Last Sunday, April 27th, 2014, was one of the toughest days of my life. Paradoxically, it was also one of the best.
The journey to 26.2 miles began when I was just six years old. I felt so cool when I got to go running with my dad, even though it was just a one mile loop around our neighborhood. It was fun.
When I was in seventh grade, I decided to join the cross country team and then the track team. It was the first year I was allowed to do so, as there was no sixth grade team. I wasn't fast. I wasn't good. But I had fun.
I continued to run through my senior year of high school. I practiced most days of the year, through glaring Midwest heat and humidity, through rain, and even through snow. I still wasn't good or fast, but I enjoyed it.
In college, I didn't run much. It was the first time in years that there wasn't a coach on my case, making me run farther or faster or more days a week. I gave it up for my entire freshman year. When I was a sophomore, however, I ran the St. Louis Half Marathon. It was slow, but I knew it was something I wanted to continue. I didn't run much more throughout my time in college other than a few 5Ks.
I knew I wanted to get more serious about running when I moved to Colorado in 2010, but the altitude makes it very tough. Running is just plain hard out here, so I only ran a handful of 5Ks and four mile races over the almost four years I've been here.
That is... until now. Last December, I was talking to one of my very best friends, Lizzie (who blogs here), and we decided that we both wanted to run a full marathon. She lives in Oklahoma while her husband completes pilot training, so we decided to run it about an hour and a half from where they are stationed. We chose the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, run in the same month as the bombing took place in 1995.
We registered for the race in early December and started training across the country from each other. In fact, we never ran together a single time until race day, but we checked in with each other and motivated each other to keep going from afar. It was a huge blessing having Lizzie there doing this at the same time.
Oh, and did I mention that we decided to run ALSO for the Wounded Warrior Family Support organization? It was great. We raised a total of $812 for them, which isn't much in the grand scheme of things, but we're just two 20-somethings, so it feels nice. They even sent us tank-top jerseys to wear, which Lizzie did (so you can see hers in the pictures), but I wore a purple shirt for one of my students who recently passed away (but that's another post for another day - maybe).
I flew in to Oklahoma City on a Friday evening, and we picked up our packets and bibs at the marathon expo on Saturday, the day before the race. We were excited but SO nervous!
That night, we checked out the course after a gigantic pasta dinner. We envisioned running across the finish line and saw the marker for mile 26. It was wonderful seeing what the area would be like ahead of time, and we were surprised to be the only ones there doing just that.
Our alarms went of at 3:25AM that morning (after falling asleep to a high school prom going on in our hotel - that music was SO loud, and the front desk said many runners were complaining... well, yeah! Don't schedule conflicting events on the same weekend...). As soon as I turned off my alarm, I checked my calendar, as I do every day. It was exhilarating AND terrifying to see ZERO days until on my marathon event. We both quickly scribbled mantras on our arms in Sharpie. I wrote, "RUN while you can! 26.2" I know that one day my body will slow me down and tell me not to run anymore. I won't be physically capable of running for the rest of my life. One day I won't be able to run, and that day is NOT today... seeing this throughout the race made it just a little bit easier.
After we got ready at the hotel and ate, we took a charter bus from the hotel to the Oklahoma City Memorial, where the starting line was. We gathered there with tons of runners and just took it all in. I had been to the memorial once before (with Dan in 2009), but it was much eerier in the dark. We read the buildings, saw the times listed, one before the bombing and the next the minute after, and looked at the empty chairs, one for each of the 168 people who were killed on April 19th, 1995. Family members and friends of some of the victims were there placing flowers on the seats of their loved ones, and it was surreal to watch that. 168 people lost their lives on that day in 1995, but thousands and thousands of people were affected. It feels good to know that our race registration went toward helping the memorial continue to thrive so that those people will never be forgotten.
As we waited at the memorial, we listened to a sunrise church service that quickly turned into a thunderstorm church service. It began pouring down rain, and not long after, the lightning and thunder started. Everyone ran into parking garages and buildings that had been opened up for runners. We went inside for a while, but it was SO crowded that we ventured back out. The race had been postponed from its 6:30AM start all the way to 8:15. We knew that if the storm continued, they would cancel the entire event. Luckily, the forecast got better, so they had us all line up at the starting line (for the third time - talk about nerve-racking!). Once we were there, it started to pour again and HAIL on us. That was not pleasant, and it was definitely not the beginning of the race I had imagined in my head during my five months of training.
But the race began, and the first three miles were the toughest of all 26.2 for me! I guess that's a blessing in and of itself, because I was picturing the end to be far more difficult. The first three miles were hard for three reasons: 1) It was SO crowded. I'm a tad bit claustrophobic, so that was a nightmare. 2) I hurt my leg somehow in the beginning of March, and one of the muscles was EXTREMELY sore, and it ached for those first three miles (and thankfully that went away COMPLETELY after the 5K). 3) I won't lie: I had to pee. Badly. But I stopped at a porta-potty at mile three and went, and I felt SO much better afterward!
After the bathroom break, my leg was fine, and we continued running through neighborhoods full of beautiful houses. At one point, I saw one that reminded me of the Holdens' house on Army Wives, so that was a welcome distraction for Lizzie and me as we chatted about how we want to be like Claudia-Joy, even though she's a fictional TV character.
Just before the half marathoners turned left and we kept going straight, there was a hill called Gorilla Hill, where residents of the neighborhood stood to cheer runners on. Not only was it amazing because of that alone, but they were dressed up in banana costumes and handing out bananas to runners! How neat! What a morale booster - and it was so cool to see!
Throughout the race, just as things got tough, Lizzie's mother and mother-in-law would show up holding these amazing signs for us and shouting our names! They were WONDERFUL and a HUGE help. They eased a lot of our burdens by carrying a bag with flip flops in it for us to have at the end, holding up these signs, and treating us to some awesome carb and protein loading meals before and after the race. It was absolutely amazing to have them there cheering us on. They were great fans and supporters, and I hope they know how much they were valued that day!
After the full marathoners (aka us) kept going straight after a turn off, there started to be many more water/food stops. We got Powerade and water at every stop, and eventually they stated handing out pretzels as well. Those were a welcome treat - the best pretzels I've ever had in my life. They were salty and perfect, and I devoured a handful every 1.5 miles or so. Eventually, kids starting bringing us sponges to wipe down our bodies with, and that was amazing. It was 85 degrees and HUMID, which was foreign to me after training in dry, cold Colorado all (never-ending) winter. I was (and still am) incredibly thankful for all 3,000+ volunteers who helped keep me alive and well throughout the race!
For miles 14-17, we ran around a lake called Lake Hefner. It was SO windy (50mph winds), which made it super tough to run in. We also saw several people being carried into ambulances on stretchers at this point, so this was the toughest part of the course MENTALLY for us. It seemed to drag on forever, but as soon as we were away from the lake, I felt great again. That's also when different organizations had whole bottles of Powerade for us, along with orange slices. I could never show my gratitude enough to these people; I honestly believe they kept me going.
Around mile 23, we saw the photographers up ahead again. Just then, a man walking near us said he didn't know if he could even run for the picture, so I told him that he definitely could and to run with us... we'd even let him be lucky enough for him to be in the photo with us! His name was Dustin, and he ran along with us, smiling and holding his thumbs up when we told him to! I'm glad this picture is here because me helping this stranger through a tough time really helped ME out in the long run (ha ha ha - pun intended). The encouragement I was giving to him actually helped ME suck it up and pull myself together when things were getting really tough physically.
The last four miles took a toll on my amazing running partner, but we would never separate! We stuck together, and she really came through! We set goals of where we needed to get to before we could take another walking break, and WE MADE IT! We really did. We crossed the finish line together, holding hands, arms in the air.
We are victorious. WE ARE MARATHONERS!
Crossing the finish line was a feeling like nothing I've ever experienced. It was amazing. It was better than anything. We saw it coming, and we teared up. Lizzie was crying, and my eyes were watering as we ran underneath the finish line banner. We were in total shock that we had made it all the way, and we gave each other a big, SWEATY hug. She will forever be my "sole sister".
Before I left for Oklahoma City, I had matching necklaces made for Lizzie and me. We can now wear these everywhere and remember what we did together. The front side has a map of Oklahoma City on it, and the back shows the details of the race. I love the little shoe with 26.2 on it that sits next to the necklace. I was so happy to give Lizzie hers when she took me to the airport the day after the race.
Overall, I have nothing but great memories from the marathon. It was definitely something on my bucket-list. In fact, it was something I wanted to achieve before I turn 27 this summer - 26 in 26! And I did it! I feel so great about my accomplishment, and I can't wait to run another one someday...
- Have you ever run a marathon?
- Which one did you run?
- Do you WANT to run a marathon someday?