I've done a lot of races in my time.
In fact, I don't even know the exact count. I have kept almost all of my race bibs (minus a few strays from the early years before I considered myself a "real" runner, that is), but please don't ask me to count them.
I have had some great races, and I have definitely had some nasty ones.
If I were to name my best race experience, though, it would be tough. There are too many factors (the weather, the terrain, the crowds, the training that got me there, etc.) to name the absolute best one that I've experienced. The 2013 Quad Cities Marathon, though, would definitely be a contender.
What made that race, in that particular year, so special? It was my first marathon (recap), that's what.
At the time, I had already done many races, of various distances. The half marathon had become (and still is) my favorite distance. Although the thought of doing a full marathon was intimidating, it was something that I knew I'd regret not trying.
I spent most of that summer training, via a Hal Higdon intermediate plan. I've never been a high-mileage runner, and the training plan I used had me doing an optional short run on Monday, a 4-mile run on Tuesday, a 6-mile run on Thursday, and my long run on Saturday. There was some strength-training, but I didn't do much speedwork (other than occasional hill sprints up a grassy hill near the country club golf course).
September 22nd arrived and I was ready. Having never done a marathon before, I had nothing to compare it to, but I knew to keep an open mind. I wanted to enjoy the experience and not be stressed about my pace or mile splits or finish time. I'd heard so many stories of first-time marathoners being nervous and preoccupied with the unknowns...and I didn't want that for me. I wanted this to be an experience to look back on with fondness and gratitude.
|there's the finish line...|
So, what made this race so memorable and (almost) picture perfect?
The weather. Race day blessed me with near-perfect weather. There was sunshine, with cool temps at the race start. It got warmer as the morning wore on, but was never uncomfortable.
Unique race course. The Quad Cities are a cluster of four cities on the Mississippi River...Davenport and Bettendorf (both in southeastern Iowa) and Moline and East Moline (in northwest Illinois). Also included in this cluster is Rock Island, a small military arsenal on a small island (in the bay of the river). The race course goes through each of these cities (as well as Rock Island), encompassing several trips across the bridges connecting all of them.
My own cheer squad. The hubby and youngest daughter were there, along the course. Unknown to me, one of my cousins (and her family) had schemed with my husband to surprise me on the race course, so I got to see them a couple of times, as well, as I was running.
A surprise personal escort in the final mile. As I was walking through the mile-25 water stand, a gentleman ran past me and said "Hey, you can't stop now! You're almost done!" I assured him I was fine, albeit a bit tired...but he said to join him, and that he'd run me in. As we chatted, he told me he'd run every QC Marathon, so this was his 16th time running this course. When I told him it was my first-ever 26.2, he immediately high-5'd me and shouted the news to the crowd. We kept chatting, and he continued rallying the crowd (several times) on my behalf.
|approaching the finish line with Dean|
I avoided The Wall. I had heard of the proverbial "wall." For many, it hits them around the 20-mile mark (but can probably happen at any time). Their fuel has run out, as has their energy. Their legs are shot. Many feel they absolutely cannot go a step further. Thankfully, I was not a victim. I was able to manage my fuel and hydration, and did take a few walk breaks near the end, so I never had any of those thoughts/feelings of quitting.
A monumental finish line. Not only did I have Dean escorting me, but the hubby, daughter, my cousin (and family) all were there, right before the finish line. Also, immediately after crossing the finish line, Dean grabbed another guy and introduced me to him...who was none other than Mr. Joe Moreno, the race director. Mr. Moreno shook my hand and thanked me. He told me he was honored that I'd chosen the QC Marathon for my first marathon. Somehow, I got through all of those moments without crying (I think I may have been dehydrated LOL).
So, yeah. I truly was blessed with a fabulous first marathon. I have since gone back and ran the QC Half Marathon and been on two different marathon relay teams.
It would be a bit remiss, though to not give a mention of one of my worst race experiences. Let me set the scene...
It was July 9, 2016, a hot and humid evening. I was with my friends, Barb and Chuck. Barb and I had run an 8K trail race earlier that morning. I'd noticed something feeling off with my hamstring/piriformis region (an area I'd had issues with before), but thought things would feel better by evening.
We were getting ready to run the Midnight Madness 15K (recap)...which included a 5K at 7:30 p.m., followed by a 10K at 8:30 p.m. We'd made it through the 5K, and I was feeling miserable. I'd tried warming up before the race, and I desperately did a lot of frantic stretching in those 30 minutes before the 10K would start. Things were NOT feeling good. Again, I was hopeful that the muscles would loosen up once I started running and all would be fine and dandy.
Long story short, within the first 1/2 mile of the 10K, I knew it wasn't meant to be. In all actuality, I'd known that before the start of the 5K, but had foolishly ignored that gut instinct. Also, I had a big race coming up, a 12-hour ultra, a week later...and that race was more important to me than the 10K I had no business even starting with compromised body parts.
|sitting curbside, DNF'd!|
Luckily, the first mile of the 10K looped out and back, so that gave me a perfect "out." Once I made the decision to pull over and surrender my timing chip, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I didn't feel any sadness, nor any regret, because I knew I'd done the right thing by DNF'ing. Too bad I hadn't made that decision earlier in the evening. Alas, that's my one and only DNF. Like a first-ever marathon, you only get one first-ever DNF...if it comes with a lesson, it's not a bad thing.
If you were asked to name your best race ever, would you be able to pick just one? Could you name a worst race? Have your ever taken a DNF?
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