My first exposure to a marathon was years before I ran my first. My high school field hockey team volunteered to work the water stop at the Baltimore Marathon. I don’t remember exactly what mile marker it was, but I do remember it was mile 20-something. One of our teachers was running the marathon and we were excited to see him pass us by.
This experience left me feeling 2 things – soaking wet and terrified. The thing I remember most clearly from watching the runners go by was all the blood. By that I mean, men with blood running down their shirts from their nipples bleeding. I had no idea that this was a common occurrence since I knew nothing about distance running at the time, but I remember I thought it was pretty scary. I hope those guys have found themselves some Body Glide by now.
I also remember how run down all those runners looked. Once again, knowing nothing about running a marathon at the time, I couldn’t quite grasp what kind of shape they were in at that point in the race. I had a lot of fun cheering on the runners and passing out water with my friends from my team, but I can say with confidence that I definitely did not feel even the tiniest urge to run a marathon myself someday. It took me a long time to find that I enjoyed running enough to want to run a marathon (more about that in my Why I Run post).
The first, and so far only, marathon I ran was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2006. I trained with and raised money for Team in Training for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Training with TNT was an incredible experience. Not only did I meet wonderful people in my training group, I was stoked to be able to train for the event while raising money for a great cause.
My training did not go nearly as smoothly as my training is going for the Baltimore Marathon. A huge reason for that was that I was wearing the wrong shoes (something you may have read about already in my Picky Feet post). I had a slew of little injuries and issues that nearly kept me from even getting to the starting line. My biggest issue was pain in the arches of my feet when I ran. Now that I have shoes with better arch support, I never have that pain anymore (hallelujah!).
I went to an orthopedic doctor to rule out any major injuries and she suggested that the morning of the MCM, I could take some Advil so that the pain wouldn’t keep me from getting through the race. What’s the number 1 rule on race day? Never do anything you have not done before on a training run. The appointment when she told me that was close to the race date so I did not have a chance to give the Advil a test drive on a long training run.
Taking Advil normally would not have any kind of negative impact on the way I feel, but during the marathon, I felt off the entire race. I felt dehydrated and no amount of water or Gatorade I drank at the water stations made me feel better.
I also made some other mistakes. I got caught up in the excitement at the starting line and went out way too fast. And by too fast, I mean I was running about a 9 minute mile, which was too fast for me back then and it would be too fast for this slow poke right now! I hit the wall early. I was only at mile 10 and I did not think I could keep going. I remember making it to mile 13 and feeling like I was ready to walk off the course. My eyes searched every group of spectators for my family so I could tell them to get me out of there. I remember actually being mad at them because I couldn’t find them. Of course, they were waiting for me at other points in the race and by the time I saw them, I had gathered myself and was ready to keep running.
At mile 20, I was once again ready to be done. I felt like I had nothing left in me. That’s when I met my running angel. A TNT coach from another chapter saw me struggling and in tears at that point and started running with me. Here come the tears as I type this…he told me about his girlfriend and showed me her picture that was pinned to his shirt. He told me about how she was diagnosed with leukemia and how she only lived for 6 short months after her diagnosis. He reminded me why I was running and his encouragement stayed with me even after he was gone and I was on my own again. I’ll never forget how much he helped me through physically and mentally at that point in the race.
I remember hitting the 26 mile mark. Finally! I was almost to the finish line. I swear those last two-tenths of a mile where longer than the last 6 miles. Of course, it was practically all uphill to the finish line; why can’t it ever be flat on the way to the finish?! I remember the Marines lined up along the way to the finish. I wanted to ask if one of them could just carry me over the finish line.
Crossing that finish line was a moment I’ll never forget. My time was nothing stellar – 4:57 – but that didn’t matter. I made it through those excruciating 26.2 miles and I made a difference with every step I took for TNT.
I loved training and running with TNT. The support along the course was phenomenal. The most amazing part was the people people along the way who thanked me for running with TNT. I distinctly remember the first thanks I got very early in the race, maybe around mile 2. A man ran up next to me and said “thank you, Kristen” (my name was on my shirt). He had been a leukemia survivor. That started the waterworks early in the race!
I really hope to run a race again in the future with TNT or be involved with their organization in some capacity because they seriously rock. One of my biggest regrets from my race is that I did not run with the team members I did my training runs with. We were set to start in different waves. I wish I had been able to run with them so that I wasn’t on my own for the majority of the race. That’s one of the many reasons I’m excited to run the Baltimore Marathon with my hubby. I know he’ll be great company :).