26 Before 26, Milestones, Running

Salt Lake Marathon, 2012

I don’t even know where to start with this post because so much has happened and I have so many emotions going around my insides about our first marathon experience (and possibly only full marathon experience, lol) that I’m afraid I’ll leave something out. But you’ve got to start somewhere, so here goes:

I’ll start out by saying this: it was an amazingly tough, but amazingly incredible experience.

Some quick info to get you debriefed:

Even though we hadn’t officially planned this, Matt and I ended up running the entire marathon by each other’s side, and we finished the marathon with our hands clasped together, high above our heads.
We finished in 4:34:49, which quite honestly, is WAY faster than I expected myself to finish. We averaged between a 10- and 11-minute mile, and we never once stopped to walk (unless, of course, you count the 10 feet or so we walked at the last 4 or 5 aid stations so that more water would get into our mouths rather than down the front of our shirts). Even more surprising for me was that I ended up finishing in the top one-third of women my own age group, which I thought was pretty awesome.
But now let’s get into the details.
Matt and I made amazing pace for the first 20 miles–we were averaging 10-minute miles or just under, and we were staying a pretty good distance ahead of the guy who the pace runner for the 4:30 group. It was encouraging when we started consistently passing people about halfway through, by keeping up our steady and consistent pace (rather than at the beginning, when we were getting passed all over the place).

There were aid stations every two miles or so where we could pick up water and Gatorade and goo, and that combined with all the runners around us and all the cheering helped to get us off to a solid start (the awesome families who were randomly handing out otter pops and orange slices also helped). So all in all, we felt amazing during the first half–better than I’ve ever felt before, actually.

You know, people have always told me that a full marathon really is two separate races: the first 20 miles and then the last 6.2 (otherwise known as the race of the body and the race of the mind).
I understand exactly what they mean now.
I felt AMAZING during the first 18 miles (almost 20 miles, really). My body hurt way less than I’m used to on such long runs, and I didn’t get a single sideache. Even though the weather was way warmer than what we’re used to (it was almost 80 degrees when we finished), I overall did pretty well for the first five-sixths of the race, thanks to the aid stations. Those aid stations were like a vacation after training, considering that we would sometimes run 12 miles in training with nothing to drink.

But then we hit mile 20.

At first, I wondered if it was just a mental thing–that maybe I was just thinking it was harder because everyone told me to expect it to be.

But by mile 21, I started to see white spots in front of my eyes, and my body started breaking out into cold sweats, and I felt like I was going to pass out. It got so bad that my eyelids started closing on their own accord, almost like I was going to fall asleep right there in the middle of the race.

Obviously I’ve never passed out before, since I’m pretty sure those are all probably signs that I’m about to lose consciousness right then and there.

But then I turned to Matt and mumbled, “Ineedencouragement.”

He had to ask me to repeat it two more times before he understood that I needed a quick pep talk, and stat.

He started telling me that he couldn’t finish the race without me, that I had done all the training I needed to make it until the end, and that I was strong, capable, and totally able to “do this thing.”

Then my favorite encouragement:

“This is the last time we’re ever going to do this. We just need to make it through this one time and then we can die at the finish line.”

I also started praying, and between that and the constant help from Matt, I was able to pull out of it by mile 23 or so.

Then Matt’s knee did something weird and I heard the unmistakable cry of pain escape his mouth.

It was my turn to do the encouraging.

Finally, by the last 2 miles, we both just kept repeating to each other,

We’ve got this.

No pain ’til Mile 26.

I need you until the end.

The sweetest part for me was when we both were so exhausted from the heat and the endurance of the run, Matt told me, “This is just like a metaphor for our life: there will be periods of relative ease and enjoyment, and there will be difficult times when we’re not sure we can make it through. But no matter what, we will press on together, side by side. We’re in this thing together, forever and ever.”

I could have grabbed him and kissed him right there, but we still had about 2.2 miles left.

The most excruciating part of the whole marathon (besides my major wall at miles 21-22) was the mile or so we had to run uphill at the very end, up State Street. It just seemed so eternally long and steep and hard, and people were stopping and walking all around us. I don’t know how we did it, but we finally managed to round the corner and hear the blessed words of a cop who was supervising the race say, “You’ve only got 4 blocks left, and it’s all downhill from here.”

At that point we could see the finish line, and we knew we could make it. We imagined our families waiting at the end to congratulate us, and we wanted to look strong for them. But most of all, we wanted to finish what we’d started, and we wanted to finish well.

So the last 0.2 miles, Matt looked at me and said, “Tell me when you’re ready.” I must have said something coherent that meant “Let’s go” because before I knew it, we were sprinting with all we had left until the finish. I was starting to lag behind Matt, and he in all his goodness grabbed my hand and pulled me along beside him. We ran across the line with our hands clasped together high above our heads, and we were able to manage exuberant smiles as we were handed our medals for finishing.

Part of our families and our friends Kayla and Sam were waiting for us at the sidelines, excitedly congratulating us and taking pictures.Then I told everyone I had to sit down in the shade, and fast. And I proceeded to continue praying that I wouldn’t pass out as I flopped down on the grass and guzzled all the liquids that kept getting passed to me.

When I had some time to regroup, there were hugs and pictures all around, and Matt and I enjoyed recounting the marathon and all that we’d been through.

At the end though, I was absolutely certain of three things:

1: I could not have gotten the time I did (or even maybe finished the marathon) without Matt by my side. Although we hadn’t planned to do it that way, we both just knew that’s how we wanted (and needed) to do it about halfway through. It was an amazing experience to run the duration of the race together, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. These months of training and then this marathon have really bonded us together even more.

2: The support of our families and of random strangers made a HUGE difference. Sometimes when I was really struggling, a group of strangers would cheer us on, and I would recover enough strength to press forward. Matt’s parents also saw us twice along the route and cheered us on, which really helped us, too. And I’m pretty sure I would have passed out for sure had my mom not handed me an apple at the finish line and made sure I was getting enough liquid (and had kind strangers not set up their own little “aid stations” for the runners along the way–bless those people forever and ever!). The amazing support of our families (and all the people back home cheering us on who couldn’t be there) reminded us that we are loved and supported in all our endeavors, which is something I hope I never take for granted.

3: Prayer absolutely works. I could feel the prayers of family members and friends the entire duration of the marathon, and also the power of the personal prayers that we had offered up for weeks in preparation for this race. We didn’t pray that the race wouldn’t be hard–we just prayed that we would be strengthened through it (and that our bowels would be able to hold out until the end). All of our prayers were answered, and then some. I was so happy that we ended the race feeling triumphant and knowing that we’d done the very best that we could have. We were walking high all day (figuratively, of course–literally, we were actually walking quite crippled-like).

So what’s next now that it’s over?

Well, truth be told, it will be a long, LONG time before I ever do another full marathon.


I’m pretty sure I’ll be signing up for the Top of Utah half-marathon later this year.

I think I’ll have to start calling myself a runner…

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