Warning: Long post ahead
I finished my first marathon! It's so crazy to think that all those months of training are actually over, but it was worth it (even if I was cursing my decision around mile 21).
After about 12 hours of sleep, I'm feeling pretty good today with only a few aches and pains in places I've never had aches and pains after a race. Actually, I've never been sore at all after a race - even the half marathon - until now. My legs are just fine this morning, no pain there at all. And my IT band, which gave me a ton of problems during peak training weeks, did not act up much at all yesterday, and I have absolutely no pain in it today. What hurts (oddly) are my shoulder blades, abs, and latissimus dorsi in my back. They're the good kind of sore, though. Like I just had an awesome workout (which, obviously, I did). Oh, and my toes. My toenails are goners.
During the race, I was so lucky to have my friend, Nicole, who is training for a marathon, but wasn't running Thunder Road, join me at mile 10 and run the rest of the race with me! I also had another friend, Jess, who lives right near mile 24 who also ran the last 2 miles with me. Their support and encouragement was amazing!
What was great about my friends running with me was that neither of them were actually there to race, so they stayed right with me no matter what my pace. And while I did train with an exceptionally awesome group of people all season (shout out to all my USA Fit peeps and congrats on your marathon finish!), we all have slightly different race paces, and since this was a race, we lost each other at different points along the way. My training buddies and I did regroup at the finish line for pictures, but during the race, having Nicole there for 16 miles of moral support was amazing, and when Jess joined us at the end with her hilarious competitiveness, that just pushed me to finish a little faster.
And speaking of times, my official finish time was 4:39:16 with a pace of 10:40. Up until about mile 19 (and the hills and stomach issues of NoDa), I was pacing to finish around 4:15 with an approximate pace of 9:45/mile, but then I hit that proverbial wall that so many runners know far too well. My wall came in the form of major stomach rumblings (similar to the ones I had during the half marathon, but a little higher up in the digestive track - details not necessary). After that, my pace dropped and tacked on an extra 25 minutes to my finish time.
But the point is, I finished! Having only been running since April of this year, I'd say this is a huge accomplishment and things will only get better from here, right?
I'm also extremely excited that I exceeded my Racing for the Rescues fundraising goal and raised a total of $1100 for the homeless animals of Family Addition Dog Rescue of Charlotte. The funds raised will go directly to medical care costs for these animals. Thank you to everyone who donated to the cause and supported me along the way!
So here's more details for those of you who care:
Make no mistake. Thunder Road is one hilly bitch. Especially the last 8 or so miles of the course, where you don't exactly want hills.
The first several miles of the course, heading down through Eastover, Southpark, and back up through Myers Park, Dilworth, and South End are all pretty flat and easy. There's a good amount of neighborhood support, especially in Myers Park and Dilworth with lots of Charlotte residents coming out to cheer on the runners. The half marathoners turn off the course in Dilworth, and the running pack (and crowd support) starts to thin out.
Around mile 15 when the course turns onto S. Tryon in the Wilmore neighborhood is when it starts getting tougher. There's a steady incline here with a bit of relief after turning onto West for about a quarter of a mile, but after turning right onto Mint, it's you against a one mile incline and in yesterday's case, a cold, strong wind and the bright sun.
From here, the course went through sort of urban construction zone with dirt and dust flying and the sounds of bulldozers humming. I don't think we saw a single person cheering us on between the 277 underpass at Morehead until we turned back onto Trade Street to head into The Third Ward. This was about a 1.5 mile loop along Mint, 4th, and Cedar. It's a pretty depressing portion of the race. At least this year it was, but maybe next year when the construction is over, more people will set up cheer camps here.
The Third Ward section of the race offered a bit of downhill relief along Trade Street, plus the energy of Uptown and lots of fans and music. My husband met us at the water stop here and we paused for a short picture break. And then we were off to NoDa and the last challenge of the race.
At this point, it was mostly uphill. There's another mile or so here, prior to reaching NoDa, where it's a little sad and desolate, but the NoDa greeters are out in full force around mile 19. And they come bearing beer. Had my stomach not been acting up right about this time, I would have chugged a cold one, but I didn't want to risk losing it on the course, so Nicole and I just kept on going, but this crowd definitely boosted my spirits.
Once you climb the North Davidson hill and round the corner onto 35th Street, the NoDa crowd continues their fanfare. The sides of the streets are packed with people and they have the awesome NoDa "wall," which is a decked out, painted piece of plywood with a doorway cutout that all the runners go through. Once we went "through the wall," we passed tons of people partying on their front yard, handing out beer and cheering. Again, I passed up the beer because of my stomach, but lots of runners don't.
From NoDa, the course loops back through Plaza Midwood and the hills even out to a much flatter run. The Plaza peeps did a good job, especially along Central Ave, of cheering on the runners. And some familiar faces greeted me along Central where some of my friends had gathered to cheer me on around mile 23.
After that, the course winds in through a few residential streets and comes back around to Hawthorne for the last big hill of the course. Then it turns back onto Central at mile 25, hits up 7th, McDowell, and ends near the Nascar Hall of Fame on Martin Luther King Blvd. There were people cheering at different spots through most of the last mile, and after we turned the corner onto McDowell, I saw my training group's cheering section jumping up and down. Our cheer captain in a huge tutu (along with Jess screaming that I better beat those two people in front of me) was just the final push I needed.
By far, the NoDa cheering crowd is the best of the race. And it's at the place where you most need it: that last 10K. While I'd love to do the course in reverse with the hills of NoDa first and the nice flat sections of Southpark and Myers Park at the end, the crowd support of NoDa would be hard to replicate in those final miles where runners so desperately need the support.
You can see the course map and neighborhood guide here, if you're interested.
What I learned and what I'll do differently next time
It's true what they say: a marathon really is two races - the first 20 and the last 6.2/10K. I was feeling fantastic up until about that point. I'm not sure if I was going to fast and not pacing myself well before that, but I don't really think that was the case. My legs and breathing felt fine and easy. It was my stomach that started to give me issues, which leads me to these two points:
1)There is such thing as too much water. I normally drink mostly Gatorade and a little bit of water on training runs. But for some reason, during this race, I was chugging water like crazy. And it ended up making me feel sick, probably because:
2) I need to eat more before the race. It's so hard to eat a huge meal at 5:00 in the morning, but I really think I need to force myself to do this. My little bowl of cereal and poached egg were definitely not enough and my body let me know in no uncertain terms during that last 10K.
I did have a similar problem during the Ramblin' Rose half, but I also woke up with that problem rather than having it hit me mid-race, so I'm not sure if these are related issues or not.
But in any case, for next time, I think I'll have my husband meet me at mile 19 or 20 with a banana and some kind of granola bar, so I have energy to get through the last part of the race and so my stomach doesn't get angry that the only thing I'm feeding it is Chomps.
I'm fairly certain my stomach issues weren't nerves, but instead just plain old hunger and running out of fuel because as soon as I stuffed my face with bananas, tangerines, multi-grain chips, and a granola bar at the finish line, I felt great.
Train with a group. It's a great thing on race day (and all of the hard training days leading up to it) to have a big group of people to get out there and run with. Not only did I have a built-in group of cheerleaders of people who weren't running this particular marathon or who ran the half and stayed to watch the full finishers, but I formed some good friendships with some pretty fantastic people. And now I also have a group to run with every Saturday in the "off season," so I can keep motivation for my long runs and do half marathons every few months.
Crowd support matters! It really does. If you live in a city where there's a marathon, please come out and support the runners. It really helps get them motivated through those hard spots.
In summary: Yesterday, I wasn't sure if I'd do another marathon, but today? Well, it's a new day and I think I'm ready to tackle this challenge again next year. Until then, I'll be running half marathons and as many 5Ks as I can find, and I'll keep posting about it here. You can check out my race schedule here.
Until the next race: