There is no better way to experience a mix humility and pride than to stand among thousands waiting for the start of a marathon. For most of us, the competition is between self and self. Something within us knows we can do this. That same something has a little doubt. That same something promises a steady strong run. Yet that same something is already offering consolation for a nice try, promising that if desired aspirations are not met, that there will be other opportunities.
For weeks we talked it up via text and over a few meals. I, with three marathons under my belt, happen to have the most experience with this distance among us four who committed to run the New Jersey Marathon. This by no means makes me an expert- I like to think I have a better glimpse of the roller coaster ride between confidence and doubt. One of my friends told me that he was planning to run easy for the first twenty then kick it up in the final six. Mind you, this was his very first marathon. I managed not to laugh in his face.
I went without my Marathon Maniacs singlet. Although I missed the praise, encouragement, and props from fellow Maniacs without it, I had a statement to make.
I was smart enough to Bodyglide my entire existence. I was dumb enough to forgo sunblock. (Yes, I'm sunburned.) I went without a fuel belt (so no pStyle) but I was hoping I could do this whole thing without a bathroom break. (Which I did!) We got there with plenty of time to use the porta johns TWICE! Seeing enough of the gross contents of a porta john made me wish that I could leave Instead Softcup sample packs strewn about for the ladies that might need them. In fact, I think my friend Eros was traumatized.
And we met up with Joe and took a few "before" pictures. Look at us all happy and excited!
Our friend Ana was running late, so I found a substitute Mexican to stand in for her in a photograph.
We filed into our respective corrals. We listened to the Star Spangled Banner sung by Brian Buffaloe, fellow marathon runner AND pacer. I was a bit awestruck by the way he belted out our National Anthem with confidence then took his place in the corral with the 4:55 pace team after the applause. Who does that? In 2013, he will do this again right before he runs his 100th marathon.
Seconds later the elites take off and then it's our turn. After the first mile marker, I tell myself that I only need to do this 25 more times... No problem... I got this. I keep peeking behind my shoulder to see if my friends are behind me (they started in the corral after mine) and as I expected, they caught up to me by mile three.
We stayed together for about half of this race. I know that this journey is grueling and difficult- of the three marathons I finished prior to this one, I struggled intensely through two. I did not know that just having the familiar and comforting presence (these guys do not chat while running!) of my friends would keep me so strong, focused, and positive. There were times when the three of us were running alongside each other in a perfect line. Whenever I felt like slowing down a bit, I talked myself into maintaining the pace because I did not want to inadvertently pull them down with me. This worked out well because my friend Eros was methodical about taking the SaltStick Caps and he reminded me to take them at the 6th and 12th miles. The SaltStick Caps gave me the confidence- I trusted that I had enough of the essential electrolyte components that my body needed and I was no longer afraid of another horrible marathon experience. I will never run a long race without them. I stowed 3 GU Energy Gels in my pockets (yeah in these tiny shorts!) and I took the bright yellow Gatorade at nearly every hydration stop.
This marathon takes place in my back yard. I lived in Long Branch for awhile as a teenager and young(er) adult. Currently, home is seven miles away. I thought that this would make for a more difficult race- knowing that I KNOW every town and most of the streets. I was certain that it would make the miles seem longer. Boy was I wrong. The sweet familiar sights of the areas I meandered as a teen and the unfamiliar joyful sight of people cheering on the streets fueled my legs and my heart. Seeing places where I used to push a stroller full of little boys and remembering fun days with my sister and friends made most of this race practically breeze right by.
It wasn't until mile 14 or 15 that I felt a surge of energy and sped up a bit. For a moment, I was reluctant to leave my friends behind, but I realized that they would likely catch up again and that if the situation were reversed, I would WANT them to run their race and not worry about me.
We ran a long stretch down Ocean Avenue. I used this road for 18 and 20 mile training runs before and much to my surprise, the miles didn't seem as long as they did when I ran them months ago in preparation for Lake Placid. I looked forward to the sight of Deal lake and felt like I was headed home when we headed into Asbury Park- because, well, I was headed home! The turn around point (and the final 7 mile stretch) was three blocks from my house. I asked (in jest) one of the pacers if she wanted to use my bathroom! As we ran further from the 19th mile marker, I was energized by seeing my husband and our friend John waiting on the corner. They took photos of each of us as we passed by. (edit: there is no photo of me at mile nineteen so here's one at like err... 17 instead.)
We headed north through Asbury Park on the boardwalk and through Allenhurst and Deal again. I kept telling myself I finished three quarters of this race and that I had enough for one more quarter. The night before, my friends and I decided that the one who finished first out of the four of us would win bragging rights and a toast at our "We Survived The NJ Marathon" party. We decided the "losers" would suffer some sort of humiliation involving photos and facebook! And look at that! I'm ahead of everyone! How did this happen??? At this point part of my motivation was to make sure I had enough of a lead so that there was no way those lean, tall stealthy men could steal my show. My friend Moira from Jersey Girl Stay Strong Multi Sport (and course marshal for the day) rolled by me on her bike at around mile 23 and asked if I needed anything. When I told her I had to pee, she suggested that I go behind bushes of one of the vacant summer mansions. I would have, but I was afraid the boys would catch up and pass me. She told me I looked good and that I was running strong, and this is exactly what I needed to hear from a bad ass Ironwoman who is an inspiration to so many.
And it was a glorious day for the short half-Filipino girl with the thunder thighs. Of the four of us, I finished FIRST at 4:35.
Eros came in seven minutes later. (He didn't train for this at all, and yes, you can join me in secretly hating him for that.)
We all got together to bask in our glory.
This race was my preamble to pushing myself in a marathon. I needed to KNOW that I could run a consistent comfortable pace and I did exactly that. Aside from normal fatigue, boredom, and that whole "I'm so over this" feeling you get toward the end of a marathon, I felt great. However, no matter how the race goes and how fast or slow I finish, I will always be evermore grateful for the fact that I can even stand at the start amongst thousands of bold, hopeful people. The next time you stand amongst peers before the start of a marathon, take a look around you. Everyone has a story that goes much further and deeper than a desire to run. A marathon takes more than mere training. It takes guts, a heaping amount of belief in yourself, and an irrevocable trust in your body. We all bring these things with us to the start. You'll see it in those around you and feel it multiply within you every time you race. This might be the greatest reason to get out there and join us. What are you waiting for? Sign up for your next one.
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