It’s taken me a little bit of time to be ready to write this recap and to be perfectly honest, I strongly considered skipping writing anything about this race at all. But since I’ve written about every race I’ve run since my first half marathon in 2013 (my first official race!) it would be weird to just stop now. Besides, being the sentimental sucker that I am, there might be a day (in the very far future) when I feel like reflecting and reminiscing on this race, and that would be a little tougher without my thoughts and memories written out and immortalized for the internet.
I had very high hopes for this race, my third marathon. I trained my ASS OFF. Literally (HA) and figuratively. It was my hope that throwing myself into training and really dedicating myself to running would pay off and I’d be able to redeem myself after a disappointing half marathon in Richmond this past November. I ran over 300 miles during training (the most out of any of my marathon cycles so far), I worked on adding long rounds of cardio (including indoor rowing, which I don’t really love), and tried to fuel myself better (baby steps were required here….). More than anything else, I felt like I put my heart into the training in a way that I’d never really done before. I didn’t miss a training run the entire time...even when I was sick and scheduled for an 18 miler, or had some kind of stomach thing and was down to my last 10k of training! I was sure all of this would pay off in the long run (pun intended).
The week leading up to the race was pretty stressful. I had some kind of really irritating stomach issue going on all week. Initially I thought I had some kind of stomach bug, but when it kind of slowly evolved into an annoying cramping, I realized it was probably some other kind of GI thing going on (Totally fun stuff, ya know). Lucy (my cat/child) was sick too…both of us were kind of struggling in the days leading up to the race and while I thought maybe that was a blessing in disguise because it kept my mind off stressing about the race and my big, huge PR goal (I’ll get to that in a minute) I don’t think it did me any favors at all. Mostly because my attitude towards the race was so detached and I wasn’t really mentally on race frequency the way I think I should have been.
To give a little bit of context on my goal, last year's Shamrock Marathon really surprised me. I kept getting faster and was hitting PRs in the gym and at the little races our group had signed up for as confidence builders, but I had no idea that I would be able to finish in 4:13, a huge 44 min PR. Actually, when Jim sent out the training plan in the Fall that had 4:15 as a tentative goal, I snap chatted it to my friends saying “Jim must be smoking crack if he thinks I can run a marathon in 4:15”. In the end, it turned out that he wasn’t, and I had a fast finish and a great race day that emboldened me to believe that if a 44 minute PR was possible when I had previously doubted it, maybe even bigger things were within my reach. Being only 13 minutes away from a sub 4 marathon really enticed me…and being the really sentimental freak that I am, I decided just sub 4 wasn’t good enough…I set my goal at 3:57 so that I’d be able to say I ran my third marathon an entire hour faster than the first one I ever ran back in 2014.
If that seems like an aggressive goal, it’s because it was. And if you’ve read this far into this recap, I’m sure you can surmise that I didn’t make it. And to be really real here, I almost didn’t even finish the race. Here’s the story of what happened on race day:
Race morning I woke up after a full night’s sleep somewhat groggy but pretty ready to go since I’d prepared all my things the day before. I was oddly calm (except for having to use the restroom a jillion times that morning) and although my stomach was hurting and I was having a hard time getting my pop tarts down, I felt ready to get out there and get going. The quicker the race started, the quicker I finished, which meant the faster I’d be eating a hopefully celebratory brunch….;)
After chatting with some friends who were waiting at the start to begin their relay legs, snapping a quick photo with Jim, and using the port-o-potty at least three times, it was finally time to line up! As soon as I saw people were seriously corralled (One City is a smaller race so it’s a less crazy formal staging area at the start) I internally freaked out because I didn’t kiss Jim and say good luck/good bye. I really wanted to do that before we started and I was kicking myself for not doing it when we took our photo. I couldn’t see him in the crowd so I sent a text for him to see when he got his phone after the race ended (he doesn’t run with his phone) and started my playlist.
For the first couple miles I stuck pretty close to the 4:00 pace group. They seemed to be going a little faster than I wanted to start (my first mile was an 8:50 split, way too fast) so I fell back a bit before losing them completely around mile 4 or so. Mile 5 was when I started to see people I knew along the course…I began to get excited when I passed the first relay stop and I saw some gym friends who were waiting to start or had just finished because I realized that I’d probably see someone I knew at least at every relay exchange since so many people from our gym were relay runners.
Miles 5-9 were alright. I was probably going a little faster than I should have and feeling almost TOO good. I normally struggle a little bit at the beginning of a longer race before settling in and hitting my stride, so it worried me a little bit that I already felt really good. You can’t feel good for the entirety of a marathon and I was afraid I was in the good part of it all way too early.
This portion of the race was cool though, because I got to run past the neighborhood I lived in when I first moved out on my own when I was 20, where I also found Lucy. That was really neat! Once I got to mile 9 or so, I was starting to feel kind of funky and it got worse when I ate my energy gel. I’ve trained with these gels so I don’t know what the issue was. I felt like the gel and any water I drank just sat on the top layer of my stomach.
Miles 10-12 were hard but wonderful. I lived in that neighborhood from age 11-20 and that home is where I lived the longest when I was growing up. I felt so many memories surfacing as I ran through this section of town, but also felt incredibly proud and grateful to get to run a race there. I would have neverthought back when I lived at home that one day I’d be running a marathon at all, much less my THIRD. I saw my mom within this stretch and she gave me a hug and told me I was doing great. I cried (of course) and kept it moving through some rolling hills towards the halfway point.
At the half, I saw a bunch of friends, again at one of the relay stops. This was a pretty bright spot for me, but it was probably the point where things really started going downhill. I’d looked forward to running this stretch of the race because this was the part that I ran pretty frequently throughout training. During a lot of my super long runs I’d run past the Mile 14 sign and either pretend it was the mile 24 and I was close to the finish line, OR I’d imagine what it might feel like to be cruising past the sign on race day loving life like I was around that mile marker at the Shamrock.
Unfortunately, this time I was NOT loving life. My stomach felt really full and I tried to drink water or gatorade and eat gels but it just made me feel like a tubby sloth. I kept trucking along hoping that somehow I’d get a second wind closer to the end of the race (mile 19 was one of my fastest at the Shamrock) and looked forward to seeing more friends along the course.
And see more friends, I did! This was amazing and what truly made the day something special and worth remembering. One of my best friends (and neighbors) waited outside our place to wave at me. I remember thinking “how unique is it that I could literally stop and use my own bathroom at this race?? That never happens”. I also ran into a few other people, including my friends Amy and Jason and their daughter, who had some clif bloks ready for me since I mis-calculated or mis-read where the gu was on the official course.
My condition started to really deteriorate after that. I was physically hurting pretty badly and I was also basically barfing/spitting up amber colored liquid that tasted of stomach acid. I was almost to Mile 20 where my friend Kelsey was waiting with my canned bio freeze when Cortney (who is a dear sweet angel and life saver) caught up to me. I knew I was running pretty slow and I figured at some point she’d catch me and it was almost a relief when she finally did. Her team was running a bit behind me (I beat them to both prior relay exchanges) but Cortney is pretty fast so I knew she would probably catch me since I had slowed considerably since I’d seen her waiting to start back at the halfway point.
At this point, I was seriously contemplating quitting and seeking medical attention. I’d toughed it out for over 20 miles and my stomach situation was pretty terrible and my legs were hurting pretty badly. I was feeling super light headed and weird too. Everything seemed way too bright and I was feeling faint. I really felt no shame in giving up since I had fought so hard already but Cortney took over and ran with me, even continuing on after her leg finished and she had handed the tracking device over to her husband who was the last runner of their relay. Her determination filled in for mine, which had completely evaporated somewhere along the way. She took the option of quitting off the table.
Cort and I ran together a lot throughout training and many of those miles were filled with tons of chatting and conversations about all kinds of things, but as we trucked along slowly from miles 22-26, we stayed pretty quiet, both of us in a lot of pain.
I was a mess. Whimpering, sniffling, complaining. “I don’t think I’m gonna make it,” I moaned. “You will,” Cort said “I’m not going to let you quit because you would hate yourself if you did”. She’d planned to run with me for a while to keep me going, but at a certain point we both realized she had to finish with me because she was already too far away from her car and the only thing left to do was make it to the end.
We continued to run in silence. It took a lot of effort to just keep moving so making conversation was pretty tough. Running through downtown Newport News would ordinarily be pretty freaking bleak, but this day it was downright miserable with the wind picking up and our bodies screaming for rest.
Eventually we turned a corner and there was the home stretch. Quite a distance away (but still within my very poor eyesight) I could see the end of the road where we’d finally turn right to make our last sprint to the finish. Knowing the end of all this pain was near gave me that bit of extra energy I needed to push myself a little harder toward the end. Cortney and I separated somewhere around here so when I finally made that last right turn and began to approach the finish line, I was alone again.
It was such a surreal moment to finally be finishing. I was WAY behind my target time (like 34 min behind my big goal and 18 min behind last year’s PR) but I wasn’t even mad. I was raging at the end of Richmond, completely furious with myself and my body. But here at the finish line of the One City (finishing so slowly my boyfriend and friends were concerned I might have been in the back of an ambulance somewhere) rather than being mad, I was strangely calm and just relieved to be done. And also slightly frustrated because a relay runner who was just kind of casually jogging along ran right between me and all of the friends who were waiting on the right side of the finish line barrier so I literally never got to see any of them. It was not the finish I’d imagined for myself at all.
But I made it. And in true Katie style, I put the last of my energy into a sprint across the finish line.
When I finished, I took my medal and looked around for Cortney because I knew she was still back there. I knew she was still coming. It was important to me to see her cross the finish line because I knew I probably owed my crossing of the finish line to her determination to not let me quit.
“Where’s Cortney? Cortney’s still coming. She’s back there somewhere” I said hurriedly to the friends who’d come over to congratulate me on finishing.
They all thought I was asking for Jim, who was right behind them, but I knew he was there. I didn’t know where my friend was, and I needed to see her so I could thank her and hug her.
When she crossed the finish line I burst into tears and gave her a long hug. I once had thought that this race was going to be a story of redemption of sorts. I thought I was going to fly across the finish line in record time and prove that I’m a total bad ass, a “real” runner, or something else like that. But it turned out that the real story of this race wasn’t about redemption at all. It was one of friendship. And of love.
Real love happens in all kinds of relationships. Between family, in romantic relationships, and in friendships. For my friend to put her own pain from running a hard run race to the side to keep me from quitting was a true representation of selfless love.
After most of my races I really like to take some time to reflect on what I learned. Usually that’s something I discovered about myself throughout the training process and the climax of race day, but this time what I learned isn’t about me at all. It’s not about my shitty performance, my terrible time, or even about how heartbreaking it is to feel like I wasted so many hours of training only to fall short of my goal. It’s about that kind of selfless love that my friend gave to me in those last four miles. I will cherish that forever and also do my best to honor it by trying to be the kind of person who shows up and shares their strength when someone else really needs it.
I’m proud to say I’m a three time marathoner. And I’m proud that I went for my big, audacious, scary goal even though it wasn’t as attainable as I’d thought. But most of all, I’m just really grateful to have a lot of amazing people in my life. That’s the true indication of a life well lived…not PRs, fast race times, or any of that other stuff. It’s people. And it’s love.