Elissa and I woke up at 5:00 the morning of the race. For the first few minutes, I had the same thought that I always have when I wake up early for a long run or race… why in the world am I doing this??? Sleep would be sooooo much better for me. After putting on my race clothes, though, I started getting really excited. In (hopefully) a few short hours, I would be a marathoner!
We ate breakfast, which consisted of a plain white bagel with peanut butter and honey, a banana, and coffee. I checked the weather, and it was currently 40 degrees, which is absolutely perfect running conditions. Even better, it wasn’t supposed to warm up at all that morning. We bought some race sleeves the day before at the Expo; one of my coworkers suggested getting some since they keep your arms warm but fold up small enough to fit in your running belt if you get too warm. I decided to wear the sleeves but no fleece or long-sleeve shirt. It was a great purchase — I ended up wearing the sleeves for the whole race and felt comfortable.
David picked us up at 6:00 to head down to the race start. As soon as we arrived, we got in the lines for the port-a-potties, which went surprisingly quickly. (I’ve expressed before, going to the bathroom is the most stressful part of the race for me… so this was a HUGE positive sign for the race ahead.) We grabbed some coffee (Elissa) and hot chocolate (me, didn’t want to have to get in the port-a-potty line again!) and headed towards our corral.
The 3:45 pace group started in our corral. We knew that 3:45 would be a little too fast for us. (Tip: It’s always good to have multiple goals for a race. Set a goal that you know you can achieve, even if conditions are less than ideal and you can’t run your best; ours was to FINISH the race. Then set a goal that is realistic to achieve under normal conditions; ours was to finish under 4:00. Then set a goal that you can achieve if the stars align and you’re having the greatest run of your life; ours was to finish close to 3:50.) We talked to the pace leader for a bit, and her plan was to run the first few miles pretty slowly. We decided to stick with her at the beginning to prevent us from starting out too fast.
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the gun finally went off. At this point, I just wanted to run, and my nerves had mostly gone away. Starting with the pace group was a great strategy; it allowed us to warm up and save our legs for later in the race.
- Mile 1: 9:14
- Mile 2: 9:01
- Mile 3: 8:47
- Mile 4: 8:56
- Mile 5: 8:52
Around mile 5, we decided to take our first gel. (We both used PowerBar Power Gel throughout the race. It’s a little less dense than Gu gels, so it’s easier to squeeze out and swallow quickly.) The pace group didn’t stop, so we officially lost them, but that was okay since we knew we wouldn’t be able to keep up with them forever.
The next miles seemed to fly by. I was enjoying the crisp fall weather, the spectators’ signs (“You’re running better than our government”), and running through the city streets. At around mile 10, we saw David. It is so encouraging to see familiar faces. He snapped a few pics, I yelled that I loved him, and we continued on our way.
- Mile 6: 8:31
- Mile 7: 8:41
- Mile 8: 8:33
- Mile 9: 8:31
- Mile 10: 9:05
We took another short break to take a second gel at mile 10. I was a little hungry, but the gel seemed to do the trick and gave me a boost in energy. At around mile 11, the coarse split for the half marathoners to turn back towards the finish line and the marathoners to continue on our way. I thought I would be really jealous of the half marathoners, but we more felt awesome that we were still going. It felt like a completely different race after that. The number of runners thinned out drastically, and there were many stretches in which we were running basically by ourselves. It was kind of nice to run in less of a crowd. The spectators thinned out as well, but the ones that remained cheered us on more directly (“Yeah girls in pink! You got this!”), which helped keep our energy high.
We saw David again around mile 14, and just a little ways down from him we saw Elissa’s husband, Mike, and her daughter Sophia. (Turns out David and Mike didn’t ever see each other and had no idea they were so close!) Elissa gave Sophia a quick kiss (I found out later that she was sad that Aunt Erin didn’t kiss her too. Worst. Aunt. Ever.)
We took a third gel at mile 16 and I stopped for some Gatorade. The back of my left foot started hurting. I had a momentary panic attack in which I thought I may have hurt my Achilles. My mind started racing… I could probably finish this race, but I would definitely need to take a lot of time off. What if I couldn’t even run in the Disney Marathon? Elissa would be one half of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (our costumes for that race, it’s going to be amazing), and I would be sidelined to the cheering squad. You may wonder why I was already thinking about the Disney Marathon while we were still running our first marathon, but when you’re running a marathon you have A LOT of time to think. I stopped to try pulling up my sock, and sure enough, the pain stopped. Thank goodness it was the most irrational false alarm ever.
- Mile 11: 8:46
- Mile 12: 8:29
- Mile 13: 8:45
- Mile 14: 8:32
- Mile 15: 8:53
- Mile 16: 9:39 (multiple stops for fueling and pulling up my sock made this our slowest mile)
We ran the next several miles in Washington Park, which is my favorite park in Denver. The wind picked up a bit making it a little chilly, and our legs were starting to feel the toll of running for over two and a half hours. We talked less to focus on keeping up our pace.
- Mile 17: 8:38
- Mile 18: 8:39
- Mile 19: 8:56
- Mile 20: 9:01
We took our last gel at mile 20. I had read so many stories about the dreaded wall at mile 20. How the first 20 miles is the first half of a marathon, and the last 6.2 miles is the second half. Neither of us felt too bad at this point, though. Once in a while different parts of our legs or feet would feel tight, but nothing extreme enough to make us miserable. The spectators were so helpful with their cheers and support. I tried not to look at my watch except at mile markers. At one point, a group of people were passing out grapes. They tasted so good and juicy compared to the gels (those gels really makes you appreciate real food). We slowed down a little during these miles, and I commented at one point that I felt like we were moving in slow motion.
- Mile 21: 9:03
- Mile 22: 8:42
- Mile 23: 8:59
- Mile 24: 9:06
- Mile 25: 9:15
We passed the 25 mile marker and could see ahead the steepest hill of the whole course. I ran up that hill countless times when I lived in Denver, but it never looked as daunting as when I had 25 miles behind me. Thankfully there were tons of spectators there who were yelling that we could conquer the hill, no problem. We dug in deep to whatever reserves we had left and made it to the top.
Before the race, I imagined that as I was running the final mile I would be reflecting on the journey that got me to that point. I would be thinking about all the runs in the sweltering heat and in the freezing cold, meeting Elissa before dawn to get in a 20 miler on a Saturday morning, forcing myself to get a 10 miler in after work even though all I really wanted to do was put my feet up and watch Gossip Girl, etc.
Of course, I wasn’t thinking about any of those things. In fact, I would hardly call my state of mind during that last mile as “thinking”. I just wanted to get to the finish line so badly, and I wanted to get there as fast as possible. Against my legs’ protests, I kicked it up a notch to finish the race as strongly as I could. Meanwhile Elissa decided that we had run together this far, and she was not going to let me beat her in the final mile. We ran as fast as we could and crossed the finish line at the exact same time. It felt glorious.
- Mile 26: 8:29
- Mile 26.2: 7:29 (avg. pace)
As soon as we stopped running, my legs were jelly. We got our medals and our pictures taken and picked up some goodies (Powerade, chocolate milk, Jamba Juice, a race blanket). All I really wanted, though, was to not be on my feet anymore. We saw David pretty quickly and soon after found Mike and Sophia. We sat down for a bit, but once we weren’t running, it was really too cold to hang out. The walk back to the car was slow and a little painful. We headed back to the Brodericks’, changed into some warm clothes, and decided to refuel at the Egg and I. Food and coffee were exactly what I needed.
I was sore that afternoon, and even more sore the next day. I felt like I could have run on Tuesday, but I kept resting my legs through Wednesday. I went on a short, slow run on Thursday. On Friday, Elissa and I mapped out our running schedule for the next 11 weeks, when we will already be running in our second marathon — DISNEY! We are just going to have fun on that one and not worry about getting a PR. Our Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum costumes are almost compiled for it.
Seriously, running a marathon is hard work. It is really, really long. But I am so glad that I did it. After all the hours and miles I put in over the summer, it was the greatest reward to cross that finish line. Oh yeah, and we did it in 3:51:02, pretty close to our cherry-on-the-top goal!