Back in Februrary, I signed up for the Space Coast Marathon, a marathon with a space theme that was starting a five-year event to honor the shuttle with special shuttle medals. I had never run a marathon before and the farthest I had ever run was 19.5 miles, the last three miles of which were more stumbling and walking than any form of running. I had also not run any long distances in a while, so I would have to work on it. However, in the spring I was playing soccer twice a week and not running outside of that.
When soccer ended in May, my knee was a wreck from making sharp turns and kicking the ball so much. I took a couple months off, but my knee wasn’t healing. I was running out of time to start training, so I decided to just push through the pain. For a couple months I did shorter runs to get back into it, but then my friend sent me a marathon training program and checking it out, I realized I should already be in week 5 of it. I immediately started doing two runs during the work-week followed by a long run on the weekend.
The three-a-week runs were again wrecking my knee as well as other joints, so I cut it back to two runs, including the long run. I had included biking and running as I trained for the Beat the Heat Sprint Triathlon, as well as going to the gym to train for Tough Mudder. I made it through both those events unscathed, but the triathlon was three weeks prior to the marathon, the weekend I was supposed to do a twenty-mile run, the longest run before tapering off before the marathon. I moved that run up to the Tuesday after the triathlon and pumped out 22.59 miles.
The next two weekends I skipped my twelve and eight mile runs because I was taking Scuba Lessons both weekends. I was starting to get nervous about the marathon, having not had a long run in so long. Last night I went to bed early so I could wake up early this morning. I got up before four and quickly got dressed and grabbed everything I needed before heating up a pop-tart for breakfast and grabbing a glass of milk. I ate breakfast as I drove to Cocoa for the marathon.
I arrived early and checked my bag, went to the bathroom, then made my way to the staging area. We were told to line up based on our pace times, but the pacers were not even there. Eventually they all started showing up and the Half Marathon set off a street over. After the start area was cleaned of discarded clothing, we made our way over there and re-lined up.
The national anthem was sang, but the audio kept cutting out, so the racers and spectators all filled in by singing along. A video played of a shuttle launching and the horn was sounded – we were off. It took me a couple minutes to get to the start line and then I started my running. I had been training by doing a one-minute-run, one-minute walk for six cycles and then taking an extra minute of walking. The extra minute break came a little over every mile and it was always a welcome recharge. I decided to stick with the same pace for the marathon.
The first couple miles found my calves cramping up and my foot going to sleep – not a good sign with 24.2 miles to go. Eventually those problems subsided and I continued on at the same pace. One of my friends from work had come out because her husband was running, but she wasn’t interested in running a marathon. Her husband and I kept passing each other for the first five miles or so and then I lost him. I wasn’t sure if I had passed him or if he had passed me. About six and a half miles in was the first turn-around point. Prior to the turn-around I had seen a few recognizable people that were less than a mile ahead of me. After the turn-around, I also took note of some people who were close behind me, including my friend’s husband.
A few miles after, I noticed several half-eaten packs of gel littering the ground and I was extremely tempted to pick one up and eat the rest of it, as I was starving. Shortly after the nine-mile marker one of the water stations had gel packs, so I eagerly took one and inhaled it. As I was running, I caught up to a few people that I had seen before the turn-around coming back the other way. For a few miles, we would pass each other as we each did our run-walks. Finally we got back to the city and the mid-way point. Thirteen point one miles down, thirteen point one miles to go.
I saw my friend again, sitting on the side of the path with her infant daughter. I headed out of town for the second half of the race, in the opposite direction from the first half. Almost every water station from this point on had the GU Gels along with the Gatorade and Water all the stations had. At the next few stations I inhaled more GU. About nineteen and a half miles in, we hit the second turn-around point and I started looking for my friend’s husband again. For a few miles I saw lots of people that I had passed – while I had been maintaining a fairly stable pace, most of these people had been burning out.
I saw my friend’s husband a mile and a half after the turn, three miles behind me. I was on my eighth packet of GU, which was taking me a few miles to get down. While I had been thinking of eating the remains of other people’s gel on the first half, I was now considering dumping mine half-eaten. As the miles dwindled down below five remaining, I could feel the fatigue setting in. The whole run, aside for the short distance through the city, ran along the intercostal. I probably passed around five hundred piers during the whole race. The chorus of Luke Bryan’s song Drink a Beer played over and over in my mind for the final few miles.
One of the techniques I had used during my training to motivate myself was to think of the Boston Marathon Bombing and all the people who had lost limbs but were pushing through their pain in order to compete in next year’s marathon. If they can push through losing a limb, who was I to complain about sore joints. The last few miles, I ran that through my mind many times and it seemed to go well with Drink a Beer.
I was also starting to not feel well in the waning miles – between losing my lust for gel packs and the gas building up in my stomach that I kept belching out. At one point I actually threw up in my mouth while running and had to force it back down. It was also starting to get emotional at the end, being flat out exhausted and knowing I was nearing the end. As I neared the city again, I could hear cheering and music slowly build in volume from the distance. I hit the twenty-six mile mark and turned for the final stretch. I started running, even though it was time for my two-minute break, and people started cheering as I passed.
Some people could read my name off my bib and would shout affirmations to me. I had always thought personalized cheers were meaningless and cheesy, but it was pure elation to hear people shout for me. People would hold out their hands for high-fives, so I ran the last tenth of a mile with my arm out taking high-fives from anyone who wanted one. Finally I hit the finish line and got my medal and towel. I immediately looked for something to drink and then made my way to the porta-potties. I searched for my friend and then waited with her until her husband finished. I congratulated him and then left to find my car and drive home.
I have now completed four of my goals that I set when I turned 27 to complete before I turn 28.
26.2 miles. In. The. Books.