Well, well. I did it. The big 26.2.
Let me just say, I had never run a race before this, ever. Not a 5k, not a 10k, not a half marathon, nothing. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what it would be like, but I overcame the nerves (now I understand what everyone is talking about) and I just did it.
Miles 1-8ish went very well. I came out of the gate strong, excited, smiling. I held back most of my excitement and forced myself to take it nice and easy, especially through the first part of the course which was downhill. Still I was passing others more than I was being passed (granted I started in the back of the pack), but what a great feeling! When I used to run on the indoor track at my school (as recently as a year ago), I was getting passed left and right. I’ve come a long way.
Around 7.5 miles I saw my fans. My mother, grandma, and baby sister, cheering me on and yelling for me. I stopped for a quick hug and “happy mother’s day” (also birthday to my mom), and kept on going, telling them I was just happy that I wasn’t in last place! As they disappeared I kept going. Strong, steady, focused. Three simple words that became my mantra and led me through the entire race. Soon I faced the first hill - probably the worst hill in Kalamazoo. Not too steep, but long and gradual. Mostly long. I used to run up this hill last summer and it was always a struggle. I told myself I was fine and this was cake, hell I was only on mile 8 out of 26, I’d better be fine! Strong, steady, focused. Got myself up the hill with strength and confidence and it was time for a nice flat, turny course through WMU’s Engineering Campus. I powered through that hill and ahh, I made it. Almost halfway.
I stocked up on a few GU gels, which I was nervous about because I had never practiced eating these in my training runs. I wasn’t sure how my stomach would handle them, but I don’t think my stomach cared. My body was so tuned in to what I was doing. No pain, no fatigue, no nagging little annoyances like cramps or stitches or stomach problems or a heavy chest. When I started to feel tired or in pain, I’d ask myself, OK. What’s wrong? Do I hurt? Yes. What hurts? Leg? No. It’s my shoulders… OK, that’s because they’re up by my ears. Shoulders pinned back. Breathe. Great. Strong, steady, focused. Before I knew it I was halfway done. Halfway there. Still halfway to go. I didn’t let myself think about how far I had left to go. When I started to have the thought, alright how much longer?, I shut myself up and said don’t think about it. Look straight ahead, and just run. Don’t think about it, just keep running.
Next up came my favorite part of the race. A nice series of rolling hills, both up and down, through my favorite neighborhood in Kalamazoo. The scenery was beautiful and everyone had come out of their houses to cheer us on. Loud speakers with music (like Katy Perry’s Firework, you know that got me pumped), signs, horns, little kids holding out their hands for high-fives. This section went by really quickly yet lasted quite a long time, which I was thankful for because it got me from halfway to almost there. Still no pain, no fatigue, I was getting it.
Soon we were out of the neighborhood and on our own. This is where it started to get tough. We weren’t in the country, we weren’t in the city. No pretty trees, no pretty buildings. Just cars and pavement. Yuck. We got to mile 18 and I just so happened to see my mom and grandma in their car at a red light, on their way to the finish line. Very ironic, especially since the last long training run I did was 18 miles, and my mom picked me up (I had finished the 18 miles still about two miles away from my house) in tears. My knee had been killing me, I was freaked out and scared and nervous. I felt like if I couldn’t make it through 18 how would I get through the marathon? So needless to say mile 18 was kind of symbolic to me, since I was still going strong, a little tired but no pain. When I passed my mom in the car I yelled out that I wasn’t crying this time! I’ve come a long way.
Between 18 and 20 miles seemed like forever. It was around now that I started to get really tired. I needed water. I wanted food. Ahh, another water station and then mile 20. FINALLY. Only 6.2 to go. Realizing that still meant over another hour of running was really difficult but again, don’t think about it. Just run. Strong, steady, focused.
The last 6.2 miles were really, really tough. My left knee started to hurt. A lot. By this time almost everyone around me was walking. But I didn’t stop. I just kept running. Mile 21, 22. God, my knee is killing me. Maybe if I walked a little it would - NO! I’m fine. I went back to my 18 mile training run. My knee ached. It was stiff, sore, I could hardly walk for a couple of days. But guess what, it got better. And here I am. Further than I’ve ever run before. The pain will go away. Don’t stop. Strong, steady, focused. I’ve come a long way.
Mile 23, another hill. A really bad hill. Don’t stop, don’t stop. Don’t look at that girl who’s walking. Just run. Almost there. Yes. Mile 24. Oh my godddddd, two miles left. I wanted to pick up the pace and just finish it off, but I couldn’t. I don’t think I physically could have. All I could do was focus on what I was doing. Just. Finish. Mile 25 and I’m by a lake. I don’t need water, I’m fine. I’m almost there. Now my breathing is starting to grow heavy, great. I think it’s my nerves. Shh, just breathe, Erica. The air feels thick and heavy. Deep breaths. Relax. My knee doesn’t hurt anymore. I’m almost there. Let’s pick it up a bit.
Mile 26 and I still can’t see the finish line because it’s around the corner. But the crowds of people on the side of the road are cheering me on. Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m here right now. Wow. I really have come a long way. I round the final corner and I see the finish line. Holy cow. I hear “babe!” and see my boyfriend in the crowd. Almost there and they announce my name. The clock reads 5:01 but I know that’s not my official time. I had to have made it in under five hours, I just know it. The photographer takes my photo and I get a medal. I immediately grab a bottle of water and try to focus on breathing because now I feel like my throat is closing. It was definitely my nerves. I wanted to laugh and cry and I couldn’t breathe.
My official time was 4:58:21. I knew I made it in under five hours! I wasn’t worried about time. I just wanted to get through the race. Once I started, I knew I could do it without stopping. I walked quickly through every water station and that was it. No stopping otherwise (except for that hug to my family). I’m stiff and sore and tired, but I did it. I’m so very proud and now I understand. You really can’t understand what it’s like to run a marathon until you’ve run a marathon. I not only pushed my body to the extreme, but my mind as well. During my 16 weeks of training and during the race. I’ve never done anything that’s required so much discipline and focus. I was truly tuned in with my body and mind. Anima sana in corpore sano. A sound mind in a sound body. A year ago I could barely run five miles consecutively, and yesterday I ran five hours consecutively. I’ve come a long way.