Yesterday I ran my very first full marathon and I want to share my marathon experience with you.
For those of you that have been following my blogs (1,2,3,4,5,6), I have been writing about my nutrition, training and general experience in marathon running from the time I signed up for the Niagara Falls International Marathon in July, until now. To sum things up, I have only been running for a little over two years, and since then I have run numerous 5K and 10K races, one 10-miler, seven half marathons and one 30K race — but this was to be my very first full marathon experience. I was never nervous signing up for this race surprisingly. I felt confident in my training and my abilities as a runner. I run often, and I run strong. As October 27, 2013 crept closer it started to hit me — but the nerves were stemming from everything leading up to getting to the start line. Will I sleep through my alarm? Will I forget my passport? Will I miss the bus? Will the lineups to the washroom be too long and I’ll have to run 26.2 miles with a full bladder? lol, these were my legitimate thoughts.
Friday, October 25th I had the honour of being invited to the Elements on the Falls restaurant for a VIP Reception held by the Niagara Parks as a thankyou for those that have helped piece together this year’s event. What a beautiful restaurant! I was the second person to arrive and within half an hour the restaurant was full of about 200 guests, speakers, bloggers, sponsors and (my personal favourite) the CEO and Founder of the Running Room, John Stanton was there. I was in awe! Elements on the Falls is located inside the Table Rock complex and is literally just feet away from the Horseshoe Falls. I quickly found the best seat in the house, giving me a gorgeous view of the illumination of the Falls. Hors d’oeuvres were passed around and a fantastic buffet was set up. I started my carb loading weekend in style!
Fast forward to race day! I did NOT sleep through my alarm. I had visions of the Seinfeld episode where Jean-Paul the Marathoner slept through his alarm because the volume was too low and I was afraid this would happen to me:
Our bus arrived at the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, USA at 8:45 am where the start line is located. To my delight, there were about 20 port-a-potties set up and the lineups were painless. We were allowed to warm up in the art gallery and check out the exhibits before the start time at 10:00 am. This gave me time to sit back, relax, return some texts from friends and check my Facebook. I decided to throw caution to the wind and run without my Nike+ GPS. I knew my battery life wouldn’t sustain a 26.2 mile run, so I decided that I would find my pace bunny and try to keep up with him. The minutes quickly went by, and before I knew it, it was time to begin the race! It’s do or die!
Before you line up at the start line, you need to make sure that you place yourself accordingly. Assuming everyone has done their training already, you should generally have an idea of your finishing goal time and from there you find your “pace bunny” (the experienced runner assigned that knows what time he/she will finish in. They are decked out in bunny ears and they hold a sign with the goal time). I knew going into my first marathon I wanted to sub 4:00. It would be a feat –even for some experienced marathoners — but I felt it was doable and achievable when I factored in my last half marathon at a time of 1:42:05. Assuming my pace would slow down a bit past the 13.1 mile mark, I felt if you doubled that time and allowed time for slowing down and stopping at drink stations that would buy me a half hour to play with….so I found the 3:30 pace bunny and lined up behind him. Little did I know about the humbling marathon experience I was about to have…I am going to break this down in kilometres (42.2km) instead of miles as the majority of us Canadians are used to training in this way):
I was maintaining a great pace in the first 3 kilometres. So good in fact, that I passed the 3:30 pace bunny and stuck with the 3:20. Suddenly, I felt my legs starting to get tired so I slowed down a bit knowing that I still had 39 kilometres to go. I watched the 3:30 pace bunny go by, but decided to keep him within vision. It was around the 6th kilometre that we tackled the only fairly decent “hill” I would say in the whole race. This was when we went over the Peace Bridge into Canada. We passed customs before the race started, so NO we did NOT have to run through customs and declare anything haha. It was a surreal experience running over the bridge from one country into another.
*Running over the Peace Bridge. Photo cred: Corey Larocque, Niagara Falls Review. Read article here*.
I’m not going to lie, I went into this run almost too confident. The furthest I had ever ran up until this point was 30K, so I figured what’s another 12K? Those previous runs, I took electrolyte tabs that dissolve into your water bottle before the race and that’s all I would take throughout the run. No stopping at water stations, no electrolyte supplements along the way, no Gatorade — nothing. I thought I had it in the bag. The wall was coming — I just didn’t know it.
I passed the halfway mark (21.1K) at a time of 1:46:16. I was pacing right on track and I was feeling great. At this point we were well onto the Niagara Parkway and running alongside the Niagara River. This is when I started to really feel the effects of running against the wind. At 23 kilometres I lost the 3:30 pace bunny entirely, but the 3:40 bunny had yet to run by me, so I was still feeling good about my progress.
Then the wall hit. I have never felt the wall before. It sneaks up on you like a thief in the night. I wasn’t feeling pain, but my legs were starting to deflate. I knew my pace was slowing and I was starting to get tired. This was at the 31st kilometre. One kilometre past what I had ever done before, and 11.1 kilometres left to go. I felt like I was crawling — but I was still running. I knew my pace has substantially slowed down, but I was unsure of how much because if you remember, I was running watch naked.
The 35th kilometre was when I knew I was going to blow a 3:30 time and most probably a 3:40 time. I still hadn’t seen the 3:40 pace bunny fly by me, but at this point I didn’t care. I felt that achieving the sub 4:00 marathon time was still going to happen, but a Boston Qualifying time I knew wasn’t going to happen — and I was okay with that. This was my first marathon after all. For the first time ever in a race, I stopped at the drink station and had some Gatorade. My legs were heavy and I needed to stop for a moment. Thirst was setting in, and I needed it! Then I was off again.
From here on in until I saw the beautiful sign that read 40K, I stopped at every drink station for water. Coming up to the 40K marker it felt like I was running towards the volunteer holding out the cup of water in slow motion. I literally thought it was a mirage. I sputtered out “I feel like you are so far away”, and to my surprise even my words were slurred. It was like I was spewing out drunken words, but this time I was just drunk on running an insane distance and not on alcohol. I walked for about 100 metres after the 40K drinking station and then that’s when it happened. I saw the 3:45 pace bunny! Where the **** was the 3:40 guy?? I didn’t come this far to go neck-to-neck with the clock about to turn 4:00 — so I trucked it!
I had a goal in mind, and I hate to lose. Yes, yes, I know just finishing a marathon is amazing. Apparently only 4% of the population will ever be part of this elite group of runners — but I hate having to admit to myself that I failed at something that I truly wanted. So this was by far the toughest part of the run for me, both physically and mentally. I gave it all I had left in my legs (which was totally barren) and everything that I had mentally to give…which was also a total washout because I was all dizzy and inebriated. I wasn’t prepared for that.
When I saw the finish line and the people cheering me on, suddenly I ran like a Kenyan on a hot tin roof to the finish. And I did it. My finishing time was 3:50:02. I beat my goal time by 9 minutes and 58 seconds and only missed a Boston qualifying finish by 10 minutes and 2 seconds. So, of course, that is my next goal. So will there be more marathons in my future? Yes. Yes, there will be.
Thank you to the Niagara Falls International Marathon for such an organized race. I will definitely run this one again. Lastly, thank you to all my friends and family that have helped support me along the way — especially to my husband who is left home alone with a hyperactive two-year old little boy for an hour a day/5-6 days a week while I do my nightly training runs.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my first marathon experience — and if anyone else has any stories to share about their first marathon experience, I’d love to hear them. Please leave a message in the comment section of this blog.