[Quick disclaimer: I’m not blogging from my usual software right now, so apologies if this turns out funny!]
After months of training and fundraising, I ran my first marathon this weekend! Now that I’ve had a few days to rest and begin to recover, I’m ready for a recap!
I ran the Rock’n’Roll St. Louis Marathon which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the greatest choice for a first-timer. I was warned by at least 8 people throughout training that the RNR St. Louis course was cruel and unforgiving. For instance, when I met an Ironman veteran at the Smoothie King counter:
Mr. Ironman: “You’re doing a marathon? I’ll never run a marathon again…it was harder than all of the Ironman’s I’ve ever done.”
Me: “Well….thank you?”
Or when I met a multi-sport athlete on the Katy Trail:
Mr. Sporty: “I’ve run 13 marathons and 17 half marathons, plus some 50 mile bike races.” (Mind, he didn’t sound conceited in context; there was some preceding conversation)
Me: “Wow! I’m just training for my first marathon. I’m doing the Rock n Roll in a few weeks.”
Mr. Sporty shuddered. “You are? Well. I won’t discourage you.”
Mr. Sporty: “Let’s just say it chews people up and leaves them lying out on the course. I love marathons, but I’ll never do that one again. I hope you’ve done a lot of hill training. Oh, but have fun!”
Leave it to me to make a marathon even more challenging. That’s my style.
Needless to say, I spent most of the last month feeling a bit nervous, especially as I entered the tapering period. Like the approach of any major milestone in a person’s life, I couldn’t believe the big moment was so near. Imagine the stomach jolt I felt when I turned on the TV and saw this:
Then, about 4 days before the race, the veil of nerves lifted and I was suddenly so excited. The change actually happened at the gym while doing some upper body weightlifting. I was feeling really “on” that day, and weightlifting always makes me feel strong and confident. I looked around at the meaty men nearby and thought, “They might be able to lift more than me, but I get to run a marathon soon!” I don’t know exactly what happened that day, but after that, I felt calm, ready, and so happy about the race.
The day before the race was full of hectic preparation. My parents were out of town, so I was in charge of my brothers, helping with their homework and making sure they got to their hockey practice s, and despite my large quantity of packing lists, I still had a lot to do before the race.
I also proceeded to break one of the number one rules of race prep: never wear anything new during the race. Maybe it’s because I’m a fashion-crazed girl, but I was sick of my old running gear and wanted something new. I’m also picky and indecisive, so less than 24 hours before the race I made several purchases and returns from Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, and Fleet Feet….and still hoped to find components of my final outfit at the race Expo later that evening. You’d think I was going to a ball or something.
Once I tried on every long-sleeved fitness shirt in St. Charles, it was time for the real marathon weekend to begin!
A few months ago, Sean and I booked a hotel room in St. Louis for the race weekend. The race was on Sunday, so we stayed at the hotel both on Saturday and Sunday night. Runners received discounts at several hotels near the starting line, and booking a room was a no brainer. No driving early on race morning, and easy half mile walk to the starting line, a relaxing weekend getaway in the city…it was awesome!
Sean had to work and wouldn’t be arriving until late that night, and since I had nothing planned except the Expo, I was definitely looking forward to a relaxing evening alone in the hotel.
I stayed at the Renaissance Grand, which was overbooked with runners. I actually had to wait in line for a while to check in. For the record, Sean and I do not recommend this hotel, and we won’t be returning. Parking in the garage (the only option) is $15 per car, which they don’t tell you about until you check out, there’s no free internet (another $15 per day), and there was neither a mini fridge nor a microwave in our tiny room, so the perfect vegan mac ‘n cheese I packed was inedible. The only consolation was the hotel’s convenient location and the Starbucks on the lower level. The Starbucks almost made the whole thing worth it. I need a Starbucks in the lower level of my house.
The view was also pretty cool: our room overlooked the America’s Center, which is where the Expo was held. All I had to do was take the elevator down, walk across the street, and enter the Expo!
I love packet pick-ups (I’ve got one to go to today!), but Expos are a million times better. There’s so much energy, so much cool running gear. It’s also really nice to be among other runners, especially when you spend most of your time training alone. It was a room full of crazies!
Emotions mounted as I approached the bib pick-up area. My first marathon bib, I kept thinking. It felt like a prize for all the hard work I had done.
After picking up all the free swag, I took my time checking out all of the vendors, trying and failing not to spend money. Among my purchases was a 26.2 car sticker, 2 Runner Girl T-Shirts, racing socks, Nike dri-fit capris, and some 26.2 embroidered gloves for winter running. I also met up with fellow runner Sean Roemer (half of the couple responsible for my relationship with Sean!) who swiftly kicked some serious butt during the half marathon. He’s such an inspiration!
I also got a $5 gift card to Fleet Feet for wearing a Fleet Feet Stl shirt at the Expo:
People kept asking whether I worked at Fleet Feet, and one man tried to pay me for his merchandise! Haha.
Once I had my Expo fill, I headed back to the hotel to relax and contemplate dinner. As I mentioned before, I had packed a meal with the intention of heating it up in the hotel room. A lot of thought went into that dinner: it needed to be carb-rich, low in fiber, easily digestible, and free of any ingredients my stomach might not be used to. Vegan mac’n cheese mixed with edamame beans had powered me through a lot of long runs, so I packed a serving of that along with my favorite pumpkin bread from Smoothie King. I took a few bites of it cold, but it was disgusting, so I needed to find dinner elsewhere. Being a vegan in the dining world is already a little tough, but with my other pre-race requirements, it was even harder. Thankfully, there was a Pi pizza place down the street. Sean and I have been there several times and it’s never been rough on my stomach, so I called in an order for a small cheese-free pizza with olives, mushrooms and red peppers. Half an hour later, I was back in my room, watching TV and eating pizza. Does it get any better than that?
I did have a couple of panic moments, though: part of the pizza ended up having cheese on it, and I ate a few bites before realizing my mistake. Apart from the fact that I have no interest in the animal product, I was worried that my system wouldn’t handle it well since I haven’t had it in a few years. My other incident occurred when I took a swig of the Chia drink I picked up at Whole Foods. As soon as I took a drink, I knew I tasted danger. Little did I know that apple juice is the first ingredient, and I cannot tolerate anything with apple. Cheese and apple juice the day before a marathon? Give me arsenic next time. Ha. But it ended up being okay! For once, my digestive system seemed to be on my side. Yay!
I spend the rest of the evening laying out my racing stuff, relaxing and chatting with Sean, and before I knew it, it was time for bed and the marathon was just hours away.
I got up with the first alarm. No specific emotion stands out during those early hours: I wasn’t particularly nervous or overexcited, just calm. I wasn’t particularly hungry, which is weird for me, but I knew I needed to eat.
Gluten-free bagel* with vanilla almond butter, strawberry-rhubarb preserves, and a banana, with Dean Karnazes serving as my placemat.
*I’m not 100% gluten free, but bread with gluten is more likely to give me stomach troubles, so I decided to play it safe.
Then I put on my best and silliest marathon face and headed down to the course:
The walk to the race was dark and chilly, but Sean and I joked around the whole time. There were a lot of other runners out, so he said, “Huh, looks like some other people feel like going for a run, too. Weird.”
We ended up arriving at the starting line with only about 15 minutes to go. I like to be super early for everything, so this made me (unnecessarily) nervous. We met up with our friend Sean for some last minute well-wishes and then took our respective spots along the starting line.
(I really wish this panoramic picture turned out better – it looks so cool on my phone!)
Waiting in the corrals took forever and the race actually began 10 minutes behind schedule. It was freezing out and I felt my muscles stiffen. I just wanted to start running!
The race also used a “wave start” method, so each corral was released on its own to prevent bottlenecking. I was in the 8th corral out of 20-something, so there was a bit of a wait before I could take off.
The slow progression…
I was so happy to start running. Sean even caught up with me halfway through the first mile to wave me off and take a picture! Can you find me?
To be honest, there’s a lot of the race that I don’t remember. Most of the first half was a breeze, mentally. While I noticed the mile markers and kept track of my pace, there was never a thought f, “How am I only at mile 8?” or “Mile 10 and so many more to go.” I just acknowledged the marker and kept going. That was all there was to the first half, really. I kept the pace nice and easy, between 9:40-10:00 minute miles. It felt slow, as I usually run about 8:30/mile, but I knew I needed to conserve my energy.
The one picture I took during the race. Love the Fox!
I remember glimpses of funny signs (“Smile if you aren’t wearing underwear!”) and grins exchanged with nearby runners whenever we reached the tops of hills.
My left Achilles started twinging at mile 6 and it continued to bother me off and on throughout the race. It was a pain I’d expected; I’ve been dealing with it ever since I first started running seriously. Although I saw a physical therapist for that and a partial labral tear for a while, I dropped out of the therapy program and insisted I was “fine.” Huge mistake. So the angry tendon complained all the while. Whatever, I deserved it.
What I did not predict was the trouble caused by my fancy running socks. Around mile 8, I noticed that the bottom of the left sock was bunched up under the ball of my foot. I tried wiggling my toes to smooth it out, but no luck. I was torn between stopping to fix it and toughing it out. I stupidly refused to stop, so I ended up with a huge blister that popped several times during the run. Trust me, you don’t want to see the pictures.
Despite the little setbacks, the first half came and went quite smoothly. The half marathoners branched off at 13 miles, and the course suddenly became quieter and more serious. I expected to feel a bit of glass-half-empty panic at this point, but instead, I told myself, “There are only 13.1 miles to go!” I’ve run that distance so many times, and I just needed to do it again.
You know, after already having run a half marathon. No big deal, right?