The Sugarloaf marathon was over a week ago (May 18th, 2014), but it’s taken me a while to recover: physically and mentally. We’ve also been SUPER BUSY with work and recovery and the holiday weekend.
It took a few days for the whole race experience to sink in. Before the race, I was worried that the end of the race would depress me. After the hardest year of my life, I used training for this marathon as therapy for my body and sole. I was worried that I would feel empty after it was over. However, as I reflect back, I actually feel quite the opposite.
The end of my first marathon wasn’t an end to anything; it was a beginning.
We arrived in at the resort in Maine on Saturday, the day before the race. The last time I was at Sugarloaf was in February; I remembered it bustling with skiers and snowboarders, crowds everywhere. However, as we pulled up to the resort, it wasn’t the same packed place I remembered. The grounds were quite, and the only crowds were the runners and spectators in the lobby. The uncharacteristc stillness of the resort fueled my nerves and made everything seem more serious. I felt happy but focused. I was here to accomplish something.
The race bib pick-up was the quickest I remember. My mom, my dad, Jon, and I soon found ourselves at the pasta dinner. We filled our plates with pasta, seeking to strike a balance between fueling our bodies and eating smart. The atmosphere in the room was bright and friendly. Quite conversations about pace and pre-race rituals were muted by an unusual live musical duo of a tuba and base guitar. Everyone seemed relaxed. The months of preparation were over and the long trip to the mountain had been successful. All that was left to do was eat and sleep and run.
Post carbo-load, we retired to our room to coordinate our race gear and watch some baseball. We called it an early night; 5am would no doubt come quickly. Despite waking up once an hour, I arose feeling rested. It was go time.
We dressed quickly and made it to the lobby just as the first round of shuttle buses was pulling away. My dad, my hubby, and I waited in the parking lot with a group of friendly runners for about 30 minutes. We hopped around, stretched, and strained our eyes as we searched for the bus. After months of training, the thought of the bus not coming and missing the race was too much for me to bear. After what felt like ages, a shuttle bus came back to scoop us up. We made it to the starting line with about 15 minutes to spare.
As we lined up, I felt a wave of nerves and confidence simultaneously wash over me. I knew I was ready to run a marathon, but I didn’t know what running a marathon was like.
Before I had too much time to think, the starting horn sounded. I felt myself choke up as I crossed the starting line. I was really going to do this!
Although this was my first marathon, I have run my fair share of races and training runs. I know a “pretty run” when I see one. I had some exposure to the course from the car and the shuttle, but it was even better in person. The course wound through the gorgeous Carrabassett Valley. The tranquil surroundings and quite pounding of all the runners shoes on the pavement calmed my nerves. I ran without music, enjoying the quite.
The race started out hilly. After speaking to some other runners prior to the race, I knew what to expect: rolling hills through miles 1-8, a steep incline from miles 8-10, and then a gentle decline for miles 10-26.2.
Around mile 6, the crowd had thinned out. I felt strong, but I was concerned that I might have been going a bit too fast. Still, I plugged along and chatted with other runners.
I struck up a conversation with a girl next to me; she was on her second marathon. After hearing this was my first marathon, she gave me some really helpful pointers on pacing. I told her that I hoped to qualify for Boston, even thought I wasn’t sure I’d run it. She assured me that I was on a great pace for that. When we reached mile 8, the steep climb began.
Although she was running just as hard as me, she began to coach me. She gave me pointers on my running form on the hill, and encouraged me breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. I concentrated on her advise, and for the first time ever, I hardly lost any time on a hill. Eventually, she broke away from me…but I kept her in my sight until about mile 20. I am so grateful to have had her help. Just further proof to my theory the runners are the best kinds of people.
Mile 10 finally ended, and I felt my muscles relax. I felt the pull of the downhill. The crowd had thinned out even more. The road remained open, which was awesome because it allowed carloads of spectators to drive by and cheer.
We passed the resort, and I waved to my mom. I was close to 12 miles at this point. I felt strong, but knew I had a long way to go.
Around mile marker 14, a woman screamed: “You are halfway there, Kristine!” I was halfway there!! I was thankful that our bibs had our names on them; it was cool to have someone I didn’t know cheering me on.
The very same women was at the mile marker every 2-3 miles after that. She would cheer some runners on by name, hop on her bike and ride ahead, and stop at another marker to cheer more. Eventually, she learned my name and would cheer for me as she rode by.
Races bring out the best in people, runners and spectators alike. It’s a shared sacrifice. We are all invested in the race, all in it together.
Before I knew it, I hit 20 miles. I was starting to feel worse. I had heard about “the wall” at mile 22, but I’d never experienced it. I knew it was coming.
As if on cue, at mile 22, my brain started screaming at my body to stop running. “Stop, stop, stop,” I thought, “even for just a minute?” I started arguing with myself, “You can’t stop now! You’re almost there! But you might have to stop!”
This went on for a a few miles. I started to feel insane.
At this point, I knew my pace. I knew I was going to qualify for Boston. I decided to let myself stop for 10 seconds every mile, just to catch my breathe. I was experiencing exhaustion in my body like I had never felt, and I didn’t want my muscles to freak out.
For the last 4 miles, my mind and body engaged in an epic battle of will. I couldn’t believe I had been stupid enough to think this was a good idea. Human beings shouldn’t run this far, not unless it was absolutely necessary!
I don’t remember much about the scenery past 23 miles, but I think I passed more spectators. I had been taking half a Gu every half hour, and I started to feel my last Gu in my stomach like a rock. I thought I might get sick.
Suddenly, I passed the sign I had been waiting for. The finish line was ahead!
I heard a man say “The finish line is just past those flags up there,” and finishing finally felt real. My running app said “26 miles,” and I pushed on to those flags with all I had. I reached the flags, but I saw no finish line.
“Now, around the corner,” someone else yelled.
I sprinted around the corner, and I finally saw the finish line! I pushed my body forward, slammed my foot down on the mat, grabbed my medal, and doubled over in pain.
I felt crazy, but awesome. I had done it. I was a marathoner. And with my time of 3:31:35, I had qualified for Boston.
I spent the next hour nursing myself back to life with chocolate milk, water, and orange juice. I finally got to wear one of those cool silver blankets! There were also free post-race sport massages, so you can bet that I took advantage of that.
I said that this race is the beginning because I feel like it’s the start of life as a marathoner. I now know I can do it, I know I can run marathons. And after a few weeks behind me, the soreness is mostly gone and I can confidentially say that I like to run marathons. I have never felt as accomplished as I did slamming my foot down on that mat. I took away a newfound respect for running, my body, and myself.
I can’t wait to do it again.
One final note: I couldn’t have felt more fortunate to run this race with both my husband and my dad. It was also so special to have my mom cheering us on. My parents live in Michigan, and living apart from our family can sometimes be really difficult. However, it’s memories like this race that I am so thankful to share.
- Miles ran: 26.2
- Time: 3:31:35
- Number of months trained: 5
- Number of Gu gels consumed: 3
- Number of times stopped: 4
- Number of times I questioned my judgement: 3
- Number of regrets: 0