So I guess I’ll start from the beginning: the day before the race I arrived in Charlottesville to my boyfriend’s apartment on Friday afternoon and wanted to keep it low key. I felt pretty good, not too nervous! I told Matt that I was actually nervous about the fact that I wasn’t MORE nervous – trippy, right? I went out to dinner on the downtown mall with my parents who got into town that night, had some basic spaghetti and meatballs, and then went back to Matt’s apartment where the plan was to watch a movie and do some last minute prep. Unfortunately (or perhaps luckily) I was already getting pretty tired, so no movie for me and by the time I laid everything out for the next morning, it was bed time around 9:30pm. I slept surprisingly well, waking up at 3:15am (an hour before my alarm) at was sort of annoying though. Even though I managed to fall back asleep, it was one of those light sleeps where I would wake up every 10 minutes worried I’d miss my alarm. By 4:15am, I was up. 6-7 hours of sleep the night before a race, nice, I’ll take it!
After splashing water on my face and started to change into my race clothes, I comprehended the fact that I was going to try to run a marathon… today… like, in 2 hours… All of the training I did had been amazing, even with the minor road bumps, but now that it was going to be race time, yikes! That’s a whole other story. It’s one thing to follow a training plan, but another thing entirely to take everything you’ve learned, worked for, and built up to and put it to the test in one big, important, publicized 26.2 mile run. I reminded myself to just go out there and have fun. Start out easy so you don’t burn out, and dig deep at the end, you have prepared for this and you can do it. After eating my pre-race bagel, half a banana, and guzzling water, it was 5:15am and time for Matt to drive me over to the start! The 3 minute drive from Matt’s apartment to the race start goes on the race course, which looked strange with all the cones and arrows set out in the darkness and no one around. I’ll be running here in a few short hours, literally on this very road, I told myself.
Waiting for the start at Main Street Arena was nice and peaceful. I was able to drink some water, look at the course map one more time, listen to some music, and use the bathroom. The course start was only about 20 yards from the arena, so everything felt very put together and I wasn’t feeling nervous about something going wrong. At 6:15am, 15 minutes before race time, I had a chocolate Gu. I was already pretty awake with all the adrenaline and nerves, but the caffeine in the Gu really helps. The weather was absolutely perfect, I thought it might be too cold, but at the start it must’ve been upper 30s (which sounds cold, but it perfect when you’ll be running for a long time). I had capris, a short sleeve shirt, and a long sleeve shirt on top, which I would end up shedding by mile 1.5 anyways. The race was apparently capped at 3500 runners for the marathon, half, and 8k combined, but it didn’t feel like that many people at the full and half marathon start at 6:30. I was expecting not to even cross the start line for maybe 15 minutes due to all the people in front of me, but I was crossed about 4 minutes after the gun (for non-runners, there is a chip in the bib with your number on it, that chip records each racer’s individual time, so when I cross the start line, my chip time starts, which is why it’s no big deal if it takes me a few minutes from the gun being fired to crossing the start line, because my official time won’t start till I do!)
Miles 0-2: It was happening, the race had started! I felt calm and collected. There were lots of people passing me as I took it easy with my pace, but 80% of them were running the half marathon, so there pace would generally be faster anyways. I just held true to my own pace and reminded myself I wasn’t trying to win the race. Mile 1 came up fast, 11 min/mile flat. I was hoping for 10-10:30 min/miles, so this was a perfect warm up pace. We passed by the Rotunda on the left, which I had seen hundreds and hundreds of times, but others around me were seeing for the first or second time and admiring it. I smiled as I realized how luckily I was to go to school here and how much I missed it! Onto Rugby Road, another familiar place, a route I had walked and ran along countless times. Everything looked so pretty at sunrise.
Miles 3-6: This part of the course was an out-and-back on Old Garth Road, which is miles of beautiful farm land and gorgeous houses. I mean it was seriously breathtaking with the sun just coming up and dew still on the grass. Since it was an out-and-back, one half of the road was people running up to the turnaround and the other half was the faster people already coming back. It was cool to see all the super lean elite athletes already coming back the other direction who were already miles ahead of the rest of us, going toward a Personal Record (PR) and a Boston Qualifying time. Even though it’s something I’d never be able to do, it still brought great pride to be running on the same course, the same distance as these athletes.
Miles 7-10: Mile 7 was the turnaround point and also a nice easy slight downhill. Heading back toward the center after a turnaround is always a nice feeling, it’s like you’re done with that part of the course, time to move on! There were tons of people around at this point, since it was full marathoners and half marathoners, but I really only saw one or two marathoners around me (the bib colors were different, so you were able to tell who was doing what). I was feeling nice and strong at this point. I took another Gu at mile 8, since I decided to take them every 4 miles (I took a chocolate at mile 4 and vanilla bean at mile 8), and was just trying to let gravity work as I strode down the hill and reminded myself repeatedly to hold back so that I’d have enough energy to keep going later on.
Miles 11-13: Still feeling wonderful and was glad that at I got into the double digit miles. I reminded myself that I did 12 mile “easy long runs” all the time, and this was a piece of cake. No huffing and puffing, no intense sweating, just moving and breathing. As I got farther into mile 11 and closer to the UVA grounds, I got more excited because my fan club was going to be stationed at mile 12 as their first spot to cheer me on. As I came up a little hill, I could see the adorable signs my mom made for me and another big sign that said MARATHON MOLLY in bright red. It was my mom, dad, Matt, and his mom Kathy! I was so happy to see them! I handed off my long sleeve shirt, slowed down to a walk and told them I was feeling great. It was a great mental boost to see my loved ones!
Another nice slight downhill where I could just relax and let gravity do most of the work. It was the final stretch for the half marathoners and the course was about to split. As we got to the end of the hill and rounded a corner, you could see the split. To the right, the half marathoners finish line, where 80% of the runners up ahead were going with great determination, and to the left big signs that said MARATHON ONLY and a trickle of runners jogging at a steady, controlled pace – we still had a ways to go. We were halfway done, but pretty soon it would seem like we were only barely starting the race…
Miles 14-17: The course was now sparse, not many runners around at all. The closest runner I could see was about 50+ yards in front of me, and another one 50+ yards in front of him. This would be the test of mental strength and pacing, I thought, but at the same time, it would feel more like just a regular solo weekend run, so maybe it would be good and help me relax and take my mind off the race. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, time started to stand still. I no longer felt like I was seeing mile markers at the same speed I was before, even though I was running at the same pace. This part of the course was the second out-and-back section, but it was so much different from the first because the amount of runners had just gone from the thousands with all the half marathoners at the beginning to maybe a hundred by the time I was running there and all of the faster runners had been long gone. I had run much farther than this on many occasions, but I was feeling like the miles just weren’t coming up fast enough! This was about the time I turned to my iPod to think about something else and get myself pumped back up. I also was becoming aware that there wasn’t any way I would finish in the time I had hoped for. I had a pace band on that I ripped off so that I wouldn’t have to be bothered by the fact that I wasn’t going to finish that fast anymore.
Somewhere around mile 17 did I start to feel like I should’ve been at mile 22 or something. The second half was significantly longerrrrr than the first half of the race. As a co-worker told me the day before the race, “a marathon isn’t like two half marathons back-to-back… it’s like three,” and wow, he was turning out to be exactly right!
Miles 18-21: Finally I was past the turnaround and getting closer to my next fan club sighting at mile 19. As I came to the bottom of a slight hill, I could see my parents, Matt, and Kathy up ahead from the signs they were holding. I held my pace steady, focused my mind, and made it to them. This time I didn’t stop running though, since I had just run up a hill, my legs needed to keep moving or they would stiffen up. This time it was a smile, and a comment on how I was mentally feeling great, but my legs (my quads mainly, and sometimes my calves) were feeling very sore! I was basically running alone at this point, so it was so nice to see my family at that time. As I pushed on, I was approaching mile 20, time for another Gu, and only a 10K (6.2 miles) to go, no stopping now. I spotted my parents again, they were alone this time and managed to catch me! It was basically just us 3 and a race volunteer up ahead directing me in the right direction. My parents were able to refill 2 of my Fuel belt bottles with water, and I was so surprised to see them there it took my mind off the race if only for a moment. The race volunteer wished me luck, and my parents said they would see me at the finish. Wow, the finish…
Miles 22-24: This part of the race was 2 miles of flat bike path alongside the Rivanna river, which despite my whole time in college at UVA, I had never seen. Matt said he had been there once to go fishing with a buddy, but he didn’t mention how gorgeous it was! There were people walking along the trail, some confused by us runners barely moving along, and others genuinely impressed when they saw our race bibs. There was a girl around my age about 100 yards in front of me, and a woman a little older than my parents a ways behind me. Besides those 2 runners, there wasn’t anyone else in sight except for a man I came upon toward the end of the trail and passed. I tried to spend these miles reflecting on the scenery, looking at the river and animals around me, but even this 2 mile section felt like it was 4 miles long. Pretty soon, I could see the end of the trail and two race volunteers up ahead, directing the girl a ways in front of me to the left up a hill and toward the next part of the course. She stopped to walk because it was a steep, gravel incline. I tried to keep running but when I realized my “running” would’ve been the same speed as speed walking, I gave my legs a small rest and walked as quickly as I could up the hill. Mile 24 was spray painted on the trail in front of me. I am going to make it, I really am, I thought to myself. Even if I trip and re-sprain my ankle at this point, I could hobble to the finish line from here. At the top of the hill was a water station, where I stopped again to drink some water. The hilliest part of the course was coming up, and was right around the corner. I walked and finished my water, looked up the hilly road I was about to ascend and wait… 25! Was that the 25 mile marker? Oh no, I was slightly delirious… that was a “Speed Limit 25” sign… not quite to mile 25 yet…
Miles 25-26.2: This time I passed the real 25 mile marker. No, SERIOUSLY, I am going to MAKE IT. It was some sort of inverse property effect – I was becoming more confident the more physically worn down I was getting. A race volunteer was up ahead directing me to make a sharp left turn. I took my headphones out and asked her, “how much farther?” she said I was so close, only 2/5 of a mile left. I did the math in my head, 0.4 miles. That means I was 0.2 from 26 and then only 0.2 left. My head was racing with thoughts, alternating between, “I can’t believe it,” “this is really happening,” and “I am going to do this, I really am.” I passed the 26 painted on the ground and I could make out the finish chute ahead. I passed the last intersection where a cop pointed me up the last incline and said, “there is the finish!” and a kind woman who was spectating looked at me and beamed, “congratulations!” I smiled and thanked her, but wait… I hadn’t finished yet! Oh, but I was GOING TO FINISH. That preemptive ‘congratulations’ was enough for me to dig deep, take my mind off my tired legs, speed up (even if only a tiny bit) as I raised my hands in the air and passed the finish line with my fan club looking on and cheering so loud and proud!
I felt great. All of it was worth it. I was bummed with my time – I was hoping to finish in 4 and a half hours, but finished in 5 hours and 4 minutes (an 11:44 min/mile pace). I couldn’t believe I went over 5 hours, but that feeling of regret was short-lived at the moment when my family and friends were there hugging me and congratulating me. I felt amazing! I had finished a marathon! Matt’s sister Jenna pointed out that my legs were shaking. I looked down and she was right. I was smiling and shaking! I guess that’s what happens when you just stop running after hours and hours. My muscles were still moving even though I had stopped! I don’t think I stopped smiling for half an hour after that as I got my chocolate milk, some pizza, and finally sat down to rip my shoes off. Not much damage was done to my body either. No chaffing anywhere, only 2 (one was really big on my toe) blisters on my feet, no lost toenails, no blood. I only thought I might throw up at one point during the race but that was because my belly was so full of Gu, water, and Gatorade that I stopped taking any Gu after the one at mile 20. Of course my legs were sore, but all things considered, I had finished in one piece and felt good!
On one hand I’m glad I walked as much as I did on the hills and that I was cautious with my pacing, and on the other hand, I wish I had been able to get the time I wanted to. It may sound silly to some, but I was (and still am to some extent) embarrassed about my finish time. I didn’t want to post a picture of me coming through the finishing chute because you could see that the clock said over 5 hours on it. I have to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t and couldn’t be ashamed of the fact that I finished a marathon, because… I FINISHED A MARATHON. As some friends reminded me, “You were a winner as soon as you started the race” and “You’re a marathoner! Nothing can change that, ever!” Not to mention, another reminded me that I went into the race with a lot of adversity, dealing with a cold and fighting an injury. I had also been warned repeatedly by all sorts of people that the Charlottesville course is not a good one for first-timers, nor is it a good place for runners trying to get a best time. So the fact that I did this course as my FIRST marathon, after spraining my ankle a month before the race, and getting a cold the week of the race, and finished the race, I think I have a whole lot to be proud of.
So what’s next? My mom asked if at any point in the race I felt like I thought I couldn’t do it. The honest answer is no, not really actually. It was more of the opposite, the closer I got to the end, the more my confidence built up that I was actually going to finish. Would I run another marathon? Yes! I knew by mile 25 that I wouldn’t rule out another marathon and a little after that I knew I’d definitely want to do another one. I now have my baseline time to beat, and next time, it’ll be a flatter course! When will I do another marathon? I’m still deciding. I want to give myself a week to relax and recover before making any commitments. I am looking into doing a Richmond race in November (known for being nice and flat), but whether I’ll do the marathon or the half marathon is to be decided later! For now, I bask in the glory of what I have accomplished!
Thank you to everyone who supported me through all my training, and of course, thanks for reading my blog! I’ll be writing about my rest and recovery, as well as what my future marathon plans are as soon as I know!