Two weeks later, and I’m finally writing about the race! I needed some time for everything to sink in. I wanted to first enjoy the experience and then my time off of training to relax and reset after a long season. Now, I’ve taken two weeks to chill out and am ready to get back to the grind. I’m not sure of my exact plans for 2019, but I’m excited to work towards new goals after a very positive first marathon.
Preparing for the Race
I completed my last tune-up workout (8×200 with 60 second rest). My legs felt awkward, and for the first time probably ever, I ran the first rep too slow (in college especially, my coach was always getting after me about going out too hard the first rep. I’ve finally learned! Thank you, marathon training). The whole week I kept waiting to feel fresh and ready, but I just felt weird! I didn’t have that “pop” that I thought I would have when mileage came down, but I told myself it didn’t matter. I had no idea how I was “supposed to feel” anyway, this being my first marathon ever. I trusted that when the gun went off, I would be rested and ready to do what I thought I could do.
Even on the flight there, I avoided thinking too much about the race weekend ahead. I still had two more days to relax and get myself mentally prepped for the task ahead. I didn’t want to overthink it and wear myself out with nerves before I got to the start line. After arriving in Sacramento, I found a cute little coffee shop called The Mill, got a waffle and a cortado, and hung out by myself for a few hours before going for a shakeout run. It felt amazing to see fall leaves still on the trees and feel THE SUN.
Friday and Saturday I mostly kept to myself and chilled out as much as possible. This mostly meant Peaky Blinders and The Office binge-watching while snacking on a multitude of carbs all day. Once Daryl got to town, he helped me decorate and prep my bottles in full fashion. (Of course, I had waited to order my bottles in until the week of the race, and I didn’t give myself time to decorate them before leaving. Honestly, this was pretty fun and I was glad for something to do during my downtime!)
The rest of the day was pretty chill; we went to the athlete dinner, watched some more Office, and I took a dreaded ice bath (not fun, but my legs always feel fresher the day after ice-bathing! A good hoodie and some tea does wonders).
I went to bed at 9:30pm that night, which is absolutely unheard of for me. I woke up in a panic–I missed the bus!!! *looks at the clock* 10:30pm. This continued about every hour until 3:15am when I finally said screw it and got out of bed.
I had everything ready to go, for once. I had packed my flats, snack, and warm-ups already, but I checked my bag about 29 times before leaving the room to walk to the elite bus. I had gotten 4 shots of espresso at Starbucks the night before, and brewed some hot water to make an americano. I like to drink half right away in the morning with my oatmeal, and half as I’m getting ready to warm up. I made SURE to grab that espresso before leaving the room, and walked out into the dark.
I sat next to Emma on the bus, and we chatted the whole 50 minute drive to the start line. Driving all that way to the start was definitely strange. Some people put headphones in, some stare out the window silently, some sleep. Once we got to the athlete tent, we all nervously stretch, sip on coffee, pass time. Emma and I had warmed up together before, so it was nice to have someone familiar to get ready with. In the pitch black early morning, I could hardly see my feet shuffling in front of me.
When I got to the start line, I was calm. I didn’t know if I would have a great race, but I knew there was nothing else I could possible do at this point to get more ready than I already was. I knew I couldn’t force anything, and that gave me a sense of peace. I took a few deep breaths, said a quick prayer: God, help me to run for more than me. Help me to run in a way that honors you and everyone who believes in me. Help me to get the most out of myself. The end. The gun went off, and we began.
I immediately could tell we were out quick. Of course everyone is trying to get off the line, but the last thing I wanted to do was go out to fast and die. My coach and I had talked a zillion times about targeting a realistic pace and sticking to it, not letting my mind and emotions take over just because “I feel like I can do it.” Beth, someone I’d raced quite a few times before, appeared next to me and zapped me into reality:
“How fast are you trying to run?”
“Cool, I’m trying to run 5:50-6.”
A sense of relief washed over me… I thought I had found someone to run with. I also noted how weird it was to have a conversation during a race! Within about 10 seconds, I looked down at my watch and realized we were running under 5:40 pace and I put the brakes on. Not for me today! She pulled ahead and disappeared into the crowd, and went on to absolutely crush it with a 2:31! I, on the other hand, spent seemingly endless miles letting hundreds of people blow by me. I recognized lots of familiar faces and questioned whether I knew what I was doing. Am I sacrificing my race by going out too slow? What if I never catch back up? I pushed those thoughts away and stuck to the plan, a steady unwavering effort.
I spent the next 20 miles just chipping away. Miles 8-12 felt the worst: “This feels too hard for this early in the race. I won’t be able to make it at this pace.” And then, “Calm down, if I run a few seconds slower, it’s okay. Just relax. Keep breathing.” The miles continued to go by at the same pace. I didn’t need to slow down, I just needed to stay steady. I didn’t charge up the hills or sprint down them, I kept my effort even. That meant that although my 5k splits were dead on pace, I had some miles that were in the 5:40s and some that were just over 6:00.
When I got to 19 miles, I started to tear up. I realized, My God, holy sh#!, I’m actually going to finish this thing. I had spent such a long time thinking about my first marathon, and it seemed that everything was going according to plan, something that so rarely happens. Then, my right hamstring tightened up. My right side had been sore and tight for the last few days before the race, even though I was hardly running. I hadn’t been able to loosen it up, and I was definitely worried that it would flare up in the race. Until mile 19, I had all but forgotten that my leg had ever hurt. Suddenly, a wave up nerves crept into my throat. What if THIS is the reason I don’t finish today?! All this way! I felt so good! And now this! I again told myself to stay calm and not pick it up. Just keep running 5:57, and I’m going to get the A standard. If it gets bad and I’m forced to slow down, I can keep it together to run the B standard. I know I can. I know I can. And then it never got any worse. At mile 21, a group of guys and a few women caught up to me, and that was everything I needed to pull me back into “race mode.” I had spent 21 miles basically running in a bubble surrounded by hundreds of people, but now I was finally running WITH people! Without even thinking or changing effort, my pace started to drop. The course flattened out, and we started clipping away at 5:50, 5:40, and I felt great, effortless. I thought of one of my favorite books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower–“In that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
The day before, I had jogged the course finish so I would know what to expect as I approached the final miles. I had taken mental pictures of a few key buildings so even if I was totally out of it, I would remember that the finish line was getting close. I started counting down the blocks. So close! I saw a man walking, his goal race obviously extinct. I had another flash of realization… a mile is still a mile. The race isn’t over. Stay in it. Then I saw my husband, Daryl. SCREAMING. So excited, jumping up and down, telling me I was doing it, to run faster, to finish it up. I turned left with just 300 or so meters to go, and THREW UP. Threw up and kept running. Saw the 2:35 on the clock and kept running. Crossed the line and… threw up again. Then I was fine! It was over! I did it!
Daryl was convinced that I was going to be in the medical tent (I’ve been in much worse places after much shorter races) but I felt like I could just go for a jog. When he found me he was in shock… “Can you look tired or something? Sweat? Mess your hair up a little?” I laughed. Now that the race was over, I felt light, free. The marathon was MY race, and to know that I loved it as much as I thought I would was an immeasurable relief. I couldn’t wait to try it all over again.
We spent the next few days exploring California, visiting endless coffee shops and hiking around beautiful places. It never felt so good to finish a season.
2 thoughts on “Running Cal International (My First Marathon!)”
Maddie, this is a beautiful account of your race…your first marathon…the race you’ve been looking for!! I’m always proud of you but I’m so happy for you when you experience the satisfaction of reaching new goals you’ve set for yourself.
Maddie, I absolutely love your writing. I love the tone, your easy honesty. It’s really a perfect piece… just enough detail to let the reader in, but not so much that the reader becomes bogged down or overwhelmed. The English gene runs in the family!
We’re really cheering for you!
Second cousin, Laurie