Running a Marathon: Part 3

Running a Marathon: Part 3

The 3rd and final section of this post is one the hardest to describe in a useful way, but shares in great detail my pre-race preparations, the experience of my first marathon race, and the after-effects that I endured. While preparing for my race, I looked for blogs and posts like this one, as I enjoyed reading about other's experiences so that I could better determine things that I may face when going into this myself. I was able to fine-tune other's experiences to myself, and determine based on my prior runs what I was likely to expect and what I may not yet be expecting. That being said, I was still completely unprepared when it came to the actual race, so keep that in mind! Whether useful or not, this is likely the most interesting section to read; Without more wasted time, see what I have shared below in Part 3:

Pre-Race Preparations

3 weeks prior to race day, I did my longest run yet. I headed back to Piedmont Park, I brought 2 energy gels in my pockets, and planned to have water stops at every 4 miles after my 8th mile. This was a very long run, being the longest one that I had experienced to that date, but it was surprisingly more smooth than my last 2 long runs. As I ate my second gel, enjoyed some water from the water fountain, and thought about the remaining 4 miles that I needed to hit the 20 mile mark, I started to believe that I was actually going to be able to make it the entire 26 miles come race day! The last 4 hurt, my body was worn out, I had nipple chaffing, and blisters on my toes, but I made it; The adrenaline of actually being in a race would help push me from 20 to 26 on race day! I was ready!

In the next 3 weeks prior to game day, I continued to taper my runs. Especially the week prior. The last week, I made sure to have extra rest time, and only did about a 6 mile run on Tuesday, and a light 3 mile run on Thursday. I ate better, drank tons of water, and tried to sleep as much as possible. I spent a decent portion of my week trying to come up with the best, most adrenaline fueling playlist that I could. I ate a light sub sandwich the night before, which was traditional in regard to my pre-game day meals. I charged up my headphones, picked out everything that I planned to wear the next day, took some sleeping medicine, and got in bet early as possible before setting several alarms and setting my phone to charge up.

The morning of, I started the coffee, made some light oatmeal, and packed up. It was much, much more cold than I had anticipated, and was completely thrown off course. I had to battle with whether or not to bring a jacket, what jacket to bring, and if I was willing to leave it on the road mid-race. I had to decide which gloves to wear, my light gloves which I prefer, or my heavy gloves that I clearly needed now, but would probably have to get rid of mid-race. The coffee wouldn’t cool down fast enough, so I burnt my lip while drying to drink it, then gave up because I needed to keep moving. Everything that could have gone wrong that morning, did exactly that. I was tired from not being able to sleep well (despite the sleeping medicine), I needed to go to the bathroom but was late leaving already, it was freezing cold and I needed to warm up the car, I needed to put on my race number already as my hands would be too cold to do it when I got there; and on, and on, and on... It was miserable. No matter how much I try to prepare the night before, the morning of, always seems to go terribly wrong. Keep that in mind when trying to plan for your race; expect the worst, and you may have a better experience than me. This happened at my first 10k, my first half, and now, my first marathon.

The Race

I ended up picking a jacket that I had owned since high school, and decided that I would part with it along the way. I went with my light gloves, and fumbled with the safety pins to get my race number on before leaving. The freezing cold drive to the race seemed to last longer than most of my long runs; despite it being less than 10 miles away and having completely deserted roads. My fingers and toes were numb from the cold, or was it the dread? I was not looking forward to this, even though I had worked so hard to prepare myself. On arriving, a long walk to the starting line lay ahead. It was crowded, and I hate crowds. Especially when running. We were barely going to make it to the start before the race began. I couldn’t find my wave, wave B, and I don’t know what would have happened if I started in the wrong section? More chaos, and in the worst kind of way. At least I wasn’t thinking about how terrible the run was about to be; well… no, I still was.

I finally found wave B, forced my way in, and started to stretch. It was way too crowded to stretch here, but what choice did I have? I needed to regain feeling in my toes and fingers! This was imperative, or it would hurt for the rest of the run. I tried anything that I could think of in the few seconds that I had, and nothing worked. This was going to be rough. IAll of the sudden, I realized that I had forgotten that I needed to start my music and Strava! I already had it on my armband, and I had to take the whole thing off, and get everything out before making the needed taps to the apps to get them started! Panic. “3....2...1…”

The gut-wrenching sound of the air horn blasting not only signaled the commencement of the race and my wave, but also triggered my my brain to acknowledge all that was going on with my body at once. My numb yet excruciating fingers and toes were now only players in the game that was my body. My stomach had been hit with what I can only imagine was bad food, and my ears and nose were either sliced by razors or the icy wind was just too much for them. I could feel every move in my knees and hips and could even experience the bones moving against each other in an unnaturally mechanical sensation.  While I fought with the masses of people starting to force their way forward, I worked off my armband and tried to get Spotify playing and Strava started. I likely resembled something out of the Walking Dead playing in fast-motion; And felt even worse.

- Reaching Mile 1

After crossing the starting line, I continued to wallow in my misery. My focus became to find my place on the street where I could have a 4 ft square that was all my own. If I could just have some space where I’m not falling on top of someone, or having someone tripping over me, I may be able to think for a minute, and mentally overcome the painfulness that had enthralled me. This was no easy feat, and I found myself causing more problems by exerting energy in my forward movement. I wanted to get past all of these slow runners, not because I wanted to beat them, but just to have some space! We were in the streets of Atlanta, and I feel even more strongly now, they are not wide enough. And damn do I feel for those people who left their cars parked outside of their apartments; some of those side mirrors will likely be missing.

- Mile 4

I continued fighting for space for several miles. My mind and body continued to live in the hell to which I found myself, but at about mile 4, I glimpsed a shot at hope. The road split, and the people who were running the half-marathon went one way, and the marathon runners went the other. I had no idea how many, if any at all, were running the half, but I was praying that all of them were. I needed some space. As I closed in on the fork, I watched as none of my surroundings acknowledged the upcoming change. Why is no one moving? Either some have to go left, or some have to go right; they can’t all be exactly where they are supposed to be since we didn’t see this coming until the last turn? Approaching 50 feet, then 40; no movement. 30 feet, 20. I had already forced my way to the right, but was still mixed in with the masses. 10 feet. It was worth a try. I hoped that everyone was going to veer left but here we run, and now the road narrows further. As I breathed an extra sigh of frustration, there was a sudden jerking movement. Just like the crazed Atlanta drivers that they likely are, they waited to the very last second, and scrambled like chased ducks to get over 4 lanes of traffic! I was being moved left, pushed, elbowed, sweated on; the whole right half of the road was converging on me as the point for transition. I battled my way through and eventually found light. As the dust cleared, I took a look around found me, and found that less than a tenth of the people remained. I was finally free, and I could now, finally, stretch my legs!

- About Mile 12

Somewhere between mile 4 and mile 12, I hit bliss. Everything had finally situated; I could breathe, the sun was coming up and I could feel both my fingers and toes again; many of my aches and pains were now gone. I hit a great patch of songs on my playlist, and I was passing people all around me. This was a truly great feeling. One of the best feelings ever. At this point, I knew that I was going to make the distance, and would be proud of my efforts. In this moment, I was on top of the world. At about mile 12, I ran into a very large hill. There had been several hills so far, way more than any race that I had been in before, but this hill, was tremendous. Feeling as I was, in exuberant happiness, I decided to use this to my advantage. While everyone hates hills when running, I seem to hate them slightly less. I tend to move my head and shoulders forward and awkwardly push into the hill, rather than leaning back and slowing down. That is just what I did. As I pushed forward, I passed dozens of people. In passing these people, I was given an even bigger boost of confidence, and enjoyed getting closer to the finish than the runners that I passed. I was not just going to finish the race, I was going to have a a great pace and finishing time!

- Mile 19

I continued after the big hill, and hit many, many others along the way. I took in the familiar scenery as I ran, enjoying the marvels of Atlanta without the traffic that normally clutters it. I particularly appreciated all of the people who came out to support the runners, and was very shocked and the number of people who went out of their way to pay homage! Many dressed up or provided funny and supportive posters. Believe it or not, they were actually very helpful in the race. Anything that can help take your mind off the fact that you are running is beneficial, and they did an excellent job of that. I slowed down at times to get water at the stations, and to grab an energy gel or an orange slice; man, it was a lot easier having these handed to you than having to carry them with you the whole time! Then, at mile 19, I was thrown for a loop. While the majority of the race had a mile marker for each mile, at this stage they either skipped one or two, or I missed them. At a certain point, I knew for a fact that I had gone past a mile, but had not seen the marker. Maybe they were skipping them because I’m nearing the end? The last one that I saw was about 19 right? The internal struggle began. How much further do I have? Should I use up my remaining juice to push faster to the end and finish strong?


I then came to an area that I recognized more than most, it was leading right into Piedmont Park. I knew that the starting point was somewhere near Piedmont, so maybe the finish would be right past it? I got excited. I started to speed up. All of the sudden, I took a slow left and I could see a bottleneck down the road, with a lot of supporters, and they were cheering. Finally! This had been a long race! As I sped up faster, I couldn’t quite tell if this was the finish or if this was just the last mile before the finish. As I got closer and ran towards the cheering fans, I could see that this wasn’t quite the finish, but that it was one of the biggest cheering sections yet, so the race must be coming to an end. I traveled through, accepting high-fives and smiling for camera shots. This was great! I was going to finish! As I continued along, I reached a point of near complete silence. The fans were behind me now, no more cheers, just me and my headphones. Just a little way to go, I'm sure. I leaned my head down and pushed through yet another hill. I almost missed it, but off to the side, I glanced a familiar sign; it was a mile marker, and it read: 20 miles. I still had 6 more miles to go…

- Finishing the Race

The last 6.2 miles were spent back in hell. Once I read the 20 mile marker half way up yet another giant hill, I started to feel pains again. This time, it was the similar pains that I experienced during my long runs, but more intense. My feet were past blistering, my shins were aching, my knees could feel every step, and my hips made me question if I might have osteoporosis. With each mile, it got worse, and lasted longer. Since I had previously thought that I was nearing the end of the race, I had used up my optimism and the last of my mojo. I had given everything that I had, and was left with next to nothing. All I had left was my mind, and it was fighting against me. Now I was chugging along, one painful step at a time, one after another, one after another. I won’t go into the details, but this is where I hit the wall, and had to mentally break down the barriers in front of me. I can't describe what actually went through my mind, but I had to force myself to take that next step, to not stop, to climb that next hill. I was completely drained, and I wanted nothing more than to stop, to quit. With each quarter mile it got worse. By the time that I could see the upcoming finish line, there was literally no excitement in my mind. There was no euphoria, there was not happiness, there was no relief. I just forced myself to continue. To take that next step. To not quit. Not yet.

Finishing! And the After-Effects

As I trudged across the finish, I was forced to take a medal, take a picture, was given a water and a powerade, and then it was time to rejoice. But there was no rejoicing left. I would like to say that it was all worthwhile; everything that I had worked towards, I finally accomplished. Well, I did, but that is not what was going through my mind. I was in pain. I had gone to a place in my mind, to keep me from feeling the full amount of pain that existed while I was running, and now it was here. I found a spot away from people, and tried sitting down on a bench. Nope, that was not going to work. I tried standing. Not a chance. I tried lying on the ground. Not going to work either.

After close to an hour after the race, I was still dealing with the terrible aching pain in my legs, but I was starting to be able to deal with it. I was then able to acknowledge the fact that I had just accomplished something great, and that I could be proud of. I am happy to say that I was now a person who had run a marathon! I walked around and gathered a few pieces of fruit and snacks and started to eat and enjoyed watching the remaining runners cross the finish line. I was glad that I had done this, and happy that I hit this goal, but I was glad that it was over, and had no intention of doing this again. Anytime soon at least.

Ransome Sheets and Kimberly Rary
Finishers at the 2016 Publix Marathon

Similar to many of my long runs, finishing this marathon felt even better after some time went by. Later that day I was able to enjoy a good beer and reminisce about my accomplishments. While I did not want to run another race for a long time, I did get back into it and start the process again. It’s a lot easier to run a half when you have already run a marathon, so I then worked on my speed. As I have already explained, training for a marathon is an extreme commitment of time and energy, but it is also a positive one that makes you better both physically and mentally. I now go through many phases where I like to run, then I don’t like to run but I do it anyway, then I stop for a few months, and start back again, etc... Since that is the case, I don’t know if I will be consistent and keep running to be able to call myself an actual runner, but as of this moment, I certainly hope that I never stop. Many people run marathons, and even more do not. While I set out to accomplish physical goal of running a marathon, what I got out of it was something different. I broke myself down, and built myself back up. I will never be the same as I was before going through this experience, and know that I am a better person for it.