As some of you know, I recently completed my first-ever marathon during the Walt Disney World Marathon 2014 weekend. I finished the 26.2 miles in 4 hour, 9 minutes, and 7 seconds. I finished in 2319th place overall, 637th place in the female category, and 118th in my division 25-29 year olds (I think). (See my breakdown in the picture here.)
There were apparently close to 26,000 people racing in the marathon with 7,000 or so people running what was called the Dopey Challenge – 48.6 miles of “fun” over the course of four days. A 5K (3.1 miles) Thursday, 10K (6.2 miles) Friday, half-marathon (13.1 miles) Saturday, and a full marathon (26.2 miles) Sunday. I wasn’t feeling that “doped” up to attempt that on my first long-distance race.
Race day was Sunday, January 12, and I could not be more anxious or nervous. I think that was the most nervous I have been in the days prior to the race than I have been in everyday life in probably 10 years. For some reason, I had many doubts and little worries that were floating around my head making my heart race, my blood pressure rise, and my brain act like it was on Adderall (as the effects of that drug have been described to me by friends who have used it, not from personal experience). Sleep was not in my future nor was relaxation in the twelve hours prior to the race’s start.
But, despite my jitters and anxiety, I was fairly confident that I would be able to complete this race. Why? Because I had spent nearly seven months preparing for the race, mostly mentally. I signed up for the race back in April 2013 before I moved from D.C. and left my job. I had just completed two half-marathons and thought that I would be able to successfully complete a full marathon, with proper training. I ramped up my workouts from September through December to prepare my body for the stress of running for four+ hours straight. I was biking, swimming, doing some strength training, and most importantly, running.
There was one thing, however, that happened that was the root of my anxiety. Right before Thanksgiving I ran the longest distance to-date – 16 miles out and back from Cambridge. I ran with a pack on and a water bottle in-hand. I stopped occasionally to refuel with some candy and to stretch my body a little. But something happened in the last few miles as I was pushing myself back home – my foot began hurting and my knee began hurting. All on my left side. As most runners do, I pushed through the pain and kept going until I had reached my goal. But as my body came down from that run, I knew something was wrong. In the days that followed, my knee began hurting, and I couldn’t straighten it or bend it all of the way. Something was wrong with a tendon behind my left knee. I had to stop biking to work; I had a limp; I spent my nights studying with an ice pack wrapped around my knee. I took a full two weeks off of exercise hoping to recover. (I later surmised that this injury was due to the having the wrong type of running shoes that caused me to under-pronate.)
I was signed up for three consecutive races in the first three Sundays in December, a 5K, half-marathon, and another 5K. Because I had rested for at least a week, I thought that I would attempt to run with a brace and see what happened. The first 5K was on Dec. 1, and I made it a mile before my knee started throbbing and giving me wincing pain with each step. I walked the rest of it. I didn’t even look up my time. I realized, with worry and sadness, that I wouldn’t be able to do the half-marathon the next weekend. I was afraid that I wouldn’t heal at all.
Two more weeks went by, and I tried to do another race. Another 5K, the Jingle Bell Run. This time, feeling fresh with my rest and my new knee brace, I ran the race and managed to get a PR for a 5K – around 23:19 minutes.
I was back.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I started biking more, and I threw myself into the pool and onto a treadmill. I needed to keep my cardio up even if that mean that I couldn’t use my body as much as I wanted to use it. I came to Florida on New Year’s Eve with a mere 12 days until the start of my race. I came to relax, to acclimate and to prepare.
Luckily, in the two weeks before my race, my knee felt almost normal in a fancy brace my mother bought me. I was spending enough time in the pool and on the recumbent bike that I was able to put more mileage on my body and to keep up the cardio. Despite all of the training and reading and motivation, I was still petrified that I wouldn’t be able to finish my race. But, I have enough supportive and loving people in my life that they all reassured me that the fact that I was even considering doing a marathon was something braggable enough. And if I pushed myself I could succeed if I had the right attitude, didn’t give up, and listened to my body.
And that is what I did.
Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m. I got out of bed, made myself some breakfast, chugged a Gatorade, and made my way to the race start. Walking around the parking lot in Epcot, I felt the air buzzing with excitement. Tens of thousands of people had prepared for this day, and I was not alone. Standing in my corral doing some light stretches, I raised my hands with excitement when the emcee asked who was doing their first marathon. A couple of people around me waved their hands too. I was most definitely not alone.
“It’s only a race. It’s only a 10 miler, a 10 miler and then a 6.2 miler. Or, it’s only a half-marathon followed by another half.” I tried to break down the race to a digestible size. It sort of worked. I think the thing that kept me most present in the moment was the fact that I had to pee like a racehorse. The immediacy of having to go to the bathroom quelled my nerves and encouraged me to go out with a pop when the fireworks shot out over the start line.
“Find the nearest bathroom and go!” I shouted to myself (internally).
I ran through mile one with my corral cohort and saw my salvation in the first few portapotties. Jumping into the first open one, I took care of business and then got right back onto the race course. From there the most exciting, fun four hours of my life began.
Running through WDW in the early morning with thousands of others is one of the best ways to do a first marathon, in my inexperienced but enlightened opinion. Why? Because, when you’re running through the Magic Kingdom or the Animal Kingdom and finishing under the great Spaceship Earth at Epcot, you’re running through one of the magical places on earth. And you’re not alone; you’re experiencing it with thousands of others who are taking in the same magic you are.
While I won’t say that it was easy to run straight for that long (I had my share of cramps and aches and pains), I will say that it was the most magical experiences of running that I had yet. And, I can’t wait to do it again.
Maybe I’ll feel “dopey” enough to try the 48.6 miles next year. Let me know your thoughts and if you had a similar first marathon story to share!
I’ve got the magic in me.