26.2 – The Postmortem!

On May 17, I ran across the finish line of the 10th Annual Colfax Marathon.  I gave myself 2 weeks off afterwards.  Two weeks to recover physically, and two weeks to process what that race was for me.  I finished my first full marathon after a couple of years of painful runs, self-doubt, recovery, and resilience, and after two weeks off, I’m more than ready to write!

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I woke up on race day at 4:30am with a sore hamstring and some serious race day nerves.  I’d spent the weekend so far with friends who were nothing but encouraging.  I’d eaten my body weight in carbs since Thursday night.  My parents and husband were out of town for some family events, but they all called, texted, and emailed to make sure I knew they were “there” with me.  But on race morning, I was so nervous I could hardly eat.  At first, the nerves, which had started building up on Friday, were terrifying.  By Sunday though, they were exhilarating.  I hadn’t had race day nerves in months… no.  YEARS.  I hadn’t felt this anxious to cross a start line since my very first half marathon in 2010!

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Kelly and I got into our corral (E for Eby!) with plenty of time to spare.  We chatted, made sure our bibs were on straight, and I stretched the nagging hamstring that had been bugging me since the previous week’s Girls on the Run 5K.  We started chatting with other people in the corral, trying hard to not feel intimidated by the people around us who “looked more hardcore than we are.”  (Side note: Some people just LOOK hardcore.  I hope someday to be one of them!)

I had hoped to write a detailed post about my mile-by-mile feelings on the run.  Maybe two weeks ago, I could’ve actually done that.  But at this point, after having some time to digest it all, that seems kind of silly.

What I can say is this: Miles 1-12 felt incredible, like wow-my-training-worked incredible… like I’m-gonna-live-forever incredible.  Kelly & I were making amazing time, we were enjoying every bit of scenery there was, we were getting through all the conversation pieces we’d been saving up for race day.  We felt awesome.  As we left beautiful Sloan’s Lake Park, we saw our friend Sarah, who awesomely got on her bike and followed the course to cheer us on.  It was a great and unexpected surprise, but it was especially nice given how good we were feeling at that point.

Running through Mile High Stadium at mile 6!
Running through Mile High Stadium at mile 6!

Then came miles 13-15.  This section of the race, no matter how cool it was to run by Casa Bonita, felt like death, like I had no clue how I would finish the race, like somebody was going to need to carry me back to the city.  But when my friends were standing with (amazing) signs at mile 14, I got this burst of energy and started to feel like maybe I could do it.  And when Kelly got sick at mile 15, we walked briefly, trying to wrap our heads around finishing this beast out strong.  This section was one of mixed emotions, hills, and self-doubt.

Our awesome friends with their super fantastic signs at mile 14!
Our awesome friends with their super fantastic signs at mile 14!

Once I knew Kelly would be ok, I ran out on my own.  After moving ahead solo, miles 16-21 were a pleasant surprise.  This was by far my best leg of the race, and I’ve never been so thrilled for a race to so accurately describe a section as “the Screaming Downhill.” I’d put music on speaker on my iPhone, and I knew I was hauling.  I think the biggest smile I had all day was during this stretch of road.  I was talking to other runners, cheering other people on, high fiving the crowd, and rocking out to Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson as they blared over my iPhone speakers.

Of course, just as I was feeling like a beast, then came miles 22-26.2.  Everything I’ve ever read, everyone I’ve ever spoken to about marathoning has always said 20 through the finish is where it becomes all heart.  I thought prior to starting that Sunday that I knew what that meant.  But as I got a cramp in my quad and was writhing in agony on my run, I still had no clue how much heart it would really take to finish out that race.  I stopped at a water station and chugged – oh, I mean DOWNED – at least 2 waters and 4 Gatorades.  I stretched my quads, regained my focus, and got back on the road.  Contrary to my image of how I’d finish the race, this last stretch wasn’t the strong finish I was hoping for.  I walked some, I cried some, and at mile 25 when my GPS watch died, I started screaming profanities at my watch.  Because that’s logical.  An old friend jumped into the course to give me a hug at that point, and that hug kept me going to 25.9.  At 25.9 (I assume…because my watch died), a guy in the crowd shouted at me, “Don’t stop now! You’re almost there!”  That encouragement helped me get to 26.1 (again, so I estimate).  And just as the finish line was in sight, I saw about ten of my favorite people in the entire world cheering me on with signs, high fives, and just the right words of encouragement to get me to pick up the pace and finish strong.  All the way to 26.2 (this one I know!).

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I crossed the finish line feeling completely exhilarated and spent all in the same breath.  Never in my life have I ever felt simultaneous disappointment in myself and my time and pride in my accomplishment and hard work.  The mixed feelings of the moment at the finish line were overwhelming on so many levels.

It took me 5 hours and 18 minutes to run my first marathon.  It took me 12 shot blocks, 2 bathroom breaks, a solid playlist, and so much Gatorade, I couldn’t even begin to estimate a quantity.  But when I really break it down, mile-by-mile or section-by-section, what it really took me to finish this race was love.  Love for running, love for myself, and love from some of the most incredible people I know.  Even without my immediate family at the finish line, I had my family of choice there rooting me on throughout the course in a way that helped me cross that finish line.  In way I’ll never be able to fully articulate.

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It’s been said before by many others, but I learned so much about myself on the journey to 26.2.  Ultimately, I think the biggest lesson for me was to value the support and love I get every single day, and especially on race day, from the people in my life I call my family.  From my husband getting up with me for my 6am Saturday training runs to my dad’s gushing pride when bragging to his friends that his daughter followed in his running footsteps; from the incredibly funny signs our friends created to make us laugh on the course to the big hug from an unexpected old friend during my moment of rage at mile 25; from the supportive texts and messages from friends far away to the congrats I got at the following week’s big family dinner; I am the luckiest girl in the world to have so many people pushing me to hit my goals and loving me enough to help me get there.  This marathon was about accomplishing a long-time goal and proving to myself I could do it – but the truth is, I couldn’t have gotten there without the heart from everyone around me that shared the experience with me.

My #1 supporter throughout this journey - my training buddy and fellow badass, Kelly!
My #1 supporter throughout this journey – my training buddy and fellow badass, Kelly!

So that’s it.  The first journey to 26.2 done, a few weeks of rest & recovery in the books.  Tomorrow, June 3, is National Running Day, and I plan to get back on the horse and go out for a run.  Not because I know I have to train for MCM soon here, but because I genuinely have missed the open road, my mint green Mizunos, and the wind in my face.  And because this next time I run 26.2 in October, I’ll already know just what kind of heart it takes to get across that finish line.

Have a great run, everyone.  On to the next big adventure!

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PS – This isn’t the end of Mile High Runner’s High!  It’s true – you’re stuck with my banter about shot blocks and bad runs and beautiful Denver days as I pick up my training once again in July for the Marine Corps Marathon in DC.  Until then, I’m off for some shorter runs and a 2 week vacation in Southeast Asia with my mom.  Have a great start to summer!  Can’t wait to run with you soon!

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