My first marathon in over 18 months. 18 MONTHS!!!
I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t think it would happen. After so many races getting postponed or cancelled, even at the last minute, part of me just thought it wouldn’t happen. That means even up to the night before, I wasn’t really nervous – just felt more like a long run was coming the next morning.
After driving for 10 hours (I actually just rode while Adam drove), we pulled into the parking lot packet pick-up. It was very organized with people to confirm our Covid vaccination record, to ask us the Covid questions we’ve all been answering for months, and then to pick up our bib and T-shirt. Super fast and super organized.
We checked into the hotel, grabbed dinner (my usual burger and fries) and then home to bed!
I woke up at about 5:30am, had my breakfast (I ate a soft pretzel as we had so many left over from Adam’s last baking adventure, a banana and a cup of black coffee). The start line was a quick 15 minute drive and it was show time!
The week prior, runners were allowed to choose their start times so that we could have a socially distanced starting line. I chose 7am so that I could be done before any potential afternoon heat. By the time I got through the porta potty line, it was 6:45am and the race volunteers were encouraging us to start the race early if we wanted to. What a weird feeling to essentially saunter up to the start line whenever we wanted!
Race volunteers took our temps at the start line and then I was off – 10 minutes early!
I definitely went out too fast (9:40 pace). My body felt slow, but my Garmin kept telling me I was way too fast. Perhaps I was trying to stay warm, as the temps were in the 40’s, or perhaps I was just excited. Finally I settled into an easy 10:10-10:30 pace. It felt good! Too good?
The race’s first and last couple of miles were on road, but the rest was on the Tobacco Road trail. Beautifully paved for most of the way, but some parts were finely crushed gravel. All of the trail was shaded, so the elements could not have been any better. Bordered by woods on both sides, I was even blessed with a deer crossing my path!
Because there were few runners, relatively, and very few spectators, I decided to run with music. Spotify’s 180bpm playlist kept my rhythm strong and consistent, and used by Trekz bone conduction headphones to remain aware of my surroundings. I found this to be of great importance as the trail wasn’t closed to the public for the race, so during the second half of the race I was maneuvering around people, dogs and strollers.
My body felt good overall. At the end of the 9th mile, my formerly injured knee decided to remind me it was there, but then the pain disappeared as quickly as it came.
Perhaps I should switch up my pre-race dinner, or should have skipped the morning coffee, or shouldn’t have forgotten the Imodium, but I had to made a potty stop during mile 14. There was no way I could make it to 26 miles, and if I didn’t stop there was no way I could get myself to take in gels. After much prayer, I can across a potty stop and was glad I did!
For nutrition, after mile 14 (major regret), I used Maurten gels – my absolute favorite – and the little bottles of water they offered all runners. My body felt satisfied until it wasn’t. I started to have my calves and hamstrings cramp in the last 6-8 miles. The energy was there, but my muscles weren’t happy. Because of Covid, the water stations were only water – nothing with salts and such that you would find in Gatorade. Ugh. I should have been better prepared! I pushed through finishing with under a 10 minute mile.
With not having run past 16 miles in the last 10 months, I was super pleased with my performance. I really think I could have pushed a bit faster if I had brought my own hydration mix. Oops. But I am filled with hope. I felt strong, and that was after a pretty conservative training block. It was a confidence I don’t think I have ever felt during a marathon (usually I’m pleading with God for the race to end and to not die. And no, this really isn’t an exaggeration). Many thanks to coach Neely Spence Gracey for keeping me safe, healthy and strong this Spring!
After a shower and laying down a bit, I got the ole legs moving and the blood flowing to aid recovery. We walked, er shuffled, around the University of North Carolina campus for a few hours before I devoured an authentic dinner of Southern fried chicken with a side of green beans, mashed potatoes and a biscuit. We went back to the hotel to toast to a beautiful day and a fabulous race.
And now, after riding 10 hours back home, I am focusing on short, easy runs and yoga. It’s been less than a week and I am SO ready to get going again!