Wow...I don't know where to begin to try and capture the experience of my first marathon. The week before went fast. I kept getting concerned because I wasn't nervous. I didn't really get nervous either, until the night before when I watched the virtual tour of the marathon on Pittsburghlive.com. The fact that the guy said something to the effect of-if you want to know what it feels like to run at mile 25 of the marathon, just step in front of a bus, because it feels the same-was enough to make my heart flutter a bit! I also think I mostly just felt really ready. I felt secure that I did everything I could do to prepare myself. I started eating carbs a few days before. I tried to get good sleep. I did start to experience cold symptoms-sore throat, dizzy, swollen glands, achy, and really tired. But, with prayer, rest, and a lot of water I began to feel better Saturday. Sunday I felt 100%.
Josh and I traveled to Pittsburgh Friday evening. Saturday, I had pancakes for breakfast and then we (and his mom) went to the expo to pick up my registration packet. I got a bag full of goodies-socks, chafing cream, Nugo bar, etc. I also picked up Morgan's for her since she decided to run it two days before! It was at the expo that I began to feel the excitement of the city. There was just this buzz of energy and anticipation. That night I made chicken stuffed shells, salad, and bread. We had strawberry Boston cream pie for dessert. We made a game plan of where everyone would be throughout the course, so I would know where to expect to see people. It kind of felt like we were soldiers planning strategy for a war. After dinner we watched Spirit of the Marathon...my friend Tasha gave it to me to watch. It was inspiring. As we watched I prepared my stuff-put my timing chip on my shoe, pinned my bib number on my shirt, etc. Before going to bed around 11:45, I talked to my family to make sure they were set to go. Lights out right before midnight.
I barely slept, but I expected this, so it was no big deal. The most important night for sleep before a race is two nights before. My alarm went off at 4:15am. I showered, got dressed and ate a whole bagel with peanut butter, a banana, and a glass of milk. Out the door by 5:10 and on our way. We parked at 5:30. Joey, and Josh, and me sat in the car until almost 6:00am, at which point I was elated that I had to go "number two". Any runner will understand this! We then stood around the starting area, waiting for Morgan to arrive, watching the crowd grow and grow. I found Morgan shortly after 6:00. At 7:00 we went and stood with the 4 hour pacer group. When the gun went off at the start, I didn't even know it, because we were so far back. I only knew we had started walking toward the starting line. All the sudden we were running, and then I realized-this is it...this is the marathon!
The first 7 miles flew by because it was insane. It was so packed. We barely saw Josh and Joey at mile 3ish. Morgan and I fought to stay next to each other, and tried our best to keep Pacer Jeff in our sights, though it was difficult because we kept getting cutoff. Everyone literally was stepping on each other, elbowing each other, and eventually we all stopped apologizing for it! It was crazy. But, after mile 7 it spread out a little. We saw Josh and Joey again at mile 10 where we threw our sweatshirts to them. I ate my first gel pack at about 1 hour and 15 minutes because I was feeling hungry.
My knee started bothering me early on, and by mile 10ish it began to randomly give out. I could care less though...I worked too hard to quit now. Right after mile 10 Morgan and I had to stop at the porta-potty to pee. It took two minutes just to get into one. When we got out I knew we would have to book it to catch up to Pacer Jeff. This just happened to be the point in the race that really climbed up hill. It took two miles for me to catch the group, and I lost Morgan along the way. I got nervous, using all that energy up a hill, worrying that I might get too tired for the rest of the race. But, at the same time I knew I needed Pacer Jeff to push me beyond my comfort zone. It was harder than I thought to maintain 9:10 minute miles. Finally, I caught up, and just hoped that Morgan would eventually too. I didn't see her again 'til the end.
At mile 13 I saw my mom, dad, and two sisters. I was so excited to find them (though I couldn't miss them with my mom's pink boa, and giant pink heart-shaped sunglasses!). After passing, them I began to cry. It was between mile 14 and 20 that the pain really set in. I didn't see anyone I knew between those miles and I began to feel alone. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and pushed away the thoughts that I might not be able to do it. At mile 20 I saw Josh's mom, dad, and Aunt Martha. I cried after seeing them too. And then Josh's sister Rae a few miles later...more tears. But, after passing mile 20 I knew I could do it. Pacer Jeff encouraged anyone who felt "good" to step it up a little. That wasn't me! At mile 23 after the fluid station I found myself a little bit in front of Pacer Jeff. I begin to feel myself get into "the zone". I was picking up speed and kept thinking-'Am I really doing this? Am I going faster?!' I saw my friend Kristin and her dad just after mile 25 and she told me to "go!go!go!", so I did. Once I saw mile marker 26 I was booking it, and it felt more like my speed workouts. I had no fear at that point and I felt awesome. Everyone was screaming at the finishing line and I heard the announcer call my name...well, he said Heidi "Pie", but close enough! I crossed at 3:57:54...and then it was over.
People were handing me water, sports drinks, bagels, a big foil blanket, and I was trying to walk forward as best I could. I saw no one around me that I knew. The pain and nausea began to set-in and I started to cry. I cried because it hurt, but I also cried because it was sooo awesome. Soon Josh was there and he was crying too, saying he was so proud of me.
It turns out my parents didn't make it to the finish because they couldn't find any parking. But, Josh was there with Joey, and my sister Jaynelle. Kristin and her dad caught up with us, and we waited to see Morgan cross the finish at 4:41:55. Afterwards, Morgs and I hugged goodbye telling each other how proud we were of one another, and the we met the Brumbaugh family back at Josh's parents for a spaghetti dinner. I immediately showered and had a cup of tea, and by then my stomach was settled enough to eat with everyone.
I think the biggest challenge of the race was running through the pain of my knee, and drinking at every fluid station (every two miles or so). At half way I started drinking a cup of sports drink and a cup of water. Sometimes it was all I could do to get it down, but I knew my body needed it. I ate my second gel packet at like 2 hours and 45 minutes. I ate some oranges when they were offered, but I skipped the people handing out small cups of beer....ew! 2 or 3 times I accepted the sticks of Vaseline that were being handed out at aid stations. I slathered them on my armpits to fight chafing that began early on in the race. I breathed in and out, focused on keeping my arms and shoulders relaxed, prayed a lot and sometimes just watched Pacer Jeff's feet in front of me, stepping when he stepped.
It was hard, it was really hard...but it was so rewarding. I can't tell you how awesome it was to be out there a part of what everyone was cheering on. There were bands, and drum teams, and cheer leaders, etc. There complete strangers yelling that they believed in me, in us. And then my family and friends in the crowd...it is impossible to explain how connected I felt to them. I felt like it wasn't my own experience, but it was all of ours together. I was often encouraged by those I knew were at home praying for me and thinking about me. Without the support, I could absolutely not have done it.
I will never forget this experience. I will cherish it for the rest of my life. I will remember that with hard work and dedication, I can do anything I set out to do. I will remember how much I need God and need others. And I just might do it again someday...next time even faster! I feel like a runner now.