Sunday, September 16, 2012

My First Marathon: Kristen's Story

I was hooked on running after my first 5k race I ran with my dad, in 5th grade.  Over the past fifteen years I’ve competed in running during middle and high school cross-country and track teams.  I also received a scholarship to run cross-country at the collegiate level at Erskine College.  I continued my running career by running my first half marathon on my 23rd birthday in the Uwharrie National Forest.  Needless to say, none of my previous training was anything comparable to training and racing a full marathon of 26.2 miles!  I wrote down goals for my life in 9th grade, and running a marathon was at the top of that list.  It wasn’t until I started running with the Blue Liners, Sole Sisters, and Thad’s RunnerDudes and Dudettees that I realized that I was a strong runner, capable of achieving this daunting goal.  

In the spring, I decided on the 2010 Rock-n-Roll Savannah Marathon for the beautiful city I had never visited, flat course, and the support of family and friends that would be able to attend.  After my first fitness assessment, I started training with Thad.  I remember the first day of training, receiving my packet of paces and workouts, but I will never forget the moment my stomach dropped seeing my goal finish time: 3:48.22.  I felt nervous yet wanted to give it my all.  The training was difficult with good and bad runs, but having my Garmin watch and the support of Thad I continually pressed through the tough and defeating times.  After several 20 mile runs, I began to visualize and believe I really could finish all 26.2 miles, and probably run every step.  After several months my training did become a little overwhelming emotionally and physically, and after consoling Thad and other running friends, I decided to move my goal to 4 hours.

The morning of the marathon I remember several vivid memories: a supportive long hug from my husband, Ryan, praying with the Sole Sisters, and wearing a thin trash bag in the cool morning walking to the start line.  My friends and I were in different corrals, so once at the start we said our good-lucks and split different ways.  This is when I realized it was now or never and only I had the strength to complete this race.  As the time progressed, corrals began their race, and we slowly moved up.  When it was our turn to start, I remember glancing around at the fans, and seeing my husband looking onto the mass of people lined up to run.   It was seeing him that gave me a burst of encouragement and energy before stepping across that starting line.  I had a good strong first 11 miles.  I was banking time, to get under 4 hours I would need to run 9:09 min/mile, and my range was 8:36-9:03.  I was enjoying seeing all the spectators, including my husband, mom, and dad.  Within the first two miles, I found it hilarious that there were lines of male runners along the tree line, using the restroom.  I guess they didn’t make it through the lines of port-a-johns on time!  There were also funny costumes along the way, and a new band at every mile.  After the first 6 miles, I started to feel pain in my toes, especially the middle toe on each foot.  Being an athlete, I knew it wasn’t anything to worry about and to just keep running.

After the half marathon mark in 1:55.48.  I knew I had this race “in the bag” it was just a matter of digging deep and keep on running.  I ran with an iPod shuffle, and plugged it in at this point.  This was a way I was mentally going to break up the race, and could zone in the last half when it got tough.  With each several miles, I was hydrating with water and Gu gels.  Despite my strong will, and perseverance, I could feel pressure in my toes grow with each mile.  My pace slowed down and between miles 16-23 my mile splits were between 9-9:38 min/mile.  Being a high school math teacher, I was calculating how much time I had banked, and if I were to complete it under 4 hours how fast I would have to run the remaining miles.  However, in my ‘equation’ I couldn’t account for the human factor and the pain I was feeling.  I debated walking, and that wasn’t an option.  I debated stopping at a medical tent, but going through the scenarios of what could be wrong with my toes, I didn’t think they could do much for me, and therefore wasn’t an option.  I remember reaching mile 23, and we approached an on ramp to a 2 mile stretch on the highway.  My mom started running beside me up the on ramp, and I started to tear up, while still running, explaining how I wanted to stop and how much my toes hurt.  She got choked up, but reassured me how strong I was, how much she looked up to me, and how I was going to be able to finish the race! That encouragement got me another mile, I then caved in.  I walked a few minutes up to the water stop, and was thinking about the ever growing pain in my feet.  

That mile ended up with a time of 12 min/mile, including the walking.  At the water station I looked behind and saw fellow running friends Arthur and Claudette, coming up.  This was my final encouragement.  I continued to run with them, explaining the pain I was having, and they helped me think about other things in order to just keep running.  With a half mile left, my friends said I needed to pick up the pace if I was going to make it under 4 hours.  I turned to them, and said I can’t go any faster.  I kept my same pace…at this point it was 9:30 min/mile.  I crossed that finish line, with a smile on my face, and a time of 4:01.44.  I knew I gave it my all, and was amazed at the accomplishment of finishing a full marathon!  So glad my husband, mom, and dad were there to watch and support me!  As far as my toes, I had huge black/blue bruises with blisters underneath, and ended up losing my toe nails weeks later.  It was a sacrifice I was willing to make and one day I hope to go back a second time, hence the blog name "My first marathon", and I hopefully will break that 4 hour mark! 

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