Could I have been a marathon finisher?

Yes, I could and now I am!

If you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, you have already received confirmation that I completed my first marathon on Sunday, the 28th annual California International Marathon and I’m not sure it could have gone any better than it did.

Dave, Katie, Booger and I ventured our way up to Sacramento on Saturday afternoon, following a strict schedule I laid out in preparation for the race. We checked into our cute little two bedroom suite at the Residence Inn in downtown Sacramento, went to the expo to pick up our bibs, shirts and race packets, watched Despicable Me while trying to stay off our feet at the hotel and enjoyed a seriously delicious dinner at Cafeteria 15L across the street from our hotel. My shrimp scampi carb feast was delicious!

Derek and Dave at Cafeteria 15L

Someone is excited for tater tots and mac 'n' cheese

We went back to the hotel to finalize our race day outfits, gear and Gu, and were miraculously in bed by 9:30 PM! (on a Saturday night… wow.)

Protector of the bib

Alarm clocks started going off at 4 AM and by 4:30 AM we were up toasting bagels, munching on bananas, and chugging water and Gatorade. By 5 AM we were out the hotel door and on our way to the buses which shuttled us to the race start in Folsom. The 45 minute bus ride really made me realize how freaking far I was going to run because we kept driving and driving and driving, and I knew I was basically going to be running the entire way back to downtown Sacramento.

By 6:15 AM we were at the start and we had our own little camp out spot arranged near some quiet port-a-potties. For the next 40 minutes, we put the finishing touches on our gear, peed again and again, and did a little pre-race stretching. Dave departed for the front of the start line (’cause he’s fast) and I waited and waited and waited for Katie to finish peeing so we could go find our pace group. Eventually she came out of the port-a-pottie with about 5 minutes to spare and I scurried us to the 4:05 pace group. My goal finish time: between 4:05 and 4:10.

My race day 'fit

The race started at 7 AM and before I knew it, we were off and running (literally… obviously…) and my first marathon was officially underway.

The first 6 miles went by quick as Katie and I shared high 5’s after each mile marker. Our pace group was running 9:20 minute/miles, which felt slow given the excitement of the race. I anticipated this and knew I had to be disciplined. I could have easily started in the low 8:00’s but I knew it would catch up to me and that I wasn’t trained for 26 miles at that pace. So we stuck with it and watched the miles tick on by.

By mile 11, I had peed about 3 times, and Katie and I had fallen about 100 yards behind the pace group. I told her that by mile 12, I wanted to catch back up with them. Over the course of the next mile, through a series of rolling hills, I picked up the pace and rejoined the pace group. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I lost my dear friend and amazing supporter, Katie. I kept looking back for her, hoping she’d surprise me and catch back up too. I was strong enough to keep going though so I wished her well (wherever she was) and pushed onward.

As we passed the halfway point I felt strong and I was starting to feel optimistic that I was going to have a good race. I had done everything I could to prepare not only in 18 weeks of training but more specifically in the two days leading up to the race. I had some doubts given that some of my long runs (particularly my 21-miler) were tough. But thankfully those tough long runs prepared me for what was still to come. I knew what to expect in terms of wanting to just be done with it and learning how to shut off my brain and run.

Miles 13-18 continued to go well. The crowds started picking up and despite having awful weather the day and night before, the sun was out and we couldn’t have asked for better running conditions. Between miles 18 and 20, I started to mentally prepare myself for what was coming up. As many marathoners or running coaches will say, anyone can train to complete a 20 mile run, but it’s that extra 10k you slap on to the end of a marathon that really tests and challenges a runner.

I continued to pop back Gu’s left and right and drank fluids at every aid station, making sure I was hydrated and nourished. I told myself over and over that I was strong, prepared and that I would finish this race without killing myself. Over and over and over. Once I passed 21 miles, I knew was unchartered territory and I started taking it one mile at a time. And by that point I knew I had less than an hour left to run, which seemed like nothing after 3 hours.

I felt strong enough to seperate myself from the 4:05 pace group by about 20 yards. I wanted to stay out in front of them so in the event I started to crash, I could let them catch up to me and hopefully I could will myself to stick with them to the finish. Luckily this never happened and they never caught up with me. There were times I wanted to stop and walk, because my legs were tired, my right knee was aching and my left ankle was causing pain. But I knew if I stopped I might not be able to start back up again. So I just kept running.

The last 4 miles are pretty fuzzy. The thing I remember most is passing a lot of people. Runners who were obviously crashing. Maybe they had started out too fast, maybe they hadn’t trained properly or maybe they were just taking a break. The last mile I cheered myself on and started to go a little bonkers. I threw off my sweatbands that I had been wearing for almost 4 hours and enjoyed the final stretch passed the beautiful California Capitol building.

Apparently I looked right at Dave as I rounded the final corner but at that point I was so excited to be finishing strong and happy that I didn’t see him… or at my tired brain didn’t actually process that I was seeing him.

I (somehow) sprinted the final 20  yards and passed a few more people to finish with a chip time of 4:04:16.

This is what success looks like!

I was done and I felt great.

I stumbled my way through the finish area to get my medal, have a finisher’s photo taken and seek out the nearest massage tent. I enjoyed a nice long 20 minute massage, stood in line for cookies, bananas, pancakes, and trekked back to the hotel after not being able to find Katie or Dave. They were waiting for me back at the hotel (and Booger too!) and when I arrived we shared race stories as we stretched, moaned and hobbled around. We checked out a few hours later and hit up Five Guys for amazing hamburgers on our way back to SF (exhausted and drained). (Katie somehow mustered up the strength to go to Bikram Yoga that night! Crazy girl!)

All and all it was a great experience and like I said before, I couldn’t have asked for a better race. It went exactly as I had hoped. I probably could have gone a little faster and pushed myself a little harder (and probably would have experienced the joy of hitting the wall) but I wanted a good, enjoyable first race. One that would leave me wanting to do another…

Which is exactly what has happened… I want to do another one and I think I’m going to just continue my training. I don’t want to lose the “I’m addicted” feeling which I think so many people feel and then let go after they letting too much time pass.

So, stay tuned for details on marathon #2 where I will run under 4 hours! 🙂

11 responses to “Could I have been a marathon finisher?

  1. =) What an incredible post. Under 4 is totally in your reach, this I know. You are such an inspiration – something I don’t tell other people that often – and I now feel re-committed to the distance – and training for it the right way this next time around! So impressed. You couldn’t have asked for a better first time experience! Look at you – YOU DID IT!!

  2. I’m so proud of you! Had to get some tissues after reading it. xoxoxo

  3. Pingback: A long term goal – completed! « Katie Carroll

  4. I’m here by accident. I started reading and I must tell you that your blog is great. You are writing so many interesting things. I can’t agree with many of them, but it’s ok. I will probably visit your blog more often. I would like to use your words on my own blog. Is it posiible? – Paula

  5. I heart this post Derek!

    One thing I missed though – why was Katie at the hotel before you with Dave if she finished after you? Or did she race past you at some point without you noticing? 😉

    Sounds like a brilliant experience!!!

    But there’s no way I would ever run a marathon. X

  6. @Kersti – I took my sweet time after the race getting back to the hotel, particularly with the massage! Katie went straight for the pancakes and then right back to the hotel after she finished in 4:20! Dave finished in 2:58 – crazy.

  7. What?! I couldn’t run 5 miles in 2:58!

    In fact I couldn’t run 5 miles at all, I’d prob keel over after 2 miles…

  8. I got chills reading that! I am so incredibly happy for you! Congratulations!

  9. @Derek – are you implying that my finish time had something to do with an intense craving for pancakes?? 😉

  10. IMG_5940

    Finally posted the few pics I took of us that weekend! Weeee!

  11. Pingback: Starting over | Could I have been… a winemaker?

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