Marathon weekend and the days since them have been a whirlwind. It has taken me a long time to sit down to write this post because I wasn’t sure how to even begin reenacting the weekend well enough to do it justice. But it is well past time to share so I am going to try my best to formulate my scattered thoughts into a coherent post.
We got to Wilmington on Saturday right on schedule and dropped by the expo. Packet pick-up and the expo were simple and to-the-point, which I appreciate because giant expos just make me anxious. We stayed at our friends, Ian and Shelby’s, apartment with another couple of friends, Jared and Sarah. Ian and I were running the marathon and Sarah was running the half.
Shelby is basically the world’s greatest hostess/mom and made us a carb-loaded spaghetti dinner that was perfect. We played a ridiculous board game that had me basically out of breath from laughter for several hours and then went to bed somewhat early.
The runners (plus Shelby who was hard at work cooking hard-boiled eggs, making smoothies, and packing a 20 lb backpack full of supplies) woke up around 4:45, did our pre-race rituals and got dropped off at the starting area in plenty of time to hit the bathroom line and get situated before the 6:45 AM start time.
The starting line
There were only two corrals for the race and I was in corral 1, so I maneuvered my way closer to the front of the crowd. I had enough room to do some dynamic stretches for about 10 minutes and then the announcer began counting down to the start. And we were off.
Once I found a comfortable spot in the pack I tried to settle into the correct pace – somewhere in the 8:08 min/mile range. I dropped back from the 3:30 pacer and the mass of people that seemed to be right on top of him (is it necessary to be THAT close, people?!). I felt prepared and mentally ready but my legs felt a bit rubbery – that feeling where your muscles are almost itchy, which I can only assume is caused by adrenaline.
I saw Shelby and passed my arm sleeves off to her. The temperature (I was wearing shorts and a tank top) was comfortable even though it was barely past sunrise. The rain was holding out even though it was overcast and a downpour was forecasted for the afternoon. The course for the marathon was essentially two loops of the half marathon and I would run past that exact spot three times total before finishing the race. It is great for spectators because they can see their friends/family several times without having to try and switch locations and can still make it to the finish line to see them there as well. But, no doubt, a double loop is harder mentally for the runners. It wasn’t something I worried much over, though, because I often do long training runs by repeating as many as 5 loops around my neighborhood (yes, I know that sounds crazy).
I ate something even though I didn’t really have the appetite for it. I was already beginning to worry that my stomach wouldn’t hold up well for the whole race. I alternated between eating Honey Stinger Waffles and sets of three Shot Blocks and tried to eat every 5 to 6 miles, but it was really hard to make myself eat most of the time.
I was worried by how tired I already felt and by the way my stomach was acting given that I wasn’t even half way done. This part of the course was 5 miles through a really upscale residential area. There were some ridiculously expensive houses to look at and occasional clusters of good crowd support but it did seem to drag on. Once I knew I was getting close to leaving the neighborhood and heading back toward the beach, I was really relieved. I had been hovering between an 8:07 and 8:08 min/mile pace and, while the pace felt comfortable to me, my body was just feeling off.
It became obvious that the reason my body felt off was almost completely because of my stomach. There would be seconds when it would be almost unbearable and then it would calm down for a mile only to sneak up on me again. Finally, I stopped at an empty port-a-potty. The stop caused my average pace to drop from 8:08 to 8:12 but I am so glad I did it because I felt about 1,000 times better after the fact. I even picked up a few seconds in the couple miles after that because I felt so good. I ran back over the Wrightsville Beach Bridge for the last time (mile 15) at about an 8:10 average pace and was surprised by how good I felt.
I passed by Sarah, who was just a few miles from finishing the half marathon course and then almost immediately passed by our cheerleaders Jeremy, Juneau, Jared, and Shelby. Seeing my friends and family gives me such a boost of energy, even when I am feeling tired.
I started feeling pretty worn down again at mile 18, but I had the memory in my head of hitting the wall at mile 19 of Richmond. I knew I felt better than I did when I hit that wall and I just kept telling myself that I had to get past mile 20 going strong. If I could get past mile 20, I knew I could win the mental battle for the last 6 miles. It worked, and before I knew it I was at mile 21 and the race became 100% mental.
I was back in the boring residential part of the course, it was down to just the marathon runners and the field had spread out. It was hard. My body was undoubtedly exhausted and, even though I felt like I was running the exact same speed based on my effort, my average pace was ticking slower and slower on my watch it seemed. I thought about walking SO MANY TIMES. But it turns out I had been right several miles earlier. The mental battle is something I can win once I get past the 20 mile mark. I’m just that stubborn. I wanted to walk but I knew I would regret walking, or even reducing my effort, with only 5 miles to go when all was said and done. So I didn’t. But it was so, so hard.
I ran by my cheering section again. All I could do was pull an ear bud out and say to Jeremy as I ran past, “I hurt SO BAD.” And he yelled after me that he knew, but I was SO CLOSE. After this I stopped thinking about anything at all. I didn’t see mile markers (though I think they existed) and I ran past aid stations because I didn’t trust myself to be able to keep down a cup of water or to run and drink without tripping over my own feet.
The finish line
When I saw the finish line I don’t remember seeing runners around me or the clock. I ran in as hard as I could to the line. I had absolutely nothing left when I got there. My chip time turned out to be 3:37:08 – a new PR.
I was still in full tunnel vision and couldn’t focus on more than one single thing at a time. I walked to the volunteer with the medals, then the one with the water bottles, then with the space blankets.
When I was finally out of this maze of tasks I saw Juneau at the end of the corral (she always sticks out first in a crowd with her white coat). Jeremy was standing beside her and I noticed he was wearing a tie. He wasn’t wearing a tie when I saw him two miles ago.
I hadn’t even processed my thoughts when I got to him. He asked me if I was okay and if I needed a moment. When I said I was fine he said he had something to ask me, pulled out a ring box, got down on one knee and said, “Anna, I love you so much. The last 5 years have been amazing and I want to have that forever. Will you marry me?”
There were a couple of seconds where I couldn’t catch my breath. I wasn’t literally crying (likely because there was no more salt water left in my body) but I have severe cry-face in several of the photos. I don’t know how to describe what I felt at all. Just, wow.
And, of course, I said yes.
My brain still hasn’t caught up to all of the excitement. But I am so grateful and happy for the chance to have run this race and most of all for what happened at the finish line. I am engaged to my perfect person! The moment fit us perfectly. Running has become such a huge part of my life and this was the same race where he and I ran our first half marathons together 4 years ago. The whole day could not possibly be more memorable or special to me. All I can really say is that I feel like one ridiculously lucky girl.