Hello Friends :)
Well, I did it. I survived my second marathon. On Saturday February 15th I crossed the finish line of the Myrtle Beach Marathon in 04:51:38.
My first marathon attempt was in late-September 2012. I completed that race in 5 hours 8 minutes and some odd seconds. I was in physical pain and mentally drained. I don't even remember my actual finish time. After that, I told myself I would never run another marathon. One was enough. I made it into the "club"-- The small percentage of the population who has completed a marathon. Why put myself through the torture of training and giving my life over to a demanding schedule of long run after long run. But then something happened. In October 2013 I ran the Wineglass Half Marathon. I didn't PR, but I had a phenomenal training cycle, and a week after the race I competed in the Feel the History 5K at Point Lookout Lighthouse in SoMD and won for overall female. It was crazy. I'm slow, steady and strong. Not a speedy person who wins races. Needless to say, the endorphins got the best of me. That same weekend I convinced Nick that we should travel to Myrtle Beach to run a marathon in February. "The course is flat and it will be warm!" I said. Perfect for marathon redemption.
Fast forward a few months and the endorphins had worn off. I'm already an anxiety prone individual, but I was getting to the point where I was making myself sick before my long runs. I got myself into a cycle where I'd be anxious and nervous anticipating a 20+ mile run, I couldn't eat because I was nauseous, I would feel weak and dizzy, then I would start worrying that I couldn't complete my long run because I was nauseous, weak and dizzy. And the cycle would continue. It was ridiculous. I finally decided to go to the doctor. She put me on medicine 3 weeks before the race. The medicine made me incredibly sick. I decided there was no way I could finish my training feeling that way-- which by the way, caused even more anxiety. I felt like I had lost control of everything and that all the hard work that went into training for this race was thrown out the window because I wanted a quick fix for my anxiety. I spent a lot of time researching alternative methods to fight anxiety and decided that medicine is definitely not the course I want to take. I decided to start seeing a counselor, and she has been a huge resource (side note to anyone struggling with persistent anxiety: The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne is a great tool).
In my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator I am a very strong "J". And one of the traits of being a strong "J" is thriving on list-making. My counselor recommended making a list of all the things related to the marathon that could potentially cause my anxiety, and then decide on a plan of action to combat those things should they arise. I made my list the weekend before the marathon. Some concerns on it were normal things that I'm sure everyone worries about, like the weather and forgetting key pieces of running gear; but others were ridiculous. Here are a few of the ridiculous things that in my mind were "major" concerns:
(1) That I won't be able to eat the morning of the race and won't have consumed enough calories to finish the race. Because of this I will be dizzy and weak from lack of fuel.
(2) That I could get the flu the week before the race because everyone around me seems sick. (Especially the lady in the gym locker room who was bragging that she has the flu but was running anyway and the other lady at the gym who sounded like she was going to cough up a lung).
(3) That I would hear other runners around me talk about things I "can't listen to" or that I would witness another runner getting hurt. (Long story, but I have a major phobia of anything medical and I almost panic when I'm stuck listening to or seeing something that falls into that category).
So now I bet you're wondering if any of those things actually happened? I didn't eat as much as I would have liked the morning of the race. I did not get the flu. And although I didn't see anyone get hurt, I did have to listen to some things that I wish I wouldn't have. But, I survived. The list-making helped. I felt prepared. The week before the race, I expected to be an anxious mess, but I was surprisingly calm. I felt prepared.
After an early morning run, Nick, Sarge and I spent most of Friday in the car driving to Myrtle Beach. Thursday evening I started worrying about the roads because of the bad weather the east coast was getting. But it was smooth sailing. We arrived in Myrtle Beach around dinner time, and to be completely honest, I was less than impressed by the town. Maybe it was the time of the year, but with the exception of a few nice areas, Myrtle Beach was kind of a dump. We knowingly stayed at a cheap pet friendly hotel, but I wasn't prepared for feeling like I had to shower with flip flops on.
We went to the race expo that evening. Those are always a lot of fun. We got a lot of great gear: t-shirt, running socks and a pretty nice backpack. I also bought a sticker for my car. Why run a marathon if you can't brag about it later? :)
One of the race beneficiaries is the Rare Species Fund. As an animal lover I thought this was really cool. The group was at the expo with a few chimps who were super playful. There was a yellow lab hanging out with the chimps and they were all playing together. It was one of the cutest things I've seen. I tried to get a photo, but none of them turned out too well. You can check out the Myrtle Beach Marathon Facebook Page-- they had a ton of photos from the expo. There was also a booth raising awareness and money for service animals for Veterans. The dogs would take your donation from your hand and go drop it in the donation bucket. How could you not participate in that? Nick and I also ran into someone he knew from back home. Totally unexpected and random, but shows how small the running community truly can be. After leaving the expo I was excited for the coming day.
I was surprisingly able to get a good nights sleep. I listened to some relaxing music and fell asleep pretty quickly. I was slightly restless, but I woke up at 4:30 am feeling pretty good. I wasn't able to eat much before the race. This was, by far, by biggest fear. I managed to drink 2 Ensure Shakes (250 calories each), ate a huge banana (135 calories) and approximately half a Cliff Builder's Bar (if I would have eaten the whole thing it would have been 270 calories). The fact that I wasn't able to eat much started to make me anxious, but Nick reminded me that I ate so well the day before, and that I was very hydrated, so I would be fine. That little bit of reassurance helped. I decided that I would take the rest of my Cliff and an apple along to the starting area an nibble on. We got all of our gear together and headed out the door. As soon as we opened the door to the parking lot we saw that it was pouring rain. We kind of just stared at each other for a few seconds. Then Nick ran back up to the room to grab his jacket and my space blanket from a previous race so that we could at least try to stay dry until the race actually started.
We showed up at the starting area about 30 minutes before the race was scheduled to begin. It was miserable waiting. The temperature was in the high 40s, but the rain was really cold and it was very windy. We took our time at the porta potty's (hey-- at least it was dry). Then we wondered around trying to find a dry spot to stand until we had to get in line. Every covered area was completely packed so we found a truck to stand next to. This at least kept the wind at bay. I managed to eat my entire apple but it was cold and wet so I didn't want to dig in my bag for the Cliff. Finally we lined up at 6:25 am. We listened to the National Anthem and chatted with the people around us. We talked with a guy who was running his first race and a women who also love the run-walk method (like me!). It was nice to be distracted. Once the lineup of people started moving I didn't feel a bit nervous. At this point we were just out for another run.
The first few miles were slightly annoying having to dodge so many people. It was frustrating trying to stick with Nick as he ran around people and tried to not run through the puddles left by the early morning rain. Nick will do anything to keep his feet dry. I'll run straight through puddles if that means the shortest distance to where I'm headed. The first 5 miles of the course were straight down the main road in town. For the amount of people running it was fairly quiet. It was nice running in the quiet pre-dawn darkness with a bunch of people striving for the same thing as you. The plan was to stick with a 9 minute run 1 minute walk interval. This was how I did most of my training. I felt comfortable with this, and I knew that I didn't lose much time by walking. It felt weird to walk at the 9 minute mark. But it was the plan and we stuck to it. One thing I was totally not prepared for with this race was the wind. Once the rain stopped the temperature was perfect for running, but the winds were gusting 20+ mph (according to weather.com). That first stretch of the course was straight into the wind. I remember feeling like I was working so hard. I kept thinking to myself that I did not have enough fuel to sustain this pace with the wind. Not long after passing the 5-mile mark we finally turned down a side road and were out of the direct force of the wind. This was about the point that I started eating. I ate one fig newton (50 calories). It might seem like a weird running snack, but it worked well during training.
I don't remember where exactly, but at some point during that first 5 miles we ended up near the 04:45:00 pace group. I did not want to run with a pace group. But it was interesting to realize that I was on par with them. We'd pass them, then they would pass us when we were walking. This kept up for quite a few miles. Eventually we passed then and they never passed us again. I didn't realize this until after the race when Nick pointed it out to me. I wonder what happened to them?
The next few miles of the race were uneventful. I was still feeling okay. Angry because of the wind. I just kept thinking to myself that I wasted so much extra, unnecessary, energy fighting that headwind. During these miles we also ended up near a couple who were having a very loud conversation. At this point I'm getting tired and slightly grumpy. I said to Nick that there's always one of those people at races. And because of my pace I tend to get stuck near them. It's the person who spends so much energy telling their running partner 1) why they're going to do so great 2) or why they aren't going to do so great 3) or that "you know, I really don't want to lose weight, I just think I should be more healthy" (when really they probably could lose a bit of weight..this is mean Amanda talking).. and it just goes on and on and on. Here I am, trying to focus on my form, and eating on regular intervals and I can't concentrate on anything but what this guy keeps saying.
Eventually we put a little distance between us and them. We're now on Ocean Blvd. A long stretch of road paralleling the beach. We're on Ocean Blvd for roughly 9 miles. It was the better part of the course. There were a lot of shops and hotels, so you couldn't see the ocean the entire way. But there were a few spots that you got a pretty decent view. I'm feeling really fatigued at this point. And I was getting upset at myself because my last few training runs I was able to maintain 10 minutes per mile or less for 10 miles. And here I am running-- not even at 10 miles yet-- and I feel like I'm moving like a snail. I'm not in any physical pain. I just feel weak. I'm starting to anxiously await the walk breaks. I realized at one point that my heart felt like it was racing. Not just normal elevated heart rate because I'm working out. I started getting worried. But I remember something that I read in my anxiety book. There have been studies done to prove that the human heart can beat at 200 bpm for two weeks straight with no adverse affects. I reminded myself of that. And kept repeating that I was fine-- I was just being a little silly.
I don't think Nick really noticed how I was feeling. I wasn't talking so much. He was chatting away. I was listening, but he thought I was giving him "death stares". Really, it's just my running look when I'm working too hard. I finally said that we needed to back off the pace a little. Nick agreed. He also decided that I would start eating my banana at 1 hour and 50 minutes. I know-- another odd food to eat while you're running, but I have the greatest "support crew" who carried my banana for me :) I took a 2 minute walk break and was able to eat about half the banana. Nick carried that stupid banana for me until I was able to finish it completely. I think it took 2 or 3 more walk breaks. I remember one women saying something like "Go boy with the banana!". I didn't laugh out loud, because I couldn't really concentrate on anything, but I chuckled on the inside. I also remember, as we passed a photographer, Nick saying "Oh great, he's going to get me carrying the banana." And sure enough, he did.
The half marathon runners turned up a side street somewhere between miles 11 and 12. I saw a little girl holding a sign that said "My grandma runs 13.1". This made me smile. Suddenly everything thinned out. It was quieter and the runners were a little more spread apart. I remember being thankful for that. At this point, I really feel like I'm struggling. I don't know if it was mental or physical; but I remember thinking to myself "What happens if I just start walking now? Could I just walk the rest? That wouldn't be impossible." The 9 minute run 1 minute walk started to feel impossible. After passing the half marathon point, Nick started to realize I wasn't doing too great. He kept reminding me that I looked so strong and that I hadn't lost my form. But I was miserable. I tried to eat another fig newton. He thought I just needed more energy. Totally gross, and I've never had this happen to me, but I pretty much threw up the fig newton in my mouth. I started gagging and had a hard time getting it back down. I wanted to be done at this point. I was feeling terrible. I remember making a turn past mile 14 and actually having a good view of the ocean. But I didn't even care. I was having such a hard time mentally that I couldn't think about anything other than how I was feeling.
At some point I finally said that I needed plain water (my CamelBak had a water/gatorade mix). The aid station ended up being a few minutes into my run interval, but I walked as I drank my water. Nick convinced me to eat a piece of clementine. I won't say that I "suddenly" felt better, but over the next few miles I kept drinking plain water and eating clementine, and I got a second burst of energy. I finally felt strong. Before the half marathon point, I kept thinking "When can I go to 8 minutes run 1 minute walk??" But I told myself just one more mile. I did this until mile 17 or 18. Finally we switched over to 8 minutes run 1 minute walk and it was a huge relief. Nick didn't tell me this during the run, but afterwards he said that he thought our split time increased up to 13 minutes per mile.
Right around mile 20 I saw a sign that said "Your warm up is over. Now PR that 10K!" I was waiting to see something like that :) It made me smile. Only 6 miles left-- I was counting them down. "Anyone can run 6 miles. It's not that far. That's a patrol road loop run." My positive thoughts continued that way as the miles ticked down. I would compare it to a known distance that I do regularly and tell myself how easy that distance is. I'm physically exhausted, but mentally this was huge. Once we turned back onto the main road heading to the finish line we suddenly had that horrible, awful, terrible headwind. Ugh, I just wanted to be done. I had enough energy to finish out the last 4.2 miles, but not to fight the wind. I decided at this point that I was going down to 7 minutes run 1 minute walk. Nick gave some push back, but I reminded him that I hadn't been complain-y at all during the race even though I felt miserable at points. So he conceded-- it's the little victories that make a difference :)
We had to run through a little park. And the wind was so bad that it blew my hat off. I felt like it was pushing me sideways. I even kicked myself in the ankle a few times because I was thrown off balance.
The last few miles of the race are a blur. I think I might have been slightly delirious. I remember being grumpy because there was a guy running at our pace who was dragging his feet. That noise goes right through me. It just sounds painful and I can't stand it. He would pass us, then stop, and we'd pass him. This continued the rest of the race. I'm pretty sure I told Nick that I hated that guy. Turned out that he was waiting for his wife to catch up every time he stopped.
Finally we see the sign for mile 25. We're so close-- only 1.2 miles. We had a brief conversation one whether to just finish it out, or to take my scheduled walk break. We decided to take an abbreviated walk break. We were getting close to the finish. You could see people walking around who were already done. And Nick kept encouraging me to keep going. But I couldn't see the 26-mile marker anywhere. I still felt like I had so much further to go. And then we turned a corner. Right there was the 26-mile marker. "Come on, you can do this!" Nick kept yelling. We passed a few people during that last 0.2 miles. And then finally we crossed the finish line.
Nick was yelling at me "4 hours 51 minutes!! You did it, you beat your goal!". It was so surreal. I felt like I could have fallen over-- I couldn't really process anything. I was just glad I was finished. Months of training, dedication, early mornings, weird eating habits and a lot of stress was over. As I'm writing this, I'm still thinking to myself-- why. Why do people do this? Why did I do this? Nick thinks the race symbolizes the culmination of being healthy and living an active lifestyle. I think that the half marathon can represent the same thing :)
I didn't want to voice my actual race goals out loud before the race-- just in case I didn't reach them. My first goal was to beat my first marathon time, my second goal was 5 hours and my "if everything is perfect goal" was 4 hours 55 minutes. Well, I beat all of those :) Like I said, it feel surreal. I never would have thought that I had that in me.
Oh, and by the way, when Nick thought we got really slow towards the end. We really didn't. I was amazed when I looked at my splits afterwards.
10:50, 10:23, 10:19, 10:28, 10:32, 10:25, 10:33, 10:20, 10:45, 10:52, 11:01, 10:45, 10:43, 10:30, 10:50, 11:15, 11:34, 10:56, 11:08, 11:13, 11:16, 11:34, 11:53, 11:19, 11:50, 11:10
I'm very grateful for this experience. I think that every time I train for something I overcome different obstacles and challenges. I'm lucky to have such an amazing "support crew" who believes in me when I don't believe in me. And I'm overwhelmed by the number of people who have told me that my story has made a difference for them. My hope is that by reading through my roller coaster of a running life, you will be encouraged; that you will realize that you can do anything if you are determined; and that your body and mind are much stronger than you give them credit for.
Happy Running :)