As I start to write this, I can already tell it's going to be hard to accurately describe all the emotions, experiences, and thoughts on marathon day. It was like no other experience I have ever had in my life. I can't say how thankful I am that I decided to give this a shot. It has done more than make me a more physically fit adult, it has changed my life forever. This one moment in time will forever be etched in my memory as one of my greatest accomplishments and proudest moments. Who knew that 10 months ago I would have come this far in my running career? I am not even a year old in running years!
Race day started about 5 AM with much anticipation, nerves, and an uneasy stomach. I started the morning off right with a cup of coffee, an english muffin, peanut butter, and a banana. My pre-run meals have always consisted of some sort of peanut butter and whole grain bread combination. It's safe and I love eating peanut butter so it's a win-win for me.
After grubbing down and applying the Body Glide in the oh-so strategic places on my body, it was time to go through last minute preparations with my parents. We were all marathon rookies this past weekend so it was a learning experience for not only me, but my mom, dad, and little brother as well. We had briefly discussed a tentative plan for race day the evening before the race, but it was reassuring to go over it again so I could mentally prepare myself for when I might see them and know I had a bag of runner's goodies waiting if I needed anything. The bag I packed for my parents to carry around included a banana, ankle brace, headband, gatorade, GU Roctane packets, cookies, pretzels, peanut butter M&M's, and just about anything else I could imagine needing along the way. It was definitely comforting knowing that I had this bag at my disposal along the course and was one of many ways my parents became a big part of my marathon journey.
About 6:30AM I headed downstairs and caught the shuttle to the starting line which proved to be a very smart move after hearing the horror stories of people getting stuck in traffic and missing the start of the race the previous year. I stayed at the host hotel for this race as a way to reduce the complications on race morning because I knew my nerves were going to be out of control anyway. I didn't need any screw-ups an hour before the race to make me even more excited and nervous. The shuttle ride to the starting line was quite enjoyable. I ended up sitting with a guy from Oklahoma and his wife and mother-in-law were in the seats in front of us. It allowed me to chat for a bit and take my mind off the race. It was a good distraction because as soon as I stepped off the bus my heart started racing and my stomach started churning. The first order of business was to find a bathroom and start the long wait to get one last shot at emptying the system before I stepped foot on the course. It was fun to listen to stories while waiting in line and do a few stretches since I had the space. After going to the restroom I found a spot on the floor inside the American Airlines Center and finished my stretching routine and tried to calm the nerves. I used a lot of self-talk on Sunday and it definitely calmed me down. I also brought my phone which allowed me to text my Mom and she was encouraging and sympathetic just as most mothers are when you need them most.
About 30 minutes before the starting gun, I made my way outside to find my wave corral and line up for the big start. At this point, it was all I could do to keep from pacing back and forth trying to work off the nervous energy. I was trying to just take deep breaths and stay calm. The moment was almost here. All that hard work, all those early mornings, and all of those doubts were about to be put to the test. I was still unsure how my Achilles would hold out because I hadn't run for 2 weeks and I didn't even get through my entire training plan. I was nervous I wasn't prepared. I was nervous I would hurt the entire run and it would be miserable. I never really thought I wouldn't finish as I waited in the corral which was reassuring. I knew I would finish. I just wasn't sure what the journey would be like along the way. The next thing I know, it's time to go. No more time for thinking. It was time to put it all together and give it my best.
Being in the midst of 20,000 people is an experience all by itself. The fact that you are all running in the same direction is something special. I am not a huge fan of the first few miles of a race due to all the dodging and confusion, but it is part of the race experience and it's at least fun to see the masses in front of and behind you. Here is a pic my brother took before the first turn:
The good part about the first 1/2 mile was the wideness of the streets but they soon narrowed and everything became a bit crowded until the half marathon participants turned off the marathon course about 6 miles into the race. Up until 6 miles, it was just elbow to elbow people and not a lot of room to get into a rhythm. The positive side of it was that you never had a chance to overdo it early in the race. My pace was pretty close to what I wanted it to be so I just enjoyed the scenery and looked forward to the half marathon people going their own direction.
After the half marathon runners veered off the course, it definitely opened up the roads and gave you more room to run your own race. I didn't sign up for a pace group but knew that I wanted to be somewhere in the 4:00 or 4:15 range if at all possible. Early on, I knew it wasn't smart to push for the 4:00 pace so I shifted goals to 4:15 as I got a better feel for my pacing, fitness, and physical capabilities. Miles 7 (9:11), 8 (8:58), and 9 (9:00) were a bit too fast for that early in the race, but I think the excitement of having the room to run and the fact that I actually felt really good and wasn't having any pain in my Achilles led to my faster pace. The faster pace actually probably helped in the long run, because at mile 10, I had to make a pit stop and use the porta-potty along the course. I was about to wet my pants if I didn't find a stop soon so the 1 or 2 minute delay was well worth the time in the grand scheme of things.
Mile 10 is where we hit White Rock Lake in northeast Dallas. The lake provided a familiar backdrop because I did the majority of my training runs at Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City. I was used to the narrower trails and the constant cool breeze coming off of the lake. It was also pretty lonely on the lake as far as spectators go so it was definitely a mental hurdle as you tried to motivate yourself instead of relying on someone else yelling "Go Bryan, you can do it!"
Mile 12 was where I saw my parents for the 2nd time and it came at a time when I needed some help. At a water stop just before I noticed my parents, I got water splashed in my face and my contact in my left eye was washed out of it's place and was in the upper corner of my eye. I kept running by people asking if they had a mirror but for some reason no woman had a pocket mirror in her purse. Then I saw my mom and I knew she could help me out. She was able to fish my contact out of my eye and put it back in place so I could continue on in my journey. I also saw a guy from my local gym on the side of the course about the same time and he ran with me for a bit talking to me and asking me how I felt. It was great that he showed interest and ran with me for a bit. I have never talked to him at the gym. We have been going to the same gym for months now, but never really had a reason to talk. Now we do. It will be nice to have another runner-savvy friend to chat with at the gym. Here are a couple of pics from mile 12 :
Mile 14, 15, and 16 all went by without a hitch, but I could tell that 10 more miles was going to be tough. I wasn't overly tired, but my legs were starting to get a bit heavy and the mental obstacle of never having ran over 18 miles before was looming large in my mind. Plus, as noted before, the lake was lonely. I knew I wouldn't be seeing my parents anytime soon and the cool breeze coming off the lake wasn't too comforting on a sweat-soaked shirt.
Mile 18 is when it hit me pretty hard that it was going to be really tough the rest of the way. By this time my calf muscles were really starting to tighten up and it felt like I had bricks attached to the back of my legs. No step was very pleasant, but I wasn't to the point of cramping so I kept pushing forward. Mile 18 was also when one of my left toenails came off and I felt it all the way through my body. It was pretty tender for the next mile or two, but eventually it settled down and stopped throbbing.
Judging by my mile splits, this was the toughest part of the race for me. I will also say from experience, it definitely was the the toughest segment both mentally and physically. Mile 19 is when we started the climb out of the lake area into the surrounding neighborhoods and was really the only time I seriously contemplated walking. The hills weren't steep, they were just long and steady. I really felt like I was crawling at times and a lot of people around me were stopping to walk so it was tempting at the time. Knowing that I needed to keep pace to be able to break the 4:15 mark, I told myself to suck it up and get over it. I knew I only had 6 miles to go which meant I had less than an hour left.
Like angels sent from heaven, my parents popped out of nowhere at mile 22. When I saw them at mile 12 they told me they weren't sure if they would see me again until the finish line because the traffic was really bad and they didn't want to miss getting back to the end to see my finish. I had already mentally checked them off my list for the rest of the race, but when I saw them at mile 22 it put the biggest smile on my face. I was struggling and my calf muscles felt like they were going to explode. I needed to see a friendly face and my Dad told me to not give up and keep going. He said, "You are almost there, just keep going!" I gave him a thumbs-up and kept trucking along with a smile on my face. Here is the pic from mile 22, only 4.2 miles left :
It's really indescribable how mentally and physically tasking the last 4.2 miles of the marathon are unless you have ran one yourself. The added boost from my parents helped, but it was a constant battle of mind over body. My calf muscles were on the verge of cramping, my arches in my feet were on the verge of cramping, my toenails were throbbing, my back and shoulders ached, my body ached. I felt like I was just one more step away from completely falling apart. I watched people beside me cramp up and have to stop. I saw people in tears as they couldn't keep up their pace. I saw people realize their dream of finishing had suddenly vanished. I was thankful for every next step I could take, but I hated it at the same time. I knew I could finish if my body would cooperate, but sometimes your body just takes over and you can't do anything to stop it. Mile after mile I got closer to the end and my spirits kept lifting. I told myself I could do it. I told myself not to stop. I told myself to keep it together. I told myself to look around and see I wasn't alone. I told myself that if he or she can do it, I can too. I was going to finish.
As I hit downtown Dallas, I was overcome with joy. I found a sudden burst of energy and I wound my way towards the end. I heard the crowd. I knew I was close. I also heard my brother yell from behind me and I turned to see him running along the side of the road to catch up. I was almost there. Step after step my smile got bigger and bigger. This really was happening. I had done it. I was going to finish my first full marathon. The feelings I experienced as I stepped across that finish line are priceless to me. It's such a special moment in my life that I will never forget. It's a point in time that I will look back on when I am old and still be able to describe the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions. I am a marathoner.
Post-race was even more special than the actual finish. After getting my shirt, finisher medal, finisher picture, and food from the runner's village, I started looking for my parents. I ended up getting in touch with them and we agreed to meet inside American Airlines Center at section 114. As I turned the corner and saw my folks, they had the biggest smiles on their faces and came running to me to hug me. It's been a long time since I have seen that much pride and joy in my parent's faces. I had just shared the most amazing experience of my life with my mom, dad, and little brother. It felt great to see how much they cared and how proud they were to be a part of it. I felt overly blessed to be able to share my journey with them and see how much it meant to them. I am actually tearing up thinking about it right now. If I could have taken a picture of their faces at that moment, it would be framed and on my mantle right now.
After exiting the arena, we made the trek back to the hotel and the walking helped loosen me up a tiny bit. My calf muscles cramped up a few times on the walk and still hurt today. I took an ice bath as soon as I got back to the hotel to help calm down some of the inflammation and tried to eat as much as I could although I wasn't overly hungry. Here is a pic of my lovely ice bath back in the hotel:
Sleeping Sunday night was not pleasant because it wasn't comfortable to lay in one spot for too long, but the ill effects from the marathon are starting to wear off and I am now in full recovery mode. I start back to work tomorrow and look forward to showing off my race medal and sharing my experience with the coworkers.
Looking back now, I wouldn't change anything about this race and am still as happy today as I was on Sunday evening. I haven't stopped smiling and am really starting to look ahead at my goals for next year. I feel motivated and ready to tackle another challenge. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on the blog and I look forward to making this a regular part of my life. The goal in the meantime is to get healthy, establish a good running base, and stay active.
I will update soon with my goals for next year and hopefully have an exciting race schedule planned out with a few more surprises.
Dallas White Rock Marathon : 4:14:14 (9:42 pace)