This past Sunday I ran my first ever marathon – the Philadelphia Marathon. I finished in 3:46:24. Of course I was ecstatic to finish under 4 hours, but I was more excited that I could officially call myself a marathoner. I could now proudly display a 26.2 magnet on the back of my car and I could stop posting on social media about my marathon training (which people may or may not have been getting annoyed at..I’m not really sure). So instead of posting about training for a marathon, I filled social media with posts, tweets, pictures, and videos about the marathon. I’m sure the excitement will dissipate over time, but I still have plenty of people to tell about my 26.2 miles. So here’s a blog post about it to share with the rest of the Internet world my marathon journey.
On Friday, I went to the expo to pick up my race bib, stop by the SparklySoul table and see Angela, pick up some free giveaways, and meet the elite marathoner, Bill Rogers. After picking up my race bib, I was ready to race but the race wasn’t for another 36 hours! So I distracted myself at my dad’s bike/running business by decorating it for Christmas and prepared my race outfit instead. My weather app said the start of the race would be in the high 40s so I opted for a t-shirt and arm sleeves, three-quarter length spandex, gloves, and my “Run Philadelphia” SparklySoul. I was ready to go!
Sunday my alarm went off at 3:39 AM – it was race day! My parents, brother, mommom, and I planned to leave by 4:15 AM. The security gates were scheduled to open at 5 AM so that gave us plenty of time to drive to Philadelphia, find parking, and walk to the security checkpoints. My biggest fear leading up to the race was not getting to the start line in time so I opted to get there extra early to avoid any lines that might start forming for the security checkpoints. We were at my corral by 5:15 AM so I sat on a curb nearby and tried to maintain my body heat in the chilly morning air. I had 3 layers overtop of my race outfit that I planned on tossing to the side right before my corral started (which would be gathered later on by volunteers to donate to homeless shelters). During the 2 hours leading up to the race time, I used the port-a-potties three times, saw people from the local running club I’m a part of, and patiently waited in my corral with an older woman I knew from local races who was also in my corral.
I knew that Angela was in the corral in front of me and that a running friend was in the same corral as me but because of the immense amount of people in each corral, I didn’t get to see either of my fellow running friends prior to the start of the race. Apparently there was a delay due to a car accident on the course so the race started 5-10 minutes late. I completely lost track of time once I was standing in the corral though and I have no idea what time the race actually started. I tossed my clothes to the side and found myself 3 rows back from the front of my corral.
Angela’s corral was sent off and next thing I knew my corral was waiting for the airhorn to signal the start of our race. I vividly remember a huge gust of wind that rushed through the crowd which caused a billowing sigh of surprise to echo throughout the racers. The airhorn sounded when nine minutes showed up on the clock. This basically meant that the elite runners were almost already two miles into the race. I settled into a pace nicely with a comfortable amount of space in front of, to my sides, and behind me. Nobody was tripping over each other’s feet which I was relieved about.
Going into the race, I planned on looking at my watch every 3 miles to ensure I wasn’t running too fast or too slow. At the one mile mark though I opted to check my mile split to make sure I wasn’t running too fast. I ran my first mile in 7:26. Way. Too. Fast. I consciously told myself to slow down and settle into a more reasonable pace that I could sustain for the 25.2 miles that still laid ahead of me.
I saw my dad and my brother on their bikes at about the 3rd or 4th or 5th mile mark (I don’t actually remember what mile it was). I saw a lot of men peeing off to the side of the race course. Not just like one or two. Like 10 people peeing at once. I have never seen something like that ever in my life and, honestly, I never want to see something like that ever again.
I remember seeing a sign that said “four mile frenzy” and then later down the road seeing a sign that said “Run like you’re in the Hunger Games” and it even had the Mockingjay symbol drawn on the side. This made me happy.
I remember passing a house that I assumed was a frat house because there was a bunch of loud and obnoxious college students drinking and yelling up on the porch. It wasn’t even 8 AM at this point in the race. Talk about day drinking.
I remember running down a crowded street in center city and feeling energized by the crowd. The billowing of the cheers and the music made me run faster and I was still feeling the adrenaline of just being in the race itself. I probably should’ve slowed down but my pace felt comfortable. I didn’t feel like I was breathing heavy and my legs felt fine.
I remember seeing a visually impaired runner who was running with his guide. His guide was telling him what was directly ahead of him on the course. I was intrigued by this. I also remember seeing an athlete in a wheel chair. I made sure to encourage him when I passed by with a simple “great job, keep it up”. This inspired me.
I also remember someone say how she always hit a wall as she passed the zoo. I wasn’t even aware that the course ran near the zoo. This was exciting. Next thing I knew we were crossing a very steep but quick bridge and there were spectators banging on huge drums. This made me smile and gave me another burst of energy.
Then there was a hill. The hill didn’t look too long at first but then it kept winding upwards. I told myself that every uphill has a downhill so I would be rewarded at the top with a downhill. There wasn’t a downhill at the top though. Instead, the course leveled off, made 2 quick right turns, and passed another band playing guitars and a drum set. I also remember hearing what I thought was a radio show host talking about runners passing by but I don’t have a clear memory of this.
The course also went around a random circle too. I remember thinking “how silly we must look going around this circle right now”. There’s a lot of random thoughts that go through your head during a race – especially during long races when you have hours to think.
Then the course went down a steep downhill. Finally the downhill I was waiting to be rewarded with. It was a long one and I remember hoping that my quads weren’t being destroyed by the forces being exerted on my feet and legs (thanks, kinesiology class, for instilling this fear in me). Then we were on the outskirts of Fairmount Park and headed back towards the Ben Franklin Parkway. I saw a runner I recognized from local running races and focused on catching up to him. I caught up to him and passed him. Also, across the river I could see marathoners who were probably already 2 miles ahead of me. I was impressed by the fact that these runners were already at that point on the course but I just kept running forward. This all happened right before the half-marathon turn off. I made sure I stayed to the left so that I didn’t accidentally go the wrong way. Once again I was re-energized by the crowd who were cheering on the half-marathoners who were almost done the race. How nice it must be to be almost done. I was only half-way done: 13.1 miles to go.
I was waiting for the 13.1 mile marker to see my half-way split. I think I remember seeing 1:45. My watch was also 0.3 miles off from every mile marker they had on the course. Even for the first mile marker, my watch beeped waaaaay before I passed the mile marker. This upset me continuously throughout the race but I just kept running.
At the half-way point I had looked down at my right shoe and noticed blood seeping through my shoe fabric. My toe was bleeding. Did I lose a toenail? I thought I lost a toenail. I yelled over to my dad that my toe was bleeding. He told me I had plenty of blood to spare and to keep running. So I did. But then my left ankle started to cramp up. Pain radiated down my foot. I started to run with a slight hobble. It hurt. I figured the pain would disappear if I kept running. So I kept running.
First, the wheelchair marathoners started to pass in the opposite direction. They were headed back towards the finish line. Then the elite runners started passing in the opposite direction. Dang, they were fast. I kept looking for the lead woman. She eventually passed by and the runners around me shouted over to her. It was an awesome moment to see the leaders. I had only ever seen lead marathoners on TV. And here they were in person! One word recap for this moment as the running nerd that I am: AWESOME!
I passed the medical tent with a medic who was holding up a thumbs up and a thumbs down. I didn’t need a medic and nobody around me needed a medic so we kept going. I started to look for Angela at this point because I needed some mid-race motivation. A familiar face would surely make me happier. We turned onto a bridge and ran down a hill that I knew we would have to run back up soon. There were a lot of negative thoughts in my head at this moment. I wasn’t having fun anymore. Every step seemed like a nuisance. The course made an extremely sharp turn that killed my momentum, screwed up my stride, and made my feet and legs hurt. We started running back up the hill and back over the bridge. I was hoping that Angela hadn’t already gone back past this part of the course. I really needed to see a familiar face.
We weren’t even in Manayunk yet. How much further until the turn-around-point? It felt like an eternity. The course took a weird turn. I was hoping that I would still see Angela. We were almost in Manayunk. Finally I saw Angela! FINALLY! I think I said “Go, Angela!” (I don’t really remember to make the direct quote) and she replied with a quick “heyyy!” And we kept running.
I knew that two of my parents’ friends were waiting in Manayunk to cheer me on. I was hoping to see them soon too. Then I heard their excited cheers. I wished I was running faster but my legs weren’t moving. My left ankle was cramping up again and I thought I kept feeling my toenail in my shoe. I was running weirdly again. I hadn’t looked at my watch since mile 18 and I didn’t want to check it again until the race was over. I knew I would be disappointed in my slower pace so I refused to look at my watch when it beeped. I also had ran out of water in my hand-held water bottle at this point so I could no longer eat the Shot Bloks I had been eating throughout the race. I needed water to wash them down. So I switched over to taking Gatorade at the hydration stations. Yellow Gatorade, which I usually refuse to drink on any normal day, never tasted so good during this race. I drank every last drop in every cup I grabbed.
Finally we were running back towards the art museum. Only 5ish more miles to. I told myself that 5 miles was basically nothing. I ran 5 miles for an easy run during training. Five. More. Miles. And let me tell you: those 5 miles were the longest 5 miles of my life. My feet weren’t moving. My legs were heavy. I was pretty sure I lost a toenail. I was tired. No…I was exhausted.
At miles 20 and 23 there were people handing out cups of beer. It smelled like beer. I hate the smell of beer.
The finish line seemed like an eternity away. Where the heck was the art museum? Where the heck were the crowds? The only thing I wanted was to sit down and to get the emergency blanket that someone would wrap around me at the finish line. I completely forgot that I would get a medal. I just wanted that blanket. I wanted to be warm.
Then I heard my parents yelling and I finally saw the finish line. My feet definitely weren’t lifting off the ground. Every muscle in my legs were telling me to stop and walk. I just wanted to be done.
Then I saw the mayor of Philadelphia with his hand outstretched for a high five. I think I tried high-fiving him but I ended up hitting some guy that was sprinting towards the finish line. My feet stopped once I crossed that finish line. I’m not sure how my legs didn’t crumble from underneath me. It surely felt like they didn’t want to hold me up anymore.
I was given a medal from a kind volunteer. I also heard someone yell my name and turned to see that it was a runner I knew from the running club I am a member of. I tried my best to muster up energy to acknowledge her excitement and I don’t really remember how I responded. I was definitely delusional at this point. That’s when I remembered I didn’t turn off my watch. So I stopped my watch and saved my run. The race was over.
Another kind volunteer wrapped that emergency blanket around me. It was so warm. I just wanted to sit down and huddle underneath this blanket. But I had to walk through the end of the finish line chute. There was food – I grabbed 3 packets of peanut butter, a random bag of chips, and an apple juice. This is all I could muster up the energy to grab. The finishing chute was at least a half mile long. And even if it wasn’t a half mile, it felt like it. I passed like 10 UPS trucks that had runners’ gear bags in them. I just kept walking at a turtle’s pace. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.
I had no idea how I was going to find my family. We didn’t make any plans to meet up anywhere. I just needed to sit. Finally I got to the end of the chute. I kept walking delusionally. I had no idea where to go. I dropped my food that I had grabbed to the ground and resisted sitting down. My family would never find me if I sat. Luckily I saw my mom within 2 minutes and tried calling over to her. She eventually heard me – thank goodness because there was no way I could go chasing after her. She came over and helped me sit down. I was shivering, I was exhausted, and I wanted to sit forever. My dad then found us but stood on the opposite side of the guardrail. My parents forced me to put on a pull-over running sweatshirt. I just wanted to sit forever but I was shivering. Within 4 minutes they told me to stand up so we could go back to our car. A woman who was passing by helped my mom lift me up. My mom took a picture of me with my medal, emergency blanket, and sign that she made. I tried smiling and I thought I was smiling but the picture looks like I’m miserable. You can decide.
Luckily the car was only one block away from where we were. I hobbled slowly towards the car. It probably took me 10 minutes to walk a quarter mile. But then I got in the car and it was warm because the heat was blasting. I didn’t complain. I tried to eat some peanut butter crackers but I wasn’t even hungry.
When I got home I just wanted to take a hot shower. I finally took my shoes and socks off. I expected to only have 9 toenails. Luckily, and thankfully, I still had all 10. My toes just rubbed against each other which had caused them to bleed. I got in the shower. It was so warm.
My stomach started to hurt. I didn’t want food. I also didn’t want to throw up. I ate 4 Ritz crackers and drank some hot chocolate. I wanted to sleep. So I curled up in bed and tried answering the 15 texts that were on my phone from various friends and family members who had tracked my race. Then I fell asleep for 2.5 hours. I woke up and still felt tired and I had a horrible headache. I diagnosed myself with dehydration. Luckily, my mommom had given my a bottle of chocolate milk 2 days before my race so I drank the entire thing to refuel and rehydrate. I then forced myself to drink water. I watched TV and started to fall asleep again. Then my mom made pancakes. I still wasn’t hungry. I ate 3 pancakes. I watched more TV and posted the half-smiling picture of myself on Facebook. Then I talked to John for an hour to tell him all about my day. I had planned on going to bed by 9 but we ended up talking until almost 10. Then I went to bed.
Looking back on this race, it doesn’t seem like I even ran for a continuous 3 hours, 46 minutes, and 24 seconds. It doesn’t seem like I ran 26.2 miles. It just seems like a bunch of back-to-back-to-back 5ks. It’s still hard for me to grasp that I am indeed a marathoner now. Maybe I’m in shock or maybe I’m delusional. Whatever it may be, on the results sheet, I am a marathoner.
The overwhelming amount of support from friends and family, near and far, has made me extremely grateful for the life I am living. I honestly believe that without all the support, I would’ve gone insane. During the race I knew that by getting to certain miles a text would be sent to people who were tracking me. I wanted to make them proud. There were some people that tracked me and I didn’t even know it. So thank you, friends. Thank you, family. You’re the best!
So here I am 3 days later. The pain in my quads is manageable. I ran 2 miles today. This is a continued process of recovering. Will I do a marathon in the future? The answer: HECK YES. I will sign up for another one when my body forgets the pain that it’s been through. But for now, I will continue to be proud that I am a marathoner. I will continue to be proud that I am a runner.
Yes, you can learn a lot about yourself in 26.2 miles. But you can learn a lot more about yourself when you test your limits. Never put a limit on how fast, how far, or how long you can run for. I promise you, you can go the distance when you believe.