That’s right, I did it. I ran a Marathon. I ran 26.2 miles all at once. Actually, I should say we ran a Marathon. Five months of training all led up to this event. And it paid off. Not only was it an incredible experience, it was an absolutely grueling test of my mind and body.
Now, we ran the Marathon on November 20th and it’s now December. I guess I really needed time to just process everything and let it sink in. So, now that I have had ample time to look at the medal I received for finishing, I think I’m ready to talk about it. I’ll break it down into stages: the morning of; the start to mile 10; mile 11 to mile 17; and mile 18 to the finish. Those were the big milestones in my mind or at least the parts where I really had some things going through my mind (and body).
The Morning of: The alarm went off at 5:00 AM. The Marathon didn’t start until 7:00 AM but we wanted to have plenty of time to get our bodies awake, get dressed, grab some coffee, and leave the apartment by 6:15 AM. Everything was going according to plan and the nerves were wide awake as well. We just tried to stay as calm as possible while we were getting ready. Mentally and physically, I was ready. We had gone for a shake-out run the day before and I felt great. All the training, all the preparation had gotten both my mind and body ready for this day. While I was nervous, I was confident. I was confident that there would be parts of the Marathon that would be tough and painful. But I was also confident in my ability to push through these rough times. Plus, I had Elizabeth. This was her 3rd rodeo, so I knew when things got tough, I would be able to rely on her experience and follow her lead. So, we order an Uber at 6:10 and were out the door by 6:15 AM. Everything was going perfectly so far.
I don’t know if you guys knew this, but it was COLD and WINDY that day. I think the forecast said something like low 30’s to mid 40’s with winds up to 35 mph. That was not cool. But, we were prepared. I wore clothes that I had done all of my long training runs in so I knew they wouldn’t…chafe. I also kept my long sleeve shirt on, thinking I would take it off when I got warm. Spoiler Alert: I did not get warm.
So there we are, in a massive crowd waiting for our group to start. And that’s when I got nervous. All the “what if’s” started. I wouldn’t say I was panicked but I definitely was not as confident as I was when I woke up. Then, our group started. When I was in high school, I was in FCA (Fellowship of the Christian Athlete). We would meet at someone’s house before school and have breakfast (truthfully, I think I was there for the breakfast). Usually, there would be a guest speaker. I remember this one speaker in particular who talked about an Ironman he had done. He wasn’t doing so well about halfway through and said he started chanting a bible verse to himself that has stuck with me since then: I can do all things through Him who gives me strength – Philippians 4:13. Elizabeth and I looked at each other, said the verse, and off we went.
Start to Mile 10: Everything from the start to the 10 mile point went just about as well as I could have wanted. I was a little cold and stiff at the start but loosened up pretty well after about a mile or so. When we got onto Columbus Avenue, the wind wasn’t really blowing and the sun was coming up and shining off the river. It was actually quite nice. About 10 minutes into the run, we had decided to stay with the 4 hour and 15 minute pace group. At about 15 minutes into the run, we had past that group because they were too slow. We never looked back.
We wound our way into the city where it got considerably more cold and windy. The sun was being blocked by the buildings and the wind was funneled right into my face (or so it felt like) for much of that portion of the run. Again, everything was feeling pretty good. No aches or pains, just a smooth and steady pace. It felt like we were flying; we past mile 4, then mile 5, then mile 6 like it was nothing. I then started to tell myself, “we aren’t even going to start this run for real until the halfway point.”
It wasn’t until around the Philadelphia Zoo (I think mile 7 or 8) I started to have a bit of pain in my foot. This spot has bothered me on and off throughout the training so I knew it would happen during the Marathon. The pain got pretty intense for about 5 minutes and then disappeared for the rest of the run. At mile 9 they were handing out those carbohydrate-based gel packs that people will use to give them a quick boost of energy during long runs. Elizabeth and I each grabbed 2. I kind of got excited because I like free stuff. It was at this water station where I got my first cup of water too. On we went.
Right around mile 10 is where we saw my parents. They were bundled up against the wind and my mom was holding a sign with my and Elizabeth’s name on it. I was already feeling pretty good but that gave me an extra boost of energy.
Mile 11 to Mile 17: All things considered at this point, I was feeling pretty good. Elizabeth and I had not stopped running and were way ahead of the 4:15 pace group. At mile 11, there’s one of the best cheering sections in the whole Marathon. Music blasting and all the supporters are dressing in goofy outfits dancing. I definitely enjoyed that spectacle. And then, we pasted the half marathon mark; 13.1 miles and I felt good. Elizabeth was doing great too. She was saying how good she felt and that she was enjoying herself. We were cruising.
At mile 14 we past the Art Museum. This is about where the finish line is; we could see the 26 mile marker and some of the elite runners running towards the finish line. It was encouraging but also a bit of a mind trick too; you could see the finish but knew we were way, way far from it. We turned down boat house row and onto Kelly Drive. All of our training runs went down this exact same path. Elizabeth and I had spent months running this exact same path. This is why I had thought to myself we wouldn’t “start this run” until this point. This is where we pushed ourselves to get ready for this day. This is where we would push ourselves today.
It was also the point where the wind really started to be a factor. At times, it would blow so hard it felt like I was running up hill. Up a steep hill. It didn’t matter the sun was out, the wind cut to the bone. If it wasn’t for the fact we were running, I would’ve frozen…solid. This stretch is also difficult because there aren’t many people cheering. Just fellow runners pounding the pavement beside you.
Mile 16 through 17 were the toughest for me. At this point, my knees were aching, my feet were hurting, and I was starting to feel the fatigue. Also, the fact of seeing the miles decrease from 24 to 23 to 22 on the other side of the street started to mess with my head. The miles that seemingly flew by earlier were starting to crawl by. The wind, the fatigue, the soreness, all of it started to add up.
Mile 18 to the Finish: It was around now I remembered I had those gel packs in my pockets. The next water station, I ripped the topped off a banana flavored Carb-Boom squeezed that goo into my mouth, swallowed it (didn’t really taste too much because I think I was too cold), and then gulped down a cup of cold water. The next hydration station, I had a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water. I started to feel much, much better. We were now in Manayunk.
This was another really cool stretch because the streets were lined with people and there was music and a band playing. There was a lot of energy which almost made the wind not so bad. There was, what felt like, a never-ending steady incline in Manayunk that takes you to the 20 mile point. This is also where you turn around; the final turn towards the finish line. I had another gel pack (banana but still couldn’t taste it) with water, and then a Gatorade with water before exiting Manayunk and getting back onto Kelly Drive.
For whatever reason, at mile 22, I hit a point of relief. I felt good despite the wind and the soreness. This was also where Elizabeth’s oldest sister and boyfriend surprised us. They were cheering in the crowd of supporters with signs, one of which had the verse from Philippians 4:13. Both Elizabeth and I were so happy to see them we stopped and gave them hugs. I was speechless. I tried to think of something witty or funny to say but I was just too happy to see them. I hugged them tight and we were off. Just 4.2 miles left.
After the combination of the gel packs, Gatorade, water, and support, I was in a great place. This is actually the first point in the entire Marathon I actually enjoyed. The pain didn’t hurt as much, the wind didn’t feel as cold, and everything just felt good. Elizabeth would have me say the bible verse a couple of times: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”
Everything was familiar at this point too. Because all of our training runs were done here, it felt just like another training run. Except the excitement built and built. Mile 24, mile 25; closer and closer to the finish. Boat house row, then the Art Museum, mile 26.
The last 0.2 miles felt like the longest stretch of the run. But I look into the crowd and I see Elizabeth’s youngest sister waiving and cheering. With the finish line is sight, Elizabeth took off. I had a tough time catching up to her; she put on the burners. About 50 feet from the finish line, I see my parents again cheering us on. We sprint past the finish line and come to a stop. We did it. We ran a Marathon.
Our time was 4 hours and 10 minutes. This was a personal best for Elizabeth, beating her previous best time by 18 minutes. Looking back on that weekend, I don’t know if it could have been better. Yes, even the bitter cold and wind; I wouldn’t want anything to be different. The rest of the day Sunday was spent relaxing, talking, eating, watching TV, and getting into bed at 7:00 PM. And I think I can now truly appreciate the accomplishment. I did something very few even think to do. Also, I did it with my best friend.
So what’s the message here? I want anyone who reads to never doubt themselves. Never tell yourself anything is too tough and you can’t do it. And when you find yourself struggling with something, anything, in life and you feel like giving up or you don’t think you can finish, just take the next step. And then the next step. As long as you put one foot in front of the next and never stop, you can accomplish anything.