Marathon #1 – 2015 Grand Rapids Marathon

Pre-race
On Friday I headed out for a 3 mile shakeout run, but I ended up only running 2 miles. My legs were not feeling the best and at this point an extra mile was not going to make a difference. After my run I had one last sports massage. This massage was much gentler than my massage earlier in the week. I didn’t want to have any residual soreness during the race.

After double and triple checking that I had everything packed for the race, my husband (Kendall) and I drove to Grand Rapids on Saturday. We went straight to the expo which made my already high pre-race anxiety sky rocket. I got my packet quickly and left. The rest of the night was spent trying to relax. We watched some football, ate some pasta, and visited with family.

Race Day
I tried to treat the morning of the race just like the morning of a long run. Breakfast first, then get dressed. Body Glide everywhere. Band-aids on my pinky toes (they like to blister). I made the last minute decision to tape my Achilles with KT Tape. Although I have used KT Tape throughout training to keep minor annoyances from turning into issues, I wasn’t that experienced with taping my Achilles. I had taped it earlier this week, but had only run 6 miles with it taped. I was a bit nervous to suddenly jump to 26 miles with it taped, especially since the tape wrapped around my heal and onto the bottom of my foot. I was worried that if the tape bunched up, I would have to stop to remove it. And if I took my compression socks off mid-run, I would probably never get them back on my sweaty feet. Fortunately I did not have any issues with the tape.

We arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start. It was in the 30s (Fahrenheit), so I was glad we were able to wait inside the YMCA. About 20 minutes before the start I made my way outside and into the starting chute. I gave myself a pep talk about staying slow during the start of the race and then it was time to start running.

Miles 1-3: Warm Up (9:02, 8:51, 8:51)
I had lined up near the 3:56 pace group (9:00) which turned out to be kind of annoying because it was a huge group and very congested. I did not want to get lured into running with the group because I did not know how consistent their pacing would be (very consistent, as it turns out). I tried to focus on just running my own race, but I found it really hard to settle into an even pace. During the first few miles I was able to shed my warm up layers: an extra long sleeve, gloves, and a headband.

(source)

Miles 4-8: With the Pace Group (8:45, 8:44, 8:47, 8:54, 8:58)
I sped up a bit during the first part of this section because I was tired of getting caught in the middle of the pace group. I quickly gave up that strategy because I didn’t want to run faster than my plan and joined the pace group. The size of the group made tangents very difficult, so although my watch is indicating some faster miles, the pace group was hitting each mile marker almost perfectly on pace.

Mile 7 was the first place on the course where I saw Kendall. I felt amazing and strong and was super excited to see him! Official mile 7 split was 1:02:42 (8:57).

Miles 9-11: Side stitches (8:37, 9:27, 9:34)
I don’t know what happened in mile 9 that resulted in such a quick mile, but I paid for it with a side stitch during mile 10. Getting a side stitch just 9.25 miles into my race was a wake up call. I was running at a much slower pace than at CC River Run, and I made it through that race without a single stitch. I figured this was a solid indication that I had lost a fair amount of fitness following that race/due to my injury. My breathing techniques were not helping so I stopped to walk for a minute. I decided right there that I would not try to speed up in the second half. My primary goal became holding a steady pace and finishing sub 4.

When I was able to resume running I was able to run a full mile before another stitch hit. During this mile I overheard a runner giving another runner a pep talk. Although it wasn’t directed at me, it really boosted my spirits! I chatted with those two runners for the next mile, but I lost them when I stopped to walk for my second stitch.

Miles 12-15: Back at it! (9:01, 8:42, 8:46, 8:54)
Mile 12 includes the biggest hill of the race. I was super surprised to see Kendall waiting for me at the top of the hill. I wasn’t expecting to see him again until mile 15. Climbing that hill was a bit of a mental turn around for me. The hill felt easy and I felt ready to start working my way back to the pace group. At every mile marker I calculated how far off I was from a 9:00 pace and hoped to see that number shrink with each mile.

I saw Kendall again in mile 13 and he told me I was only 30s behind the pace group. I told him “slow and steady” and kept moving. Somewhere in here I caught my pep talk friends from mile 9. I was also excited to see two of my cousins out cheering for me at mile 15.

Official 13.1 split 1:58:20.

Miles 16-21: Major suck (8:41, 8:57, 8:51, 9:10, 8:56, 11:06)
This portion of the course is an out and back section. At first it was exciting to see the super fast runners, but after a mile or so everything just started to suck. It seemed like every time I could see a mile marker in the distance, it turned out to be a mile marker for the returning runners, not me. This section felt so long and was mentally and physically draining.

At mile 16 my Achilles started to hurt. I was glad that I had made the decision to tape it because I imagined it would hurt even worse had I done nothing. I did my best to ignore the pain and just focus on running.

I saw Kendall, my two cousins, and one of my college friends at mile 18 and it did nothing to improve my mood. I felt so miserable and was doing all I could to hold my pace. I made it my goal to hold my pace until the timing mat at mile 20. I crossed the mat perfectly on pace for 9:00 average (official split 2:59:49).

When I crossed that mat I stopped to regroup. I was probably stopped for about 10s, but I could feel my muscles tightening up so I forced myself into a brisk walk. I was really afraid that I would not be able to start running again. I wanted to cry but I held it together. I walked for 3 minutes before I felt ready to start running again. I was glad to discover that running didn’t seem to suck quite as much after that break. I ignored my pace and told myself that 4:05 would be just as awesome as sub 4.

Miles 22-24: Still moving (9:51, 9:30, 9:20)
Mental Dialog: Alright. I’m holding it together. I’m running. Slowly, yeah, but still running. And if I finish this marathon I never have to run another one again. Ever! Never ever! Never ever ever! But if I drop out, I’ll probably want a redemption race. Don’t drop out. Keep moving. And then never again.

I saw Kendall and my cousins one last time at 21.5 miles into the race. Kendall told me I had just 5 miles to go and it nearly broke me. I’d been counting down the miles and knew I still had 6 miles to go. It was devastating to hear 5 miles and know that he was wrong. This is why I should not do math when exhausted. I also knew that he knew I had slowed down a lot since mile 18. I was so afraid that I was letting him down (which was stupid, he would never be disappointed in me for not getting my goal time). This is why I should not think at all when exhausted.

At the 23 mile marker I celebrated that fact that I only had a bit more than a 5k remaining. My running had been picking up, maybe I could pick it up enough to get my sub 4. I would need to run 3.2 miles in 29-30 minutes (I don’t remember exactly what my watch read, and my Garmin splits are off due not running tangents). I still had a tiny sliver of hope.

Miles 25-26.2: Keep digging! (8:59, 8:35, 3:27 (7:52 pace for the final 0.44))
I tried to keep doing the math and figure out if sub 4 was possible. It seemed like I was making up for lost time, but I didn’t know if it would be enough. I would pick out a runner in front of me and work my way past them. Then pick another runner and repeat.

At the Mile 25 marker I knew it was going to be damn close. I would need to dig deep if I wanted this to happen. I also knew that there would be a “1 mile to go” sign (we passed it early in the race). So I would know exactly what time I would need to bust out for the final mile. I passed that sign at 3:51, but I saw my pace was in the 8:30s. If I could hold my pace, I had it.

Shortly after that point, one of the spectators told me I was looking great and there were just two turns left before the finish line. I told myself to dig deep and hold on to that pace. With a half mile to go I stopped looking at my watch. I stopped my music and tried to soak it all in. I was about to finish my first marathon and I knew I had the sub 4. The crowd was roaring (or maybe it was just Kendall) and I heard the race announcer call my name. It was a feeling like no another.

I love this picture so much (source)

Official Finish: 3:59:02

Finish Line
I stopped running and tried to catch my breath. I couldn’t believe I was done. And then I couldn’t believe that my legs had stopped working. They were complete jello. The volunteers tried to get me into a wheel chair, but I knew I just needed a few seconds to get it together. Fortunately Kendall showed up on the side lines at that moment and basically distracted them for the 5 seconds it took me to regroup.

A volunteer placed a medal around my neck and I was still in disbelief that I had finished. I was also handed a mylar blanket, a bottle of water, a bottle of chocolate milk and then I made my way through the food tent. I really could have used a bag or something to hold all of my stuff, but I somehow managed to also grab a banana, a couple Oreos, a bagel, a bag of chips, and a cup of ice cream.

Mile 27
Finally I was able to reach Kendall and my cousins. I was desperate to sit down at this point and Kendall told me that the beer tent had chairs. Perfect! We said goodbye to my cousins (and thanked them for cheering!) and made our way to the beer chairs.

I tried to eat a bit of food, but mostly I was just thirsty. I drank my water, but decided chocolate milk didn’t sound good after all. Kendall got us a beer and that was delicious. Oreos dipped in vanilla ice cream were amazing until I realized I was freezing cold.

I couldn’t leave without trying the Mile 27 pilsner that New Holland brews specially for the race. I don’t really like pilsners, but I had earned it! Eventually I was just too cold to sit outside any longer and a hot shower was calling my name (the YMCA offered free showers to runners).

I was cold. I was sore. I was completely exhausted. An injury had kept me from starting the race last year, but I had finally done it! I could finally call myself a marathoner!

Thanks for reading and thank you so very much for your support, encouragement, and advice during my training! The running community is just plain awesome!

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23 thoughts on “Marathon #1 – 2015 Grand Rapids Marathon

  1. **Happy Dance TIME**** I so wish I could insert a gif here! All the high 5's for you! Way to gut out a marathon. Lesser people would have given into the pain, but it sounds like you fought like a tiger the whole way. I'm also impressed that you had the patience to take a walk break when you needed it, and then keep going!
    I'm really impressed with your sub 4 on your first attempt at the distance.

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  2. Great pictures, I love them!!

    I've been waiting to read about your experience! It's so, so awesome you made it under your 4 hour goal. A girl that was running with the Saucony Group with us had a sub 4 goal and she crossed in 3:59:59 chip time — talk about sneaking in!

    I find that side stitches can be so hard to recover from. I've had a couple during long runs that just seemed to derail me entirely because I can't get them to disappear — glad you were able to recover from yours.

    I'm with you on the pacer groups being difficult due to group size. I find myself having a goal time in other races and noticing the pacers near where I want to be. I try to put myself between the two pacers so I know if I feel good, I want to pass the group in front of me, but I definitely don't want the group behind me to pass. Running actually WITH a group that big is just not for me. I don't like to be touching elbows and nearly tripping and I just want to do my own thing!

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  3. CONGRATS!!!!!! I'm so glad you finally shared your race experience, I've been waiting for this post, haha. I am sorry that you had to deal with side stitches and your achilles, but crossing the finish line despite those things must have felt so good!

    Does this really mean you don't want to run another marathon though?!

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  4. Yaaaaay your recap is finally up!! Whoo hoo!!

    Great job out there! You did awesome and I'm proud of you for pushing through when things got tough – mentally and physically – and always being happy for your self and celebrating your amazing accomplishment. I loved your lines at the end about when you're about to finish and the feeling of crossing the finish line being like no other.

    I know you're still digesting and recovering and I'm sure your fingers were tired from writing all that, but I am just dying to know about what's next and your future in marathoning (or lack thereof?)!

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  5. Girlfriend – sub 4 on marathon #1?!?!?!? YAS!!! Congrats, Heather! You are awesome. It sounds like you really enjoyed the experience, too! Enjoy that recovery time and I am echoing Hanna here – what's next?!?!

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  6. Thanks Lizzy! I'm definitely very happy with how my first marathon turned out. It felt like I was in super suffering mode, but since I was able to keep running I'm guessing it could have been a lot worse.

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  7. Thanks so much Dolly! It was really hard to start walking when the side stitches hit, but I knew if I didn't take care of them early, they would only get worse. I'm still not sure how I started running again after mile 20. I was so ready to quit at that point.

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  8. My husband is basically a pro race photographer at this point. He always gets great pictures. There are some pretty awful ones too. I might need to do an outtakes post!

    My side stitches can be the same never ending pain that ruins races. I spent a lot of time this summer working out a strategy for dealing with them after they ruined a half marathon.

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  9. Thank you! Sorry it took so long for me to get it posted. Honestly it was written for almost a week, but I just couldn't find the time to sit down and pick pictures/edit it.

    I'm probably not completely done with marathons, but I'm guessing that my next one is a couple years away. Endurance is something I struggle with, so I am hoping that a few more years of running will make my next attempt a little bit easier. 2016 is going to be all about 5ks to half marathons. I've got some big goals for those distances that I am really excited about tackling!

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  10. Sorry for the delay! And thank you so much!

    I thought a lot about the advice you gave me during the race. I spent a lot of time in the first 15 miles trying to stay present and really take in the whole experience. It really helped when I had to stop to walk in the early miles to remind myself that the time on the clock didn't matter and that I should focus on enjoying my first marathon instead of having a breakdown because I had to walk for a minute. Also the course was absolutely gorgeous: beautiful fall colors everywhere you looked, running along side a river for part of it. I think I would have missed a lot of that if I had been focused on racing/pacing. So in case I haven't said it enough, thank you!!!!

    Right after the marathon I would have said no more marathons for at least 5 years. I'm amending that to at least 2 years. I know that a couple years of consistent running will really boost my endurance level and hopefully for my next marathon attempt, I will be able to run a time that more closely aligns with my speed.

    Next year I hope to be running a lot of shorter races, 5k-half distance.

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  11. Thanks Allison! I have been loving recovery so far. I've only run twice since the race, but I'm starting to feel that itch to start getting back to it though.

    2016 is going to be all about shorter races! Probably a series of 5ks in the spring and a goal half marathon for the fall. I have some big goals for those distances that I am looking forward to tackling.

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  12. So many congratulations, and great work! Fantastic job staying strong mentally and physically–side stitches are no joke! You should be so beyond proud of yourself on so many levels! And as for what is next…. don't think about it right now! Enjoy what you are doing and loving and concentrate on recovery!

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  13. Thanks so much! It was really hard not to panic when that first side stitch hit, but I did my best to just take care of it and move on without letting it get to me too much. It was really tempting to try to make up for lost time, but I know from experience that that will only make things worse.

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  14. How did I miss this!!?? Holy crap, congrats!!!! I was doing well following your training, I don't know how I missed your race report though.

    An enormous congrats on finishing not only your first full marathon but nailing your goal despite you achilles. Ahhh, so inspiring! You should do a post on mental toughness or something, because you seriously rock!

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  15. Since you are maybe just a little preoccupied with being pregnant I think you get a pass 🙂

    Thank you so much! I'm still not sure how I managed to pick up the pace in those last few miles and finish strong.

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