago after finishing the 2017 Ottawa Marathon. Even though the words are over a year old, I felt it important to post them to give readers a baseline for all that has happened since then.***

I still have a hard time expressing all my thoughts about what it felt like to finish my first marathon without getting choked up. To complete a full marathon is a very emotional thing. It gets to you down deep and it’s kind of unexplainable. Why does running for 4+ hours make you weepy?

I’ll take you through my day:

Ottawa Marathon 2017

Ottawa Tamarack Weekend 2017

5:00am – Wake Up

Thanks to the wonderful support of everyone’s families that came to watch us run we were able to have a baby-free sleep the night before race day.  So 5:00am came and it was go time. Get dressed (I remembered all my running clothes this time, Hallelujah- see my post here about why this was significant). Eat. Hydrate. So far everything was going as planned.

We met the gang in the hotel lobby to make our way to the start line. Again, thanks to our amazing support team of parents and boyfriends and siblings, we got dropped off at the start line and didn’t have to give a second thought to parking or stashing gear. In the car I remember not being able to eat anything else because my stomach had already turned in to a nervous jumble. We had plenty of time to do our last minute preparations before getting into our corrals and wait for the gun.

6:50am – Corrals.

I was a giant mix of excitement and nerves at this point and I just wanted that gun to go off and get going. There was a beautiful flag ceremony before the start of the race and they passed it over the heads of the 5000 athletes standing waiting to run. 5000 athletes in the full marathon alone!!  43,000 running across all events during the weekend. The largest race I’d ever done was 1/10 of the size. And there were elite athletes from all over the world coming to compete.  To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement. But there was no turning back.

7:00am – Race Start

We were released in the 3rd wave behind the elites and the fastest runners and we were finally on the course. I had goosebumps from excitement. I started my watch and set my mind to the task at hand.

My plan was to run 15:1 intervals, like I’d trained and I wanted to run a negative split race. This means I would run the first half slower and increase my pace going in to the second half. I wanted to run with Barbara Ann (also known as BBA) for the first 10km, then head off on my own from there.  I knew I was capable of maintaining a faster pace than I’d typically be running, so my plan was to stick with her for the first 10km then I was on my own.

7:40am – I Lost BBA

In the giant wave of runners navigating the course I was running slightly ahead BBA but I had her just off my left shoulder.  Or so I thought.  I kept glancing back to make sure she was still there, and once I’d hit our 2nd walk break I looked back to make sure she was with me and she wasn’t.  Turns out there was someone else wearing the exact same colour as her now in her spot.  My heart sank.  I’d lost her already and I panicked a little.  I hopped up on the curb to see if I could scout her, but she’d been swallowed in the mass of people and there was no hope in finding her.  So new plan – I popped my headphones in, started my playlist and set off on my own.

8:56:30am – 1/2 Way

8:56:30 is very specific, but I know this exact moment because it was when I hit the halfway point and set myself a new PB 1/2 marathon time! Woot!  At this point, I had been running smoothly and even caught up to Billy and was feeling strong.  I ran with Billy for a few kilometers, and took this time to get re-motivate myself for what was left ahead.  It’s amazing what finding a friend on the course can do for your energy levels.  A few final “good lucks” and I was off on my own again.

9:57am – Billy Found Me

I will forever remember this part of my race as the time when “Billy found me.”  And that’s exactly what happened.  Having never run more than 32km before and never having completed the full marathon distance, there was this gap between what I knew I could run, and what was uncharted territory.  This is where I was at this exact moment.  They call it “hitting the wall” in running.  And I sure as heck ran smack into it face first.  I had been running so strong up until this point and all of a sudden I was overcome with nausea and light-headedness that my first instinct was to sit down.  But I knew better than that.  If I sat down I would have closed my eyes and fallen asleep.  So I stayed on my feet and started walking.

I got a little encouragement from passers-by and other runners as they passed me, but not enough to get me going again.  That was until Billy found me.  He looked at me and asked me how I was doing.  The look on my face must have said it all.  I was super dehydrated and under-fuelled for the heat we were running in.  “Not good, I feel awful.  I’m either going to puke or pass out and I really need to pee.”  There is zero shame in running – we tell each other everything.  So being the amazing friend he is, Billy starts trying to get me to eat, drink and just keep moving.  He tells me he’s going to stay with me at least until the next water station and to make sure I find a port-a-potty.

10:05am – Just Keep Moving

So we walked.  And we walked.  And we finally find a bathroom stop.  Billy waited for me and I got to relieve at least some of my pain points.  Next we hit a sponge station and douse ourselves in cool water and gradually start to run again.  We make it to the next water station and refill our bottles and decide to stick together.  Billy’s legs were exhausted and the name of the game at this point was don’t pass out, let’s make it to the finish line.  Without this moment of kindness during my race when I was at my worst, I would not have made it to the finish line.  I know this to be 1000% true.

I can’t really describe to you what this kind of exhaustion feels like, but it was akin to dragging lead weights on my ankles.  Everything hurt from the waist down and my breathing had become laboured and ragged.  Billy and I could only run about 1km before we had to stop and take a walk break.  But the goal was to get to the finish line, how ever we had to make it there.  My 4-hour finish goal was out the window and I was ok with that.

10:30 – The BEST Oranges I’ve Ever Had

By this point the thought of gels or gummies was enough to turn my stomach and I had run out of Gatorade miles ago.  But I needed fuel.  As we came around one of the course loops, I remembered that there were oranges and bananas at one of the water stations coming up.  Only problem was that it was for runners heading in the other direction.  I didn’t care.  Once I saw the station I made for it like a bat out of hell (to be honest I could barely lift my feet off the ground and people could probably have walked faster than I was running).  I crossed over the median on the road, went off course and ran up to the volunteers and just said “ORANGES!!”  God bless them.  This wonderful girl filled my hands with orange slices and I ran back to Billy grinning from ear to eat.  Those were the best goddamn oranges I have ever had in my whole life.

10:37 – We Find Sean

One thing I never expected to do during my race was to catch Sean or Sabrina.  I knew they were faster than me and I knew they had a different finishing strategy than me.  So when Billy and I came up behind Sean we both looked at each other and said “That’s not good.”  Turns out Sean’s quads had locked up about 10km before and his blood sugars had gone low, therefore throwing his race.  He knew we weren’t far behind so he’d slowed down in hopes of finding us.  Now we were 3.

We shuffled along like this for what seemed like forever.  Everything hurt.  But at least I had friends.

10:56km – 40km Marker

2.2km left to go.  We had NOTHING left to give.  I can’t count the number of curse words we used in this final stretch.  I do distinctly remember someone on the sidelines yelling “You’re looking good!  You got this!” to which I responded (as jokingly as I could muster, although I really meant it) “LIES!”  They laughed. We laughed too.  It was all we could do at this point.

Somewhere around 41km I remember just wishing with all my might that I could see the finish line.  Just how much further did I have to go?  I looked to Sean and Billy and told them I just wanted my f-ing medal.  I think I was half crying at that point.

But then I saw it.  The crowds of people were massive and the noise from everyone cheering was deafening.  From somewhere deep down inside me, I found one tiny little ounce of energy left.  I dug deep and with Sean right beside me and Billy right behind me, we gave it everything we had left and crossed that finish line.

We crossed the finish line with the exact same time. What better way to finish my first full marathon than side by side.

11:15:31am

42.2km.  My first full marathon.

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