Tuesday, September 24, 2013

26.2 done? Check YES!!

Ready for the start line

Well, I am a marathoner.  Never would I have ever believed I could be saying something like that.

Running a full marathon is one of those rare life experiences that was every bit as hard and challenging as I imagined it to be, but then again...not. I am one of the lucky ones whose first marathon was more fun than pain or frustration.
let's get this party started!

The Quad Cities Marathon is now in its 16th year, and there also was a half marathon, 5K (run and walk), 1-mile walk and a 5-person relay team option for the marathon.  And what a phenomenal job the committee and volunteers did in pulling off this grand event.

Fuel belt ready...here's the finish line I'll be crossing
I  had two pretty solid weeks of tapering following my half marathon (which was a week following my 20-mile run).  I was so thankful to go through the taper.   I welcomed the rest and recovery, but I dreaded the "hurry up and wait" anxiety that proceeds the event for which said tapering is occurring.  I am also paranoid about injury and over-training, so I took it very easy during the taper...which means the emotions ran high (no pun intended) with minimal exercise to release them.  For the past several days leading up the race, I was constantly fighting back tears whenever I envisioned myself crossing the finish line.  We're talking full-on tears about-to-overspill and that nasty lump in the throat.  It was just so incredible to think I would be running a marathon, not "just a half," but a full 26.2 miles.

Despite all the craziness that accompanies tapering, I felt considerably calm in light of what would be happening to me on race day.  That calmness was a little unnerving, though.  Was I being too calm about everything?  Was I being over confidant?  Was I being too naive as to what would really happen on race day?  Thankfully, an advantage to doing your first race of a different (longer!) distance is you have nothing to compare it to.  For myself, I find comfort in that.  I didn't have any previous marathons-gone-bad to reflect on, or any outstanding finish times to beat.  I had a "goal time" of 4:15, but really had no idea what would happen beyond the 20-mile mark

All races for this event started together at 7:30.  I'm not sure I agree with that format...it was really crowded as we made our way towards the first bridge.  We did, however pass by a local school band playing "Sweet Caroline." Several runners tried singing  along, and I sincerely hope they do not quit their day jobs (just saying).  Once on the bridge, it was very crowded.  We were condensed into one lane of traffic.  It did prevent me from starting out too quickly, but it also had me running much slower than I felt comfortable with.  The first mile took me about 11 minutes, much slower than ideal for the pace I needed.

Once off the bridge, we could spread out as we approached the "one hill at the start of the race."  We had been warned about this hill.  It was not steep, but very long.  I was able to gradually make up some of my time from the slow start, though, and made it to the 2-mile mark by 19 minutes.  Then I got in my groove, and got to mile 3 by 28 minutes.  My pace continued on very steady for the next several miles.

Every time I glanced at my watch at the mile marks, it confirmed my pace was dead-on.  I kept fueling (with gels) every 6 miles or so, and drank water and/or Gatorade at every water station.  I am an emotional person, so there were a few times while running that I could feel tears welling up. UGH.  Hopefully none of the photographers would capture me doing the "ugly cry" with my medal at the finish line.

So, I continued onward.  This race is really unique in that in encompasses four cities on the Iowa/Illinois border (QUAD Cities, get it?), as well as a small island, the Rock Island Arsenal.  We crossed the Mississippi River via several bridges at various times along our way to the 26.2 finish line.  I mentioned there was the "one" hill just after the start of the race, but truthfully, there were several more.  Each time we crossed a bridge to another city (or, on occasion, to another state), we climbed an incline to get there.  Not a big deal.  Actually having a few hills is really a good thing, it gives your muscles a break from the otherwise flat course.

I made it to the halfway point in just over 2 hours, my pace was still doing well.  As I approached the 14-mile mark, I pulled out a granola bar for a quick snack.  I walked for a few minutes as I attempted to eat the bar, but it was not as easy as planned (the eating, not the walking).  The lack of saliva in my mouth made chewing and eating and (eventually) swallowing a very long process.  Finally after several minutes of chewing, I threw the last part of the bar away.  Epic fail!  I  was also in need of a tissue...in a moment of desperation, I grabbed a discarded wash cloth off the ground (yes, I know, EEW!) and blew my nose.  Done.

The next 7 miles or so were on the island, which is a private military setting.  Therefore, there were very few people along the route, other than the volunteers manning the water stations.  It was very scenic and peaceful, but for a race of this distance I would have preferred to have some spectators clapping and cheering along the way.  The temps were ideal, though.  It was in the mid-40's at the start of the race, and never got above the mid-70's.  There also was a gentle breeze, so I never felt hot or over-heated.

shedding the waist-tied shirt when I saw the husband
 Eventually, I made my way off of the island...via another bridge, of course.  As I approached mile 20, I could tell my pace was starting to slow down.  I still felt energized, but I knew this race was far from over.  I hit the 20-mile mark in 3:22, which is the exact  time I clocked for my 20-mile training run.  Since I was hoping to finish in 4:15,  I would really need to focus to knock out the final 6.2 miles in 53 minutes.  If  I had not just run 20 miles and, instead,  was starting a fresh race, this would not have been an issue.  But  this was a marathon.  My first-ever marathon.  I  wanted to just continue to enjoy the experience itself;  the 4:15 finish really was not a priority.  As luck would have it, a little farther down the road, just around the final corner, was my cousin, Jessica, and her husband and three children.  They all called my name and high-5'd me.  Then, just a bit farther I spotted my husband and youngest daughter, Liliann!  More high-5's and cheers!

Lil giving me that last push to the finish
 I was almost to the finish line!  Six miles stood between myself and my victory.   I could feel my pace progressively getting slower, but I never had the desire to stop or even rest.  I knew in another 10 minutes or so there would be another water stand, and another after that, and so on.  I also knew that I was feeling pretty thirsty, so I would need every cup of water or Gatorade offered to me.  I had one remaining gel, so I gulped that down as I approached the water stand at mile 21.  I walked as I drank, and I continued walking for a minute or so afterwards.  I was about to finish a marathon!

I kept going, pausing at each of the remaining stations, and just enjoyed each and every moment.  The sun was shining brightly, there was a great breeze and there were a lot of people cheering throughout these final miles. I could feel my calves starting to cramp slightly, so I took it easy and didn't force anything.

You can't see him very well, but the guy to the left is Dean...my last mile hero!
Just after mile 25, a gentleman passed me and encouraged me to not stop this close to the finish.  I assured him I was just enjoying myself.  He said, "C'mon!  I'll run you in!"   I threw the empty water cup and joined him.  We chatted about how great the race had been.  I asked him how many of these races he's done, and he said he'd done every Quad Cities Marathon...this was his 16th!  I told him it was my first marathon.  He gave me a high-5.....then yelled to the crowd, "Hey everyone!  This is Kim, and it's her first marathon!"  So, tons of applause and cheers came at me.  This continued,  every 100 steps or so,  until we saw some kids waiting to high-5 us. It was my cousins and my daughter again!   My husband got my picture, and high-5'd me as well. Before I knew it, we were crossing the finish line.  I had been worried about crying, but I was so happy, relieved, and proud...there were no tears.  I had done it!  I had crossed the finish line of a marathon.

This gentleman, Dean,  immediately shook hands with another guy once we were inside the finishers' corral.  He then introduced me to this guy  who was none other than Joe Moreno, the race director!  Joe immediately grabbed my hand, congratulated me, then thanked me.  He told me he was so honored that I had chosen the Quad Cities for my first marathon.  Honestly, I do not know how I managed to get through that final mile with Dean (and all the cheering and celebrating) without crying.....maybe I was dehydrated or something  (I had just finished a marathon, after all).

My official finish time was 4:33:38.  I did not make my 4:15 goal, but it truly was such a magical experience, I honestly do NOT care about those extra 18 minutes.  The entire race was wonderful, from start to finish.

I feel very fortunate.  My first-ever marathon was pretty much everything I could hope for.  I felt energetic for most of the race. I think I managed the hydration and fueling well for 26.2 miles.  No carb crashing, no feelings of quitting,  no "hitting the wall" and no regrets.  Even when I was periodically walking  during those last couple miles (and knew I could have been running), I never felt disappointed in myself.  Really, running this marathon wasn't that much harder than running a half marathon...just twice as far!

I've sat down...and I can't get back up!
post race with the husband and youngest daughter

So, could I have trained harder?  Should I have trained longer?  Would that have gotten me across the finish line faster?  Probably.   But, truth be told, I trained just as much as I wanted to.  My summer training consisted of running three days (sometimes four) every week, one of which was a long run on each of the weekends.  I did not have to sacrifice one church service to make the long runs happen since I did all of them on Saturdays (except for a couple that I did during the week if we had Saturday plans).   I simply chose to control my running, and I refused let it control me.  I have a husband and three amazing kids....I refuse to put them behind anything, including my running.  That's how it works for me.

Funny!  Boston Qualifier (not!)

I thought it was funny how it says the post-race party begins 30 minutes after the race begins.....

So, my first marathon is done.  And, guess what?  Already, I have the desire to (maybe) do another, just not any time soon.  I have two half marathons coming up in October.  Total cake walk(s) after doing 26.2.


  1. Congrats Kim! You're my hero! A marathon is on my bucket list, just not sure my body will allow me to do it. I know you love to run so this is like hitting a grand slam for a runner!


    1. thanks, Chuck! 4 months ago if anyone told me I'd be running a marathon in September, I would have laughed in their face. But, I realized there never will be a perfect time to go for it....so I just did it. Maybe you should come to Iowa and do a half with me? Class reunion event????? ;-)

  2. Way to go Kim! So proud of you accomplishing your goal! Enjoyed reading about your journey, thanks for sharing.

  3. This was a beautiful read! So glad you chose to run a marathon. I'm sure another is somewhere in your future...somewhere?-ha! ha! Thanks for sharing and loved the pictures :)

  4. Loved the cute Running Skirt from my favorite running skirt site!

  5. Fantastic post. I love your emphatic belief in not letting the running control you. It's so smart, and it's such an important belief to model for your kids.

  6. Arsenal Island is always mentally hard for me. I love the last 10k out and back, the finish feels so close.

    1. I had heard the last 10K was supposed to be the hardest part of the race, not only hitting the 20-mile mark and knowing you had to kind of pass the finish line and THEN run the 6.2.....but the island was the hardest for me as well. Just kind of long and boring (in comparison to everything else on the course). But I totally loved this experience! congrats to you, too!!!!!

  7. Great job! My first full marathon will be in 2014!! Thanks for sharing your first marathon story :-)

    1. thanks! and best of luck as you tackle the training for YOUR 26.2. You only get to do one "first" marathon, so enjoy the experience ;-)

  8. That is awesome! I really hope my race goes as well as yours did! Congrats!!

  9. As you know, I am preparing my first marathon in less than 6 weeks. I loved reading this. It sums up exactly how I feel and my mindset going into this race. You made me cry ! Thank you !