“This is the front desk with your 5 am wake-up call.” It was Saturday morning. Who gets up at 5 am on a Saturday morning the day after their birthday? That’s right. I did. My 24th birthday didn’t consist of booze, or cake(s), or any partying of any kind. Instead, like an old man, I went to bed at 9 o’clock so I could be ready for my 5 am wake-up call.
I was up before the sun and actually excited for it. It wasn’t just any Saturday morning, after all. It was a special day for me. No, not because it was my birthday weekend. It was the day that I was set to accomplish a feat that even a year ago I didn’t think was possible for me. It was a day that I will not soon forget. Saturday, March 16, 2013 was the day of my first full marathon, the Rock n & Roll USA Marathon in Washington, D.C.
It was dark and chilly when we arrived at the Metro station for the 6:30 am train to the start line. Runners were gathering at every stop along the way to pack the train. We got of the train to enter a grayer world. It had grown lighter over the half hour train ride, but it was overcast. Meteorologists were calling for rain showers all day, but everyone was hoping for the best. My starting corral ended up being just outside the metro station which was really convenient.
I actually started two corrals up from where I was supposed to, because I signed up to run with a pace group so I had to meet them. My hope was that this group would help me beat my habit of starting out too quickly and then help spur me on later in the race as well. Unfortunately, my stupidity got the better of me again. I stayed right next to our group leader, George through the first 3 miles. Then, I decided it felt too easy (big mistake). I sped up a little and ran out ahead of the group. In an instant I allowed my thoughts to switch from “stick with George and everything will be fine” to “don’t let George pass you.” Like I said, not my best decision.
The course, overall, was beautiful. The were a bunch of relatively small rolling hills, but a lot of the course was pretty flat. We started running along the National Mall right next to the Washington Monument, going toward the Capitol Building. We ran through a lot of neighborhoods, up hills, down hills, over bridges, through parks, along rivers down into underpasses, and even on some normally busy highways. The largest hill of the course matched the largest hill I’d ever run at home. It started at the 6th mile marker, lasted a whole quarter mile, and it was very steep. Mind you, at this point I was running faster than I should have been, but hey I’d just conquered the largest hill of the race and I still felt great!
I’ll take some time to interject with my top three favorite signs from the crowds along the course:
- Your training for this race lasted longer than Kim Kardashian’s wedding.
- Keep going hard. You’re almost there. That’s what she said.
- Run like you’re Kenyan so you can drink like your Irish.
And now back your regularly scheduled programming…
I continued running ahead of my pace group for another 9-10 miles spurred on by the enthusiasm of the crowds and bands all along the course. Then, things started to go bad for me. Somewhere around mile marker 15 the left knee injury I’ve been dealing with for the past few weeks flared up big time. I soon found myself being forced to walk the uphills so I could try to continue pushing myself through the downhills and flats. My pace slowed a great deal and it wasn’t long before George and company passed me. I couldn’t keep up with them anymore no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t take very much longer for me to stop caring about my time altogether. All I wanted to do was finish. At mile marker 23, I started feeling very lightheaded. I couldn’t quit, though. I had come way to far to quit now. Still it was a scary feeling. My only options were to either walk a bit and try running again later, or keep pushing until I passed out and collapsed. I opted for the extended walking break. My family happened to be waiting for me at that point on the course. My dad actually walked the majority of the 24th mile with me, congratulating me for coming so far and cheering me on to the finish. I was able to finish the rest of the course at a slow jog, taking care to avoid passing out along the way. When I finally saw the finish line, I wanted it to be over so badly that I just threw caution to the wind and sprinted that last little bit. After a brutal 4 hours 58 minutes and 47 seconds, it was over. I had finished my first marathon.
I made my way through the finish area grabbing all the gatorade, water, and food I could carry. When I finally found my girlfriend, I just wanted to completely stop everything. I knew I needed to walk a bit to help my muscles recover, but it hurt too much. I knew I needed to stretch, but I couldn’t keep my balance. I knew I needed to eat, but I was too tired. I settled on sitting on a curb to try to eat some of the food I snagged. It all sank in while I sat there. I just ran a marathon. I sat with tears in my eyes, and I couldn’t decide if came more in response to joy or pain. It was undoubtedly a mixture of both. After a while I had Cassie help me up to stretch but instead all the dizziness rushed back into my head and I collapsed at her feet. A little later, my family finally found us and I walked around a small circle using my dad for support. I’m really glad everyone was there for me. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
So what are my plans now? Right now I’m excited to get back to training for ultimate frisbee. In terms of pure running workouts, I want to get into doing a good deal of speed work. I feel as though my endurance is more than good enough right now to keep me competing at a high level in ultimate games, so speed work will be my main focus for a little while. Thinking a little longer term, I want to make sure to maintain my endurance as I improve my speed. I may not go for any big 20 mile runs for a while, but I do understand that increased speed invariably means decreased endurance. So, I think I’ll want to keep a weekly long run to serve that purpose.
Will I run ever run another race? Who knows? I have a 5k on my radar in May in Philadelphia. Proceeds from this race go to benefit ovarian cancer research, so my family and I are running/walking this race in honor of my aunt who is currently battling ovarian cancer. Register here! Other than that, I don’t have any plans to run more races right now. I’ve already said a few times that I’ll never run another marathon again, but I’m also equating that to all those college nights when I said I’d never drink again as I hugged a toilet filled with my own vomit. The truth is I don’t know if I’ll run another marathon. I’d like to improve on this initial finishing time, but I also know a race of that magnitude hurts… a lot. I guess only time will tell if I’ll commit myself to another marathon or not. For now, I’m content just playing ultimate.