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I'm a Marathoner! Recap of the Akron Marathon

WARNING: This post is nearly as long as my marathon. It's taken me nearly a month to put together, and it's probably too long and rambling at parts, but I don't care. You're about to read more than a race recap. You're about to read my memories of one of the hardest, craziest and most incredible days of my life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Part 1: The hills are alive
If you were looking at elevation maps (hills) for a marathon course, which of the two below would you rather run?

Yeah ... That's a trick question – they’re for the same race ... my race! They’re just scaled differently, which is REALLY hard to see unless you’re some sort of map guru (which I am not). 

So when I saw the first map back in December last year, I didn’t think the course for the Akron Marathon looked so bad. Yes, it would have hills, but I thought they seemed comparable to the hills I run out in the country. 

Fast forward 10 months to when I saw the second chart … and I nearly shit my pants. I prayed that maybe the second map was deceiving, maybe the first one was more accurate. A girl can hope, right? 

WRONG. When we arrived in Akron, I might as well have been in San Francisco. Helloooooo hills!

You think I would know some basic Ohio geography by now (Hello, northeast Ohio IS closer to the mountains!), but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my first marathon course would be so hilly. Seriously, when we arrived for the expo, I started singing in my head, “The HILLS are alive … with the sound of Akroooonnnnn!”

OK, you get my point. This course was hilly. It was so damn hilly, Kyle told me some of the elites being interviewed at the finish line commented that it was one of the most challenging courses they’d ever run. And I've since been told that the course is often compared to the Boston Marathon ... So yeah. I was in for a challenge.

Part 2: The puddle on Market Street
After the expo and a fairly decent night of slept (honestly, it was probably the best pre-race night I’ve ever hard), I was READY for race morning. Everything was laid out and ready to go. My body cooperated with its morning duty, and I felt strong. Nervous, but strong.

Kyle drove my brother, Scott, and I downtown and hung out with us at the starting line for a bit. After one last hug, Kyle started walking to our pre-selected meeting point just after mile 13 … and I started getting in the zone.

I’m so glad I decided to start the race without my headphones because they had an excellent starting ceremony, and I loved taking in the amazing energy all around me. Scott and I started out running next to each other, but he knew he’d be running slower, so after barely a quarter mile, he told me to go on ahead. 

From there, I was racing. I was a serious athlete, focused and in control. I stayed near my goal pace, charging up the uphills and letting the downhills carry me forward. Everything felt good, almost too good, just as Kim had warned me. 

I mean, look at these splits! I'm so proud of these. I felt like absolutely everything was going right ... I really felt like a finish time close to 4 hours (9:09 average pace) was within my grasp. I BELIEVED.

Mile 1 - 9:39 (Started out slower than goal on purpose ... but quickly got in my groove. Maybe too quickly?) 
Mile 2 - 9:34
Mile 3 - 9:09
Mile 4 - 9:18
Mile 5 - 8:51 (Fastest mile of the entire race - must have gotten a little speedy going downhill!)
Mile 6 - 9:18
Mile 7 - 9:19
Mile 8 - 9:02
Mile 9 - 9:11
Mile 10 - 9:27 (Slowest mile of the first half - had to stop and change podcasts!)
Mile 11 - 8:59
Mile 12 - 9:12
Mile 13 - 9:08
First half - 2:02:12

Even though I was forced to stop and switch podcasts around mile 10 (and curse the new podcast app for not working the way I'd hoped), I refused to stop and use the port-a-potties to pee. I was having a great race - I didn't have time to pee, right?! For goodness sake, I use a Camelbak so I don't have to stop at water stations, why would I stop for anything else? Thinking about the race map, I thought for sure I'd see some more port-a-potties near my meet-up point with Kyle ... 

Well, I thought wrong. When I finally met up with Kyle to switch out my Camelbaks (he had my second one, filled with more water and Gu), the first thing I said was, "I'm going to pee my pants." Soooo ... I did. At first, I figured a little trickle would come out. No big deal, right? But then it started gushing ... suddenly, I had Niagra Falls running down my capris and into my shoes, and there was no way I could stop it. 

Mortified, but EXTREMELY relieved, I laughed at myself, allowed Kyle to snap a couple of pictures, gave him a hug and took off again. (But not before I asked him to snap a picture of the puddle I left behind ... ha!)

It's funny that the first half of the race is so blurry in my mind - it went by in a flash! The second half was so much harder, yet so much more memorable ... (Also note there aren't as many pictures because I didn't see Kyle again til the finish.)

Part 3: This can't be the same race
After I left Kyle, I had to make a slow and steady death march up Market Street. Yes, I will forever remember that street name - I left my mark on it, after all! The night before the race, Kyle tried telling me, "It's not THAT bad. It's just like the hill in front of Jodie's house (back in Edon)." I quickly replied, "Thanks for lying to me." And he laughed. Because we both knew I had NEVER run such a monstrous hill in my life. 

Anyway, I had planned to run while eating my Clif bar, but I quickly decided it was OK to walk up the rest of the hill while I finished my snack. After all, the first half of the race had gone perfectly - didn't I deserve a break? Of course. 

But once we turned off Market Street, the entire race seemed to change. Gone were the throngs of crowd support and music. Gone were the fantastic views of the city. Gone was my adrenaline from the starting line ...

Suddenly, I felt like I was running a COMPLETELY different race. With the half-marathoners gone, the field around me was very thin, and the crowd support was thinner. Sure, several neighborhoods came out to cheer, but the spectators and aid stations were much more spread out then they had been in the first 13 miles. I'm not making excuses here, I'm just trying to paint a picture of what I was going through.

I started walking up the bigger hills, giving myself permission to rest - goal be damned, I knew it would be great to just finish standing up ... Actually, I was walking up one of the hills, I told another marathoner I would crawl if I had to, or maybe do a zombie walk. He said he'd be happy to just get feeling back in his quads. Ha!

Part 4: Marathon drunk
At some point earlier in the race, I saw a sign that read, "There will be pain, but there doesn't have to be suffering." And suddenly, I knew EXACTLY what it meant. I may have been hurting, but I didn't have to miserable. A switch flipped in my brain, and I remembered to smile - I WAS RUNNING A MARATHON!! I wanted to enjoy every moment.

So for a little while, I was what some people refer to as "marathon drunk" - so deliriously giddy and out of my mind I forgot how bad I was feeling. If you've ever been around when I'm really drunk, you'll know I tend to get super happy ... I LOVE EVERYONE!! EVERYONE IS AWESOME!! Well, it was the same sort of thing.

There were plenty of high-fives, dance moves and cheers as I made my way through the roller coaster of suburban Akron. I started taking advantage of aid stations, asking the little kids to splash me with water, which they did with glee. At one point, I even ran through a homemade PVC-pipe shower/sprinkler, just because it looked like fun and WHY THE HELL NOT?!

Around mile 19, I saw one of many beer stops along the course (not officially sanctioned, mind you ... the residents of Akron are just very generous). Again, "Why the hell not?!" I said out loud as I stopped for a Solo cup filled 1/3 of the way with some sort of cheap brew. "This may be a bad decision, but right now I don't care."

"Beer is NEVER a bad decision," a runner behind me said. I turned to see her and read her name on her bib - Mary. I laughed, thanked her and started sipping.  And OMG ... She was absolutely right. That little beer was probably the best beer of my life. It was just enough to help me relax, kinda like those awesome drugs they give you in labor - it didn't dull the pain, but it made me care about it a little less.

Part 5: Where's the next hill? 
I went forward, continuing to walk up the hills ... but it was getting harder and harder to keep running between them. So hard, in fact, I started WISHING to see a hill so I could have an excuse to walk.

Then at mile 20, I saw a few shuttle buses with relay runners. A police officer waved one of the buses through the course ahead of me and a couple other runners, which was fine because they had plenty of room. But then a second bus decided to pull out, and it nearly hit me and another marathoner! WTH?!

I. WAS. LIVID. Who pulls out in front of people running a race? Especially people running at MILE 20 of a MARATHON? !The shuttle driver pulled ahead and was stopped alongside the course a few hundred feet ahead. I turned and shouted, "Hope you're happy you almost hit us!" and the other marathoner yelled something as well. Not my proudest moment, I admit ... but I didn't have the energy to think about manners at that point.

A few miles later, I saw the other marathoner nearby and tried to catch up to him. I wanted to say something encouraging like, "I know we're in pain, but at least we're not dead under a bus right now." It was funnier in my head, I think. Sadly, I couldn't catch him.

Around mile 23, there was another MONSTER hill. Instead of offering a long and steady climb like the hill on Market Street, this one was a straight shot into the air. SERIOUSLY.

OK, maybe it was just really steep. But it felt like I was climbing a ladder, and I had trouble even walking to the top - so did everyone around me. Who puts a hill like that at the end of a marathon course? And WHY did I choose this for my first marathon? I'll never know the answer to either question ...

After that, I became really discouraged and had to stop and walk through a flat part of the course. To make it through, I pulled out my phone, which had been silenced to notifications, and found nearly a dozen messages, comments and tags from people who had been tracking me and cheering me on. I had no time to reply, of course, but seeing everyone's love really made a difference.

I thought of my family, who had sacrificed a lot of time during training, my friends, who offered encouragement and advice, my coworkers, who listened to me talk about this marathon since January, my fellow Weight Watchers members, who cheered for me every step of the way ... I thought of all the people who had been there for me, and I let their support propel me forward.

So before I forget: THANK YOU, everyone, for being awesome and helping me get through the race. You're the reason I didn't stop. I mean it.

Part 6: That's the last hill, right? WRONG!
Eventually, the course dumped us back on Market Street, except this time, we got nearly a mile of downhill running. For some people, this can be just as painful as uphill running. But for me, it was pure heaven. I opened up my legs and let them fly (as much as they would allow). I was passing people left and right. The crowds were building again, and I was back in my groove ... WOOHOO!!

Well, until I hit another hill. SHIT. All of my momentum stopped and I wanted to cry. I asked out loud, "This is the last hill, right?" And a woman walking nearby said, "No, there's another one just before we turn the corner to the stadium (the minor league ball park where we finished)."

"DAMMI!" I cried. But I kept trudging along.

Not-so-random side note: Kyle had written me a letter before the race. The letter was very sweet and included a picture of Daryl Dixon (HOTTIE!) from The Walking Dead - he wrote, "Run like zombies are chasing you and Daryl Dixon is waiting at the finish line." As I was walking up the last two hills, a man next to me had "Darrell" printed on his bib. Sure, the spelling was different and he wasn't so good looking (I mean, I'm sure he looks better when he's not at the end of a marathon) ... but I decided it was a sign to motivate me.

As I turned for the final stretch, spectators were cheering on both sidings, yelling my name and pushing me on to the finish. Of course, I started crying, which made it hard to breathe, but I gave it everything I had. Finally, I made it to the stadium and saw the word, "FINISH" at the end of the chute. I couldn't believe I was almost there!

I sprinted (hobbled) down the chute and reminded myself not to fall - to soak up the moment and remember how incredible it all felt.

And so, with my hands up in victory and an ugly cry all over my face, I finally finished my first marathon. BOOM!

I'm back in the pink - unfortunately, Kyle wasn't able to get a clear finish line photo.
Second half breakdown: 
Mile 14 - 12:40 (Pee break + Market Street death march)
Mile 15 - 9:34
Mile 16 - 10:25
Mile 17 - 9:14 (Fastest split of the second half, not quite at goal pace, but the closest I would get!)
Mile 18 - 9:59
Mile 19 - 10:07 (Beer break!)
Mile 20 - 10:05
Mile 21 - 9:40
Mile 22 - 10:14
Mile 23 - 12:00 (I think this is where I walked the second monster hill)
Mile 24 - 12:24 (This is where YOU ALL carried me through ...)
Mile 25 - 9:48 (Downhill! WOOHOO!!!!)
Mile 26 - 11:33 (Those last two hills with Darrell ...)
Final stretch - 4:34
Second Half - 2:20:11
Finish Time - 4:22:23

Part 7: Taking it all in
After the finish line, everything was once again a blur. I immediately saw Kyle and Scott in the stands, cheering loudly and waving. I thought, "When the hell did Scott pass me?" and suddenly was bummed I didn't see him on the course. Well, turns out he did the smart thing and decided to turn around after mile 13. He started a new job this summer and wasn't able to train as well as he would have liked. So I'm proud of him for listening to his body and not hurting himself just because he paid to run the full 26 miles. Good job, bro!

Shortly after I got my medal, a familiar face stopped in front of me to shake my hand. It was Mary from mile 19! "So was I right about the beer?" she asked. "DEFINITELY!" I told her. "I'm off to get some more!"

After making my way through the tents for pizza, snacks and beer, I found a spot on the outfield grass and finally say down. Only runners were allowed in the post-race area, so Kyle and Scott couldn't come find me right away. But that's OK, I needed a few minutes to reflect, to let it all sink in. I JUST RAN A MARATHON. Holy shit.

Eventually, I stood up (verrrrry slowly) and asked someone to take my picture. NOTE: That was the SECOND best beer of my life.

Finally, I made my way to find Kyle and Scott, and immediately started crying as Kyle pulled me into his arms. What a good man, right?! According to my brother, I smelled, "Like a hobo on a poop train," but Kyle embraced me anyway. Now, when we got to the car it was a different story. He wrapped me up in an old picnic table cloth in an attempt to trap the stench and keep my seats clean ... but I like to think it was all with love ;)

Part 8: Reflections 
Since the race, everyone has asked me two things: Am I happy with my time? And will I run another marathon?

After some time to think and reflect, the answers are yes and yes.

Yes, I am happy with my time. I knew from the moment I set my goal that it was lofty, even if the course would have been flat. They say you should just be happy to FINISH your first marathon, and I am - especially now that I know the course is one of the hardest out there. I no longer feel foolish for choosing Akron as my first marathon - I feel like a badass.

Could I have started slower for a faster finish? Should I have conserved some of my energy for the last half? Maybe, but what's the fun in that? Back in January, Lauren Fleshman told me, "Go fast, take chances." And so I did. Don't regret it one bit.

And yes, there will be another marathon. I knew it the minute I crossed the finish line. BUT (this is a big BUT), it won't be any time soon. I loved the distance, but I also respect it. My body needs time to heal, and my mind needs time to recover. My family, home and work also deserve some of the attention they've been missing. Training for a race like this is a huge commitment, and it's one I'm not willing to agree to for at least a couple of years.

In the meantime, I have my medal, my memories, and a sweet new sticker for my car. I learned, once more, that we all can accomplish so much more than we ever imagined. We just have to try.

And we have to enjoy every moment, even when we're struggling. Because it means we're still alive. 

ALSO: Remember what Mary said. BEER is NEVER a bad idea. At least when you're at mile 19. ;)

In the end, I'm a marathoner. And I always will be.


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