March 3, 2019 I ran a full marathon for the first time at the Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon. It was also the day I turned 50.
The big 5-0! How did I celebrate? A cruise? Girls night out? Stay in bed and binge watch a show of my choice? Nope. I ran a full marathon. Why? Because I could. Because turning 50, while a milestone in itself, is not a stopping point. It’s not a starting point, either. I guess I’m showing myself that I can. That I will continue to. That I look forward to. So with those thoughts, I signed up for the full marathon, and because I liked the challenge, I also signed up for the 5k on Saturday.
I put in a lot of training and a lot of miles, but nothing could quite prepare me for the mental part of the race. I had never run more than 13 miles before I began training for the marathon, and over the weeks I would go just a little bit farther: 14 miles, 16 miles, 18 miles, 20 miles. I kept telling myself “it’s only a couple of miles more than last time.” I also tried different ways of fueling, and since I have sensitivities to some foods, decided the best thing would be to bring and carry my own fuel. Also, on the advice of an experienced running friend, I paid attention to the clothes I ran in, and never tried anything new on the longer runs.
Before I knew it, the marathon weekend was here! The day of the 5k the weather was sunny and cool. I started off fast, and it felt like a breeze! I finished in 29 min at a 9:33 pace! I was thrilled!
The morning of the marathon was cold and damp, but it wasn’t raining (yay!). I decided to run without a rain jacket or poncho, mainly because I hadn’t run with one before and I didn’t want to overheat. I had Huma gels, Clif Bloks and Skratch to keep me going, and wore a hat to keep any impending rain off my face. My goal was to finish within 5.5 to 5.75 hours.
There was high energy when the race began, myself included. This was it! I couldn’t keep still, bouncing to the music they were playing to keep warm until we could get running. My friends and I started off together (they were running the half and are about my pace). I knew I needed to conserve energy so I settled into a comfortable pace and just enjoyed being out with my friends and making new ones along the way. Before long I saw the 5 hour pacer, and felt comfortable running along with them. After a few miles I started thinking maybe I could finish in 5 hours… that would be awesome!! The pacer heard it was my birthday and gave me a birthday cake flavored Gu 🙂
About mile 10 or 11, I realized I wouldn’t be able to hold that pace for the whole race. I wished my new friends luck and dropped back to a more comfortable pace but trying to stay around 11:30 or 12. It was so fun to see everyone out cheering us on even though it was so cold out! Some people even had music and were dancing, and I always love reading the funny signs. It didn’t feel cold to me anymore, so I was surprised to see steam coming out of our mouths as we breathed. I remember thinking ‘wow, it must be really cold out here’ but surprised I didn’t feel it.
It was weird when the marathoners split off from the half marathoners. We had been practically bumping into each other, having conversations and cheering each other on. As we turned off to continue the marathon on the Riverwalk, there was a sort of quiet. I went from running in a crowd to just a sprinkling of folks along the path. It was the moment I knew I was going to have to work hard to finish. Around mile 14 I stopped to refill my bottle with water and Skratch. Up to that point, I was taking a gel every 45 min or so. I was 2.5 hours in and had 3 to go to finish within my goal, which was back to 5.5 hours 🙂
When we reached the Riverwalk it felt like the temperature had dropped some, and the wind from the river was cold. The path along the Riverwalk was an out-and-back to get us back to downtown, so we all encouraged each other as we passed. I came across the 5.5 hour pacer and another runner, so I figured I would stay with them. The other runner and I were acquainted (he had also been running with the 5 hour pacer earlier), so we chatted for a bit. After awhile he dropped back, so I forged on, keeping up with the 5.5 guy, cause now were around mile 16 and I needed to stay on track.
I kept taking a Huma gel every 45 min or so, but now I included the Clif Bloks (margarita for the sodium – thanks Monica!!) every few miles in hopes to stave off cramping. By now I was feeling it in just about every muscle I knew I had… and some I didn’t know I had! About mile 18 the sky opened up and the deluge of rain hit. I have to say, it kinda felt good on my sore feet and legs, and the hat was keeping the rain off my face nicely, so visibility wasn’t a problem.
The next few miles brought more new faces to chat with and cheer on, chugging up hills and cracking jokes. The 5.5 guy and I were sort of leap-frogging, so I knew the goal was still attainable, although I was beginning to think 5.75 wouldn’t be so bad. The volunteers and police were real troopers (no pun intended)! Bundled up in the rain and cold, still cheering us on and keeping us from getting lost or run over by impatient cars. One volunteer was so covered up with their umbrella over their head and wrapped up, I didn’t realize it was a person til they waved and rang their cowbell to cheer us on!
Before long (or maybe an eternity later) I passed a group of people shouting ‘welcome to mile 25!,’ and when I turned that last corner and saw the finish line ahead, my heart soared. I did it! I was almost there!! As I got closer, I saw my husband James waiting for me in the rain. A police officer near the finish line gave me a high five, and as I crossed the finish line I saw it read 5:32:37. I was so happy I cried as I hugged James. This is a birthday I will never forget 🙂