I wanted to run a marathon since 2011. My desire was sorely tested through IT band setbacks, rebuilding my core strength, and learning proper running form.
But I persevered, got healthy, and started putting in the miles.
Last year I ran four half marathons and lowered my time by 12 minutes. Four months ago I started marathon training. When I lined up for the 2016 Mountains 2 Beach Marathon, I felt excited and ready to run.
M2B was the ideal first marathon for me. The point to point course started in Ojai, CA, and finished at the Pacific Ocean in Ventura Beach. There were about 3000 runners, enough to feel like an event but not so many to make the race crowded. After a slight climb at the start, the road maintained a gentle downhill slope all the way to the beach.
The starting horn sounded at 6:00 am, just after sunrise. Conditions were perfect. About 55 degrees and drizzly in Ojai then overcast and 60 in Ventura. During my training I experimented with shoes, clothes, and nutrition. My plan for the race was to drink water every three miles and eat a gel every six. I wore New Balance Zante 2’s, compression socks, shorts and a singlet. Two hours earlier, I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a banana. At 5:45, I took my first gel.
When I race it can take me a few minutes to get into the flow and find my pace. But not today. From the start I was loose and felt I was running at my goal pace of 7:50. My splits put me a little slower but after accounting for the initial climb I was right where I wanted to be. Three miles in I was supremely confident.
During the early miles I was bunched up with the 3:23 pace group, five minutes faster than my goal time. I felt so good that I decided to stick with them, my first big mistake. I was running 20-30 seconds ahead of the pace I trained for and at 13.1 miles I had run my third fasted half marathon ever. I still felt strong and thought I could hold up for the second half. I just made mistake number two.
I continued through mile 17 at about 7:50. During the next three miles I started to slow but did not realize that I was running close to a minute slower than my goal pace. Then at mile 21 I hit the wall.
I hurt everywhere. Each step became a struggle. I tried to convince myself that the last six miles were the same as an easy run, but the last six miles seemed to stretch out forever. During miles 22 through 25 I would walk for a minute or two and then try to run. From the moment I started walking I knew I would not make my time.
As runners continued to pass me I realized that my goal to run a marathon was still waiting for me. When I reached mile 25 I vowed to run and finish strong. I reached into myself deeper than I had ever done before to keep running. As I passed through the chute I heard my name announced and I was done. Not finished. Done.
Thirty minutes later I did not feel like dying anymore but I was spent. I finally checked my watch and saw that I finished in 3:46:25, with an average pace of 8:38 per mile. Not what I originally wanted but I’ll take it.
I’ve been on an emotional high since then. Despite the pain, I came through uninjured except for a blister on my left foot. Now that I know what to expect I can already see how I will run differently: be patient at the start and stay strong for all 26.2 miles.
The marathon and I have some unfinished business. I want to put together a race where I run negative splits, and where I use my training to follow the right race strategy. I’m going to take it easy this month and ease back into training. I know I can do better next time and I want next time to be later this year. I am a marathoner. It feels good to say that.