December 7, 2011

My first 26.2

I ran my first marathon Saturday - the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. I learned that all the training, all the planning, all the agonizing over every little detail still doesn't guarantee that all will go right. 26.2 is a beast. I learned the only thing that's fully in my control is how hard I try.

I was incredibly nervous in the days leading up to the race. Nervous, but excited and pretty confident that I could finish. Friday night I was so proud when I picked up my number at the expo. 16 weeks of training, long runs in sweltering heat, running in the dark after a long day of work, raising money for Team Carson, and the day was finally here!

I barely slept a wink Friday night, which is typical for me right before a race. Saturday morning, Trea and I walked to the finish line to check our bags and then met up with our training friends at the start. Trea and I always run long miles together, and since this was our first marathon attempt, we agreed to stick together the whole time, even though he's faster. 

We started out with the 4:55 pace group, but I was pretty sure we would fall back from them quickly, which we did. (I swear they were going too fast.) My Garmin kept losing satellite signal, so I wasn't able to monitor my pace at all. I just relied on Trea since his Nike watch was working. The first few miles were exciting because there were several spectators, and we were running through downtown Memphis. We ran by the pyramid and then through the St. Jude campus. When I looked at my splits later, I saw that miles 4 and 5 were about a minute faster than what I should've been running. That was because of all the sweet St. Jude supporters and signs that said things like, "A blister never needed chemo!" We couldn't help but run faster!

As we passed by Rhodes College, I noticed the pace felt too quick for me, so we slowed down. I had some goals in mind, but mainly I just wanted to make sure I could finish. I was feeling really good, and I just knew I would come in somewhere between 5:00 and 5:15, which I would have been thrilled with. But around mile 10, trouble set in. And by trouble, I mean uncontrollable waves of nausea. FAN. TASTIC. 

Somewhere around this point, I decided that I needed to eat something because I thought that would make me feel better, so we slowed to a walk while I tried to choke down half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We had already made two bathroom stops since we failed to synchronize our bladders, and while we were walking, the 5:10 pace group passed us. I was feeling so sick, and the sight of that pace sign bobbing by did not lift my spirits. 

I had been walking quickly through water stops since almost the beginning, and my walk breaks were getting longer and longer. I was having trouble just making it from station to station because I felt so awful. At around mile 12.5, the halfers split off toward the finish, and I almost started to cry because I wanted to follow them. But I still had over halfway to go. The course thinned considerably, there weren't as many spectators as there had been earlier in the day, and my nausea was getting worse and worse. I kept taking walk breaks just to keep from getting sick. 

At mile 17, things got ugly. I ralphed on somebody's lawn...twice. I've never gotten sick on a run before. I've trained up to 20 miles and not had any issues. I was so upset and disappointed. I was upset because I couldn't run, embarrassed to be in such a condition on the side of the road, and even more upset that Trea was watching it happen. After three years of marriage, we still try to be polite and keep private things private, but I suppose the honeymoon's over. And when he said I had to keep running because we still had 9 miles to go, I wanted to cry again. But I didn't. I ran. 

I started getting thirsty and feeling weaker almost immediately, so at mile 18 I diluted some Powerade with water and drank it. At mile 19, I turned into the exorcist and vowed to never drink Powerade or lemon-lime anything ever again. I kept running and walking, and my walks were getting crazy long. I would wait until I could see a water station and run to it, then walk again when I got there. It was terrible. Every time I tried to run, my stomach would cramp so bad that I couldn't stand up straight, so I would have to walk again. I hadn't had any calories or electrolytes since mile 12, so at mile 23, I gave up and decided to walk the rest of the way. I had thought even with all the pit stops and walking that we could still make it around 5:30, but there was no way to do that if I stopped running. Mentally, I had already checked out. My music had been off for a long time, my heart wasn't in it, and I was just plain sad. 16 weeks of working my butt off...for this. 

When we got about half a mile from the finish, we started running again. No way was I going to walk across the finish line, even if I threw up on the medal volunteer. I felt like we had been out on that course for two days.

I finished in 5:56 -- almost an hour longer than what I had hoped for. My aunt, cousin and Carson were the only members of Team Carson that had stayed at the finish line for us, and I was so happy to see them. The rest of the group had run races earlier in the day and spent a long time waiting before giving up. My friends had finished way before me and were cold and ready to head back to their hotel -- as were we -- so we all briefly said our congratulations, snapped some photos and went on our way. 

My cousins, Ginger and Carson
I was so disgusted with the way my day had gone that I didn't even think to get a heat blanket or have someone take our picture at the finish line. I was really looking forward to finally getting one of those space blankets and feeling like a real runner. But I didn't feel like a runner that day. 

When we got back to our hotel, Trea surprised me with this necklace. He worked really hard to find all the charms and had it engraved with 26.2 on one side and Memphis 2011 on the other. I never would've dragged myself to the finish line if Trea hadn't been with me. He's the best running partner and an amazing best friend.

I'm still unhappy with the way things went, and I haven't at all made peace with it. I've hated having to tell the story to everyone I see this week who wants to know all about it, but I'm trying to just focus on the fact that I finished. I didn't finish well, but I finished, and I still got a medal, and I'm still a marathoner. 

I know I tried my best. I ran as much as I could run. I trained as much as I could train. I studied nutrition and hydration tips, and I made sure to stick with what worked for me in training. So I just have to be ok with knowing I did my best, even though on this day, that wasn't enough. 

I'll just have to try harder next time. ;)


  1. Sounds to me that you did awesome, that you finished inspite of being very sick when I KNOW I WOULD HAV QUIT. So that in itself is a huge victory. I think you are being to hard on your self. All in all you did run the race and finish in the face of great adversity!!! YOU GO GIRL:)

  2. It's been said many times before but...for the first marathon, you really shouldn't worry about goal times. First timers should only be concerned with FINISHING. Then, for the next time, have fun with goal times, etc. The first race should be a take-in-the-sights experience and a learning experience and, thus, there can be no disappointment.

    But, sounds like you had a helluva experience. After you complete your second in style (because it only gets easier from here), you'll laugh and proudly tell the tale of your first time to some other inaugural marathoner! You have a great story there even if it wasn't what you wanted/expected.

    Congrats on finishing! Look forward to the next!

  3. Nitmos is right, you did it! You're a marathoner!!! They'll get better, I promise. Be proud of yourself because you really should be.

    Also it's amazing that you're just as pretty after the race as you were at the start. Impressive. :o)

  4. Hey there, just recently found you! I think there's a reason they issue "finisher's medals"....because it's a REALLY BIG DEAL to finish a marathon.

    I'll start my training for my 10 marathon soon and I still never assume I'll get to the Finish (or even the Start at times). 26.2 is indeed a beast. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

    Take it easy on yourself and know that you have lots of marathons (if you choose to) to improve your time :)

  5. I'm sorry you became a Powerade exorcist. But sugar, you DID IT! You ran a marathon - the whole thing! You finished despite being sick and beat down. You are a HONEY BADGER!!!

    I'm really proud of you! And you look just entirely too precious for someone that ran a marathon, much less ralphed the whole way.

    And that necklace? So thoughtful - and it's gorgeous!
    You earned that finisher's medal Anna. You are a marathoner. Congratulations!!!

  6. Sorry you had such a rough race but that's awesome that you powered through it and finished. Any marathon finish is something to be proud of so big congrats to you!!! Happy training for Little Rock. See you out there!

  7. Thanks for posting this. I had a similar experience for my first Marathon. My long runs were brilliant. But my 26.2 during this race wasn't so good.

    After doing my first Half Marathon in April, which I found surprisingly easy, said to give the full 26.2 a shot. That I would find it humbling. I trained well, and like I said earlier, seemed to have great long runs. None of that prepared me for the experiences in Memphis.

    I guess what I'm trying to say, is I've come to terms now that I finished, and can be proud of that. But I know I can do better. Amnesia is starting to set in, and I'm also thinking about maybe doing a new one soon.

  8. Sometimes in life, no matter how prepared we are, stuff just doesn't go the way we intended/hoped/etc. I know it can be incredibly disappointing to not meet your time goal, but at the end of the day your BIGGEST goal should have been to complete your marathon. You know what?! You did just that! It's a starting block and from there you can build.

    It's not fair when our bodies rebel!

    I am so proud of you for being a marathoner and you are one of the peeps who are continuously inspiring me to get back into running and make my goal to be a marathoner as well!

    Congratulations, Anna!!! =)

  9. Hi! Im new to your blog and blogging myself. I just read about your run and can I tell you I found it so inspiring. I know you dont think so with the way it went but you finished and even with all of issues. I am training for my first half marathon and I am sooooo nervous. Heres to your next run!!! Erica

  10. Hey -- I know this post is "old", but I was poking around on your site and it caught my eye.

    Girl. You are a MARATHONER. Marathons don't come easy, and they rarely go as "planned". Good for you for sticking it out. That's grit.



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