Well, it didn’t go as planned. Not even close. But I did it. I finished a marathon.
This is a very long recap, so get ready.
I headed to Philadelphia on Saturday morning with 5 of my awesome friends who were coming down from New York to support me. We met up with our friend Kate, who lives in Philadelphia, and headed to get some cheesesteaks and see the sights.
A little while later my parents got to Philly and we headed to the race expo. And let me tell you, this expo was out of control. It was HUGE and packed full of people. I got my race bib and other materials but honestly couldn’t even look around long because it was so crazy.
We all went to an early dinner full of Italian deliciousness. I headed back to the hotel with my parents and was in bed before 9:30pm. I had an OK night of sleep, waking up a few times, but when my alarm went off at 5am I felt pretty rested.
I had brought my breakfast of a bagel and peanut butter from New York. I didn’t feel like eating when I woke up because I felt a little off, but I knew this was an non-negotiable, so I managed to eat half a bagel with PB. I tried my best to just ignore whatever weirdness I was feeling in the hopes that would make me better, because that usually works, and I headed for the race start with my dad.
The energy walking to the start line was so incredible. The city was packed full of thousands of runners and supporters at 6am, who were all headed to the same place.
It was also amazingly warm for so late in November. I wore capris and a short sleeve shirt and was warm the whole race. I ended up keeping some cheap gloves on before the start and ditched them about half a mile in. I had also brought a sweatshirt to throw away, but as I lined up in the corral I didn’t even need it so I handed it to my dad (so yes, that beautiful sweatshirt is still in my possession).
I was also debating bringing my Nathan’s water bottle, but at the last minute I decided to just hand that off to my dad as well, figuring I would be covered just fine with the water stops. Looking back, this may be the decision I regret more than any others.
Nonetheless, we finally started the race and I was feeling great. Whatever funk I was in had subsided, and the energy of the race was awesome.
I saw my parents in the first mile and then my friends at about a mile and a half. I actually had to shout to them or they would have missed me (this may or may not have been related to $12 handle of vodka they drank they night before).
The first couple miles of the course were through downtown Philly, and they were beautiful. There were tons of crowds and we got to see some awesome scenery, even though there were a few sharp turns.
We hit a pretty big hill around mile 9, but I was still feeling great. I had managed to keep on my steady pace of 10 minute miles and wasn’t feeling fatigued. I took my first Gu at mile 5.5 and took another around 9.5.
The runners all looped back together before splitting – the half marathoners headed to their finish line and the full marathoners headed to complete the big out-and-back to Manayunk. I saw my parents once again at mile 13, where I was still on pace.
And then, I hit mile 14 and things took a turn for the worse. Much, much worse.
We were headed out along the Schuylkill river and I had taken a rather large gulp of Gatorade at a water stop around 13.5. I don’t know what happened exactly, but it just didn’t sit right. The water stops were a little sporadic and I hadn’t been planning very carefully, so when we hit this stop I took too much.
I sprinted for the side of the road and vomited. Not much came out, except the liquids I had been having, but it really messed with my head. A few runners asked if I was ok, and I honestly didn’t know. Suddenly my mind started thinking I had to quit. If I was already puking, how was I supposed to get through 12 more miles?
But I knew that quitting wasn’t an option. It just wasn’t. If I had to crawl there, I was going to get to the finish line. The next 12 miles were the hardest miles, mentally and physically, of my life.
I had to alternate between running, running very slowly, and walking, depending on how my stomach felt. I would give myself a pep talk every mile to just get through the next one, or to just get to the next water stop. Every time I ran too fast my stomach freaked out and I would have to stop.
I have never, ever, dealt with a situation like this on a run. My stomach is usually pretty tough, so I was shocked that it flipped so suddenly. I don’t know if it had something to do with the way I had been feeling earlier or not, but whatever the reason, it was ugly. It was the worst thing I have ever been through, because I felt like I was held back by my own body. This was my first marathon, and I had messed up my own hydration to the point that I was questioning my ability to run.
I decided to just abandon any attempts to take more Gus, and since Gatorade was making my stomach upset I gave up on it also. I ended up puking a little more in a port-o-john around mile 19. But I did manage to get some more water down after this and felt a little better, even though I still had a long way to go. I texted my mom and my friends about my situation to warn them not expect me any time soon.
Not long after this we reached the turn around point, which gave me a good boost. I still had to talk myself through every mile, and I had to go very slowly to keep my body under control, but I knew I was making progress.
Finally, finally, after more excruciating miles, I saw the marker for 25. A finish line has never felt so close and so far away at the same time. But I just told myself to keep going. I didn’t care if I had to puke again or if I felt like I was going to collapse; I had to get there.
I saw my friends again, and this time they all had signs and were screaming for me. I wanted to stop and talk to them, but I knew stopping wasn’t a good idea. I also knew I would start crying and I wanted to be able to breathe for the final mile.
I kept going and finally saw the finish line ahead. My eyes immediately welled up with tears, but I held it together and pushed with everything to finish this race. I almost couldn’t believe it when I finally crossed the finish line – I had done it. I finished the marathon.
A volunteer gave me a thermal heat blanket and a bottle of water, and then I received my finisher medal. I looked down at it and thought that I had never worked harder for anything in my life.
I saw my mom almost right after the finish (she had also cheered me on from about mile 25.5 and then followed me to the finish) and couldn’t hold back tears any more. She told me she was so proud of me and couldn’t believe I finished, as I tearily told her everything that had happened and how difficult it was.
I tried to drink some water as we found my dad, and I naturally cried more as he hugged me.
I tried to pull myself together, but I saw my friends a few minutes later, and couldn’t hold back even more tears.
My final finish time clocked in right above 5 hours. This was nowhere near my goal. I can’t help but be disappointed. I take full responsibility for messing up my hydration and for not preparing better for this, and I also know that I had a better race in me. It’s so frustrating that this happened, after all these months of training. As I have said before, though, sometimes you take a big gamble on one day and sometimes things don’t go as planned.
But I am also very, very proud of myself for finishing. I wanted to stop at mile 14, but I had to get through 12.2 more miles. It took everything in me to do it. I have never experienced something more mentally challenging than those final miles. Regardless of my time goals and the disappointment I felt with the number on the clock, I still managed to finish a marathon. Not many people can say that.
I hobbled back to my hotel to clean up before going to brunch with my family and friends. My mom helped me pack up my stuff as I tried my best to shower and pull myself together. I kept feeling like I was either going to pass out or vomit, but I finally drank some chocolate milk which helped a lot. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I tried my best to eat a little.
We said goodbye to my family and to Kate and caught the bus back to New York, during which everyone fell asleep. I spent the majority of my time of the bus (when not sleeping) going over every decision I made and trying to figure out what I could have done better.
That is a whole different issue, and instead of dwelling on that I am just going to remember that I was able to finish a marathon after puking twice and without any hydration aside from a little bit of water. If I learned anything this weekend, it was how much determination I have. Last week I wanted the marathon to arrive just so I could finally find out what I am capable of, and I sure learned a lot about that.
Today I am tired and sore, emotionally and mentally and physically. The stairs to my walk-up apartment have never been more of a problem than they are today, and I have still been getting emotional when people ask me how it went.
But I have a finisher medal from a marathon, and nothing will change that.
I can also say this with absolute certainty: I never would have gotten through yesterday without the support of my family and friends. I am so grateful for all the encouraging texts and calls that I got before and after the race. And I am incredibly lucky to have a group of friends that will take a whole weekend to travel to a different city and cheer me on at a race that lasts for hours, even though I was only in sight for about 30 seconds. And I am very very blessed to have parents that will get me a hotel room, and take me and my friends out for dinner, and most importantly support me unconditionally no matter what distance I run.
And I am amazed that all these people hugged me yesterday at the finish line, when I was covered in sweat, blood, tears, and probably puke.