Guys…I did it! I ran my first marathon!!!! And not only that, but I finished in 4:20:22, under my 10-minute mile goal pace. And all that on a hilly, challenging course!
Even though I ran for 4 hours and 20 minutes and crossed the finish line, I still kind of can’t believe I did it. I said to my boyfriend when I was getting ready the morning of the race that I wasn’t nervous (until right before when I kind of freaked out) because it felt like such a ridiculous thing that I would NEVER do. Even after my 18 weeks of training, running a marathon still felt like this huge goal that I would never attempt. And a few hours after the race, it still felt like an unreachable goal, even though I had just done it! But I promise I actually did run!!!
Let’s back up to the day before the race. My boyfriend (Tom) and I took a bus down to Falmouth in the afternoon and walked through town to our inn. After settling in, we walked to Stop & Shop to get some snacks/dinner. I was super paranoid about eating out for dinner in case I ate something that didn’t sit well with me. Plus, there were very limited vegan options in the area. I ended up eating pineapple, cereal, and an entire bag of animal crackers for dinner! No, not the healthiest, but it definitely qualified as carb-loading. The night before a marathon is pretty much the only time I can justify doing that and not feeling guilty, so no regrets.
Tom and I spent the night snacking and watching Dollhouse on Netflix in our room, which was the perfect way to relax. Around 10:15, we got ready for bed. Luckily, I wasn’t feeling nervous, so I thought I might actually sleep. WRONG. First, the pillow was one of those pillows that is super squishy, so when you put your head down on it, it sinks down completely, and the pillow is effectively an inch thick. I decided to put the throw pillow under it to raise it up, but that was also uncomfortable, since my head kept kind of slipping off. I then realized the throw pillow itself was an adequate pillow, so I got rid of the main pillow. So I had the pillow situation sorted out….and then I realized how uncomfortable the bed was. The mattress was hard, and my hips hurt if I stayed on one side for too long. So basically, I spent all night tossing and turning. I’d guess I got about 4 hours of real sleep.
When my alarm went off at 6:30, I was really tired. I got up & got ready, dressed, hydrated, and foam-rolled. Tom & I walked a few minutes to the race packet pickup location to get my bib (and T-shirt, which is awesome!) We then walked back to the inn, where I got the rest of my gear/fuel all together.
We then walked to breakfast at the inn. I had brought my own overnight oats, but I had the inn’s coffee. It was very hard for me to eat, and I basically had to force down my food. I finally started to feel a bit more awake at this point, but the lack of sleep was definitely affecting me. After hydrating more, attaching my bib, and getting on all my gear, Tom and I walked into town to the start line!
After hitting the bathroom one more time, I waited with Tom until about 10 minutes before the race. While I hadn’t been feeling particularly nervous up until then, when I realized it was time to line up, I seriously freaked out. I started to feel nauseous & shaky & had to sit for a second to re-compose myself. I took some deep breaths, told myself I would be ok, and then I lined up in the back. This race was quite small – 647 people running the full marathon, as well as 186 relay teams, made up of 4 or 5 people on average, so the start line wasn’t super crowded.
My primarily goal for this race was just, of course, to finish, but my secondary goal was to finish at an average 10-minute/mile pace, which would be 4 hours, 22 minutes.
At 8:30, we were off! I crossed the start line at just 1 minute, 30 seconds after the time started. At this point, my goal was just to find a comfortable pace (preferably just under a 10-minute mile) & stick with it for the first 10 miles, which were supposed to be relatively flat. I started out slow (over a 10 minute pace) to warm up, and I was fine with that for a mile or two, while my body got used to the fact that it was running again (and would be for quite a while…) Checking my watch, though, I realized I was running at about a 10:15 minute pace, which was a lot slower than I wanted (and am capable of). Normally, that pace would feel super easy, but I was still feeling exhausted from my lack of sleep the night before. I’ve read that sleeping badly the night before a race isn’t really a big deal if you sleep well the night before that, and while I don’t think it affected my actual performance too much, it definitely effected my perception of effort for the first 10 miles or so.
So basically I spent the first 10 miles or so alternating between a 10:15 pace and about a 9:35 pace, because my body kept wanting to slow down to a pace that I knew was slower than I could handle. My head felt heavy and kind of fuzzy. I kind of wanted to stop running and take a nap…After about 6 miles or so, I seemed to settle more comfortably into a 9:55 pace, which was fine, so I stayed in that range until about mile 10. I also ate 4 dates, as planned, around Mile 5 and Mile 8, along with water. There were some beautiful views of the water in these miles, which was nice, but I generally didn’t enjoy running too much for the first part of this race. Besides feeling so sleep-deprived, having the entire race before me was intimidating and scary.
Around Mile 10, I started to feel better. My legs were starting to feel a little bit sore already, but nothing terrible. Finally, my head started to feel clearer, and looking at my watch, I saw that my pace was naturally speeding up to closer to a 9:30 pace without me feeling like I was expending more effort. There were a few small hills during this part of the race, but nothing bad. Plus I was pretty well hill-trained, since all of my shorter runs were done on hilly terrain. I had water and a few more dates around mile 10.5.
Miles 13.1-Mile 19.5
Once I hit the halfway point, I started to feel great. It sounds really funny to say that it took an ENTIRE half marathon for me to finally feel easeful in my running, but that’s the truth! I’m sure it was also mental; once I hit the halfway point, I no longer had the entire race ahead of me, and it felt more doable. Of course, my muscles were starting to feel tight & a bit sore, but not in a way that they were affecting my speed or perception of effort. I no longer felt the effects of my lack of sleep.
I had read online that miles 15-22 were the hilliest of the race, so I was waiting for some challenging hills. This stretch of the race definitely had hills, but I didn’t find them super challenging. They generally weren’t super long, and they were spread out enough that it was easy to recover in between them. My pace during this part of the race was under 9:30 minutes/mile (from what I can gather from my glances at my watch).
It was really nice to finally be enjoying the running. I was finally in that running zone where a faster pace felt pretty easy and running actually felt fun. I almost enjoyed the hills on this part of the course, since it made the course interesting. I also enjoyed passing people and continuing to run while others walked, obviously already getting tired, while I was still going strong. That was definitely a confidence booster.
As for music, I had set up an entire playlist for my marathon, starting with the new Pentatonix album. When that album finished, a few other random songs came on, and I just wasn’t feeling them, so I went back to the beginning of the PTX album and listened to it again….and that’s what I did for the entire race. I love PTX, they make great running music, and when a new album comes out, I always listen to it like 100 times in a row before getting sick of it (yes, I know I’m weird), so I was pretty happy with this. I especially enjoyed the music during these miles, and it helped me keep going strong.
In terms of hydration, at the water stop just before mile 13, I had some Gatorade instead of water to try to replace some electrolytes. Unfortunately, I really needed water too. The water stops were generally spread out every 2.5-3 miles, and being a heavy sweater, I definitely needed more water than like 4 ounces every 3 miles. I ate two dates as well with the mile 12.8 water stop, and then 4 more with water at mile 16. Then, At the mile 17.5 stop (which was supposed to be an extra “candy” stop in honor of Halloween, but ended up just being an extra water station), I actually had both water AND Gatorade.
Also TMI, I kind of needed to pee starting around mile 8, but kept putting it off because there were very few porta-potties and they were always occupied. I really didn’t want to stop running and lose time to that. I FINALLY found an empty porta-potty around mile 18.5. I definitely felt better after that!!!
The best part of this stretch came just after mile 19, when I rounded the top of the hill and spotted my mom, dad, brother, and boyfriend all there. I was SOOOO happy to see them (I’d been looking for them since mile 15 or so), hence the smiling photos.
That was one of the high points of the race. Unfortunately from there on, it was all downhill, Except that’s a terrible saying because really, the course was all UPHILL.
Mile 19.5 – 26.42 (Based on my watch!)
Soon after I saw my family, the race got hard. Several things happened.
First came the nausea. My stomach was already feeling a bit off by mile 18 or so, partly I think from not drinking enough water as well as losing a lot of electrolytes. At the water station about 1/4 mile after I saw my family, I asked for water but got Gatorade. I didn’t want to go back, so I drank it. BAD IDEA. I immediately felt nauseous and crampy. I could no longer eat any dates or drink anything until the nausea was finally wearing off around the mile 25 water stop. I’m not 100% sure if I was just dehydrated or if I was actually experiencing mild hyponatremia (loss of too much sodium, which is actually kind of the opposite of dehydration!) I’m guessing it was more dehydration, but I was also losing a huge amount of salt. Alternatively, at this point in the race, the blood may have been so shunted away from my digestive system that my body wouldn’t have been able to handle anything in my stomach without feeling nauseous at this point. Either way, it was very unpleasant.
At the same time, once I hit the 20-mile mark, I entered uncharted territory and my legs started to feel quite heavy. Additionally, while online I had read that the hilliest part of the course was miles 15-22, with miles 22 to the end flatter again, this was NOT TRUE. Miles 15-20 had been relatively hilly, but miles 20-24 were the hilliest of the entire course. Now that was just mean! It’s possible the hills weren’t quite as bad as I perceived them since I was so tired, but it definitely wasn’t flat until like mile 24.5. I stopped caring about my time at all and just focused on continuing to run.
I basically struggled through the last 6 miles with a grimace on my face. I counted down each mile closer to the finish line. I kept bargaining with myself and telling myself I could walk on the next hill, but I never did. I actually was about to walk up a hill, when a runner doing the relay passed me, turned around, and said something like, “You’re doing great. Keep going!” It was such a small thing, but it made a huge difference. It was like I got a boost of energy and I decided not to walk. For the entire race, I only walked through the water stations (which I’d always been planning to do) and I’m pretty proud of that!
During the last 2 miles of the race, I also passed a lot of people walking back the other way, and everyone was yelling words of encouragement. It’s nice that “Rachel” was on my race bib and to be able to hear “You’re doing great, Rachel!” or “Great job, Rachel” from complete strangers. At Mile 24 of a race, that’s really what made me keep going. Thank you strangers!
Luckily, although my last dates were eaten at mile 16, I didn’t “hit a wall.” Yes, I was tired, my entire body ached, and my pace slowed down a bit during the last 5 or 6 miles, especially thanks to all the halls, but my aerobic endurance was there.
Once I was about a mile from the finish, I started to speed back up my pace again and really gave everything I had. Right before I rounded the corner to the last stretch, I spotted my brother at the corner! That gave me one last boost, and as I rounded the corner, I locked my eyes on the Finish Line banner, and just ran forward completely focused on inching closer to that spot.
And I made it! As soon as I crossed the finish line, I immediately had to sit down because I was a bit light-headed. Yes, I know you are supposed to walk around, but I just couldn’t. I absolutely did everything post-race wrong, but I didn’t really care. I had just run a marathon!!!!!
I’m super happy with my time and the effort that I put into the race. While I definitely made some mistakes with fueling during the race, I am happy with how I paced myself and how much I pushed myself at the end. For my first marathon, I’m not sure I could ask for much more!
I’ll write another post about what I did post-marathon, as well as how recovery is going, but for now, I just want to say thank you to everyone who supported me on this journey!!
To all my friends who are previous marathoners who gave me words of encouragement and advice and shared in my excitement, thank you!
To my boyfriend, who put up with my marathon obsession and my long Saturday training runs, who got up early with me race morning, and so much more, thank you!
To my parents and brother who came down to Falmouth to support me and shared in my excitement about the race, always asking how training runs were going, thank you!
To all other friends and family who wished me good luck, sent me cheers, or congratulated me, thank you!
I seriously could not have gone through this journey without all of you!!!