WARNING: This is a long post, but hey… a marathon is a long way to go!
I’m a marathoner… I’m a marathoner…
Although it didn’t feel real, my legs knew they had run a marathon last Monday!
The night before the race, we had a lovely cozy dinner with as many Suncoast Striders as we could fit at a handful of tables. We ate pasta, enjoyed old friends and made new ones! It was a good time to forget… hey, you are running 26.2 miles in the morning! It was also a good reminder that I was in good company. Many of those that surrounded the table offered encouragement and last minute advice for my trek in the morning!
So the day began early! I couldn’t sleep well due to a combination of hotel mattress and marathon jitters. After getting dressed and grabbing our quick breakfast, my mom and I waited outside with many others for our shuttle to the start line. We made conversation with a sweet couple from Canada. Once aboard the shuttle, we were grateful that we had gotten out there early – several runners were turned away and had to take the next shuttle to the race start. My mom would conquer her 5th and I was ready to rock my first full marathon!
Once at the start, my mom and I snapped a few photos and then she took off for the half start. I hung around the finish area and got to hug a few necks before I started my race. One of the coolest things was that an IRun4 Buddy surprised her runner! It was such a sweet moment! She traveled from Virginia to cheer her runner on in her first marathon.
I was able to hug the necks of my Strider Sisters (both running their first half marathon).
I continued towards the start and found three instagram buddies! Matt, Stefanie and Nora!
Traveling towards the start I realized I had still not seen Nanci and Corinna. I text back and forth but with the sea of people there was no way that I was going to find them. Later at about mile 4 or 5, I came up behind them! It was a good push to see them!
The race start was explosive – literally with the sound and smoke like a rocket launch! It was slightly anti-climatic because I crossed the start line nearly 4-5 minutes later, but cool nevertheless. Within the first three miles I was in a good groove and was jamming to my music. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the intercoastal waterway near Cocoa Village and amused myself with runners. There was a man running in a full Elvis costume. There were several folks running in space themed costumes or running pants. I ran up behind a fellow runner from my running club who has recently been diagnosed with Ataxia (google it!), who is running despite his physical ailments… truly inspiring!
Then the best part happened – the first runners started making their way back. (Context – the course went north for 6.5ish miles and back to the start and then continued south for 6.5ish miles before heading north to the finish). These folks were on mile 8-9 and I was at about 4-5. Some fast folks! I got to cheer for and hug a few necks of passing Suncoast Striders from my running club. Then the turn around. More of the same: cheering for passing runners on the other side of the road.
Halfway: As we passed by the finish line and headed south for the second half of the race, I passed my mom and husband and several other Striders that were cheering for me. It brought tears to my eyes. Not only did I have the support of my family but other runners… I can’t explain it, but I knew I could finish. Walking, running or crawling… I would finish!
At about mile 17 I began to hit the dreaded ‘wall’. I took longer walk breaks and my run slowed quite a bit. I began to realize at this point that my time goals were not going to be realized. In addition, my GPS watch was measuring the course longer than expected. Example: I would hit the 18 mile mark on the course and my watch said 18.25 miles. I knew at this point I would be running longer than an actual marathon. Both of these factors pulled me down mentally.
At about mile 19, a fellow IRun4 runner who I had met before the race, came up beside me. She encouraged me to keep going and to run with her. We stuck together until about mile 22. We talked about our buddies, our families, our jobs, her dental schooling…. this company was much needed and so appreciated! Thank you Rebecca!! At about 22.5 I decided to take a walk break and let her run ahead (I promised I would catch her, but never did). I knew I was within reach – I knew I could finish walking. I had accomplished my primary objective – finish!
Then my mom appeared! She ran three miles to get to me and finish with me! I can not tell you how wonderful that was! We talked and walked and enjoyed the scenery. She walked with me until I got to the finish chute! Just before the entrance of the finish chute was a blonde little cutie – Caitlyn with a sign with my name on it!
Oh the finish chute! It was a circular walkway around an ampitheather. So there were people along either side cheering, “Go Jessica!” (my name was on my race bib). I was in tears before I hit the finish line. As I continued around the corner, I saw Nanci’s husband and through choking back the tears I let him know that they weren’t far behind me. Here’s a photo from the finish chute when I was visualizing the finish the day before. Imagine people on both sides of the pathway 🙂
At the finish, my husband yelled, “That’s my wife” (some of you saw the video on Facebook) and my mom handed me a cold towel and gave me a huge hug!
Within 30 feet of the finish I spotted Run Jodi, the IRun4 Queen Bee… I mean Ambassador. I hugged her and let the tears flow. I would have never imagined that my running could make a difference for anyone else and the IRun4 community has done that for me. My silly running, sharing my race medals and taking them on the journey of running my first marathon has given Lauren’s family a light of hope and encouragement during this difficult year of her diagnosis. She and her family have given me a reason to run when I didn’t feel like it.
The journey to running a marathon is one that I will take again. Perhaps once a year or every other year… I will run a marathon again. When I started running just two short years ago, I never imagined I would run a marathon. A MARATHON! 26.2 miles! What a journey! Thank you to all of you who helped with the kiddos, encouraged me, pushed me, ran with me, prayed for me and watched me along this journey.