I ran my first marathon on Saturday.
It was not at all what I expected and I mean that in the best way possible.
The panic and fear didn’t really set in until the week of the marathon. Every negative scenario that could ever happen in a marathon was on a loop in my head – bad weather, nobody to run with, intestinal problems, leg cramps, hitting the wall and not getting past it, the race being canceled, and a million more horrible ideas. The forecast for Saturday was not helping at all – high of 82º and sunny, also known as a marathoner’s worst nightmare. Hot = BAD. We had a nice long drive on the way up for me to really freak out about all the “what ifs.”
The Fargo Marathon is unique in a lot of ways. First of all, it starts and ends in a dome. This is GREAT for chilly mornings when you would normally be shivering at the start line, and it is really cool to run into the dome to cross the finish line with everyone watching from the stands. Fargo also has participants from all 50 states and a large Canadian presence, so the race starts with the singing of both the Canadian and American national anthems. The race also starts with a prayer (I TOTALLY needed that) and the finisher medals have this inscribed on the back:
Let us run with perseverance the race that is before us. -Hebrews 12:1
The Hubby and I dropped off our bags at gear check, then walked hand-in-hand to the floor of the FargoDome. He gave me one last kiss after I found my pacer and headed up closer to the front (where the fast people are). I knew I needed The Hubby’s hand leading me to the start because he has been my #1 supporter through my entire running journey and has believed in me 100% as I trained for this marathon, even when I had no faith in myself at all.
As my hubby taught me, so much of running a marathon is mental. I knew I would need to be focusing outside of myself most of the race to not let my mind get the best of me. This is one of the main reasons I decided to join a pace group – not because I really wanted to finish in 4:15, but because I wanted to be with other people who had approximately the same pace as me.
Once in the starting corral, I quickly found a few other women who were running this marathon with a similar mindset. There were four women I ran and talked with throughout the race. They were a huge help in calming my nerves before the start and quickly found many things in common besides being crazy enough to run 26.2 miles! One had flown in from California and was running her second marathon. Another was a medical student from my hometown in South Dakota, and another was a mom from Omaha who shares my love for the Run Like a Mother community.
Because the internet is a crazy, awesome place, I was introduced to Andrea by my friend Crystal. Crystal knew I would be running my first full in Fargo and saw Andrea mention the same thing. We found each other at the start and had the best time running 15 miles together. I was lost in great conversation with her and the miles just clicked by. I am super thankful for those 15 miles because I know they kept me from freaking out about the warm weather and many miles that still lie ahead.
Between mile 15 and 16, I ended up on my own. I was so terribly worried about this very thing happening, but I was in such a good mood that it didn’t phase me like I thought it would. Here’s the thing that I REALLY didn’t expect for my first marathon: I couldn’t stop smiling.
The whole race, I had a goofy smile plastered on my face. I can only give you two reasons for that smile in the middle one of the most grueling things you can put your body through:
- I had been training so hard for this day and it was finally here. I was actually running a marathon, not just thinking and worrying about running a marathon. This brought me so much relief.
- The joy of the Lord. You know those things you just can’t explain? That’s what this felt like. I had prayed that God would help me enjoy the race no matter what happened. I wanted the memories of my first marathon to be joyful ones and God answered that prayer abundantly.
I received so many comments in the last ten miles about how happy I looked and that is exactly how I felt.
The race was not without its struggles. During mile 17, without anyone to talk to, I started to think too much about how my body felt and how many miles were left. Bad idea. Thankfully, I had a plan in place ahead of time for just such a struggle. I was running this marathon to raise awareness and financial support for The Mercy House, a maternity home in Kenya. Although I wasn’t wearing my “Miles for Mercy” shirt (because it was WAY too hot), I knew I wanted to pray for the women and children at The Mercy House and all those responsible for its existence and continued service. For the next two miles straight, I prayed for the founders, the staff, the supporters, pregnant moms, new moms, and moms transitioning to a new way of life.
Those two miles were both extremely meaningful and important to me, getting me through what could have been a very rough patch. That time of prayer led me right up to mile marker 20. The mile marker I had been so scared to face. My longest run during training was 20 miles, so every step after that mile marker would be the longest I had ever run. TERRIFYING. Except it wasn’t. On race day, I passed mile marker 20 and felt invincible because I could feel God with me. My joy was still bubbling over.
The last 6.2 miles were also amazing thanks to the spectators. Fargo really comes out to support all of the runners. I especially love running through the neighborhoods: people out on their lawns, music playing, funny and inspiring signs, kids giving high fives. The atmosphere is always so great, but I had two new favorite things this year.
In the later miles of the marathon, there were official water stops, but there were also lots of unofficial water and fuel stations. I took some Kleenex from a spectator early on (lifesaver) and I grabbed an orange slice to suck on twice in the last six miles. Those orange slices were GLORIOUS. Sticky, but delicious. And the stickiness wasn’t a big problem thanks to my most favorite thing from the local spectators: WATER.
Fargo residents, thank you for turning on your sprinklers and hoses and setting up misters at the curb. I’m sure your water bill from that day will be insanely high, but myself and every other runner around me just loved you for it. Oh, and my favorite, the group of kids with water guns who (with my permission) absolutely drenched me sometime after mile 20. Kids, I love you.
A lot of things happened in those last few miles and I can’t remember exactly when they happened. Miles 21 through 25 are a bit of a blur. One of the most uncomfortable moments was somewhere between mile 22 and 24 when I dumped water over my head and ended up with salt from sweat in my eyes! It took me a good mile before my eyes weren’t stinging or blurry at all, but that water sure felt good on my head!
People have asked me if I “hit the wall” and the answer is yes, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I’m not sure why, but it could have been because I walked through every water station through the whole race, kept myself fueled with my Honey Stinger chews, and made sure I didn’t let my thoughts go negative. My legs started to feel heavier, but there was never a point where I thought I couldn’t keep going. Praise the Lord for that!
Then it was there in front of me: the FargoDome, with lots of people lining the way and the glorious finish line waiting inside. I was grinning from ear to ear, but I also felt the emotion start to well up, especially as I passed mile marker 26. Just .2 to go. I also knew from watching my husband finish this marathon three times that there would be a camera just outside of the dome filming runners and showing us up on the big screen inside the dome so our friends and family would know we were coming.
I entered the FargoDome with no one else around me. I’ve never been alone entering the dome or crossing a race finish line. It was surreal. I spotted my best friend amongst all the other spectators before the finish line. She had finished the marathon relay an hour before me and was snapping pictures and cheering me on. As if I wasn’t joyful enough already, this made me smile even bigger.
Just a few steps later, I crossed the finish line of my first marathon with a time of 4:21:28.
As I crossed, I heard my husband yelling my name and saw him with the biggest smile on his face. The tears came quickly. I sobbed behind my sunglasses, but they were all tears of joy. I walked right over to him for biggest hug, kiss, and congratulations. He was beaming with pride and I was overflowing with joy and gratitude.
I had to keep walking or I might have fallen over from exhaustion. I also had to keep walking to get my medal, get to my husband and friend, and get to the food! My medal around my neck, my favorite people next to me, a banana in my hand, I left the floor of the FargoDome as a marathoner – tired and sore and a little bit in disbelief of what I had just accomplished, but overwhelmingly happy and so extremely thankful.
I’ll save those thanks for another post because this is already the LONGEST BLOG POST I’VE EVER WRITTEN (appropriate since this is the longest I’ve ever run!), but I had to process all the feelings and remember every moment of the biggest accomplishment of my life. If you read this all the way to the end, you deserve a medal, too.
I ran a marathon and, call me crazy, but I can’t wait to do it again.
Marathon finisher. Boom.