Running Our First Marathon: Twin Cities

Marathon Challenge

After training for over 5 months, Stephanie, Anita and Tricia (that’s me) ran their first marathon.  They chose the Twin Cities Marathon for the beauty of the course and the reputation of the spectators.  It did not disappoint.  It is a fantastic event, but the course is a bit tougher than they were led to believe.  Find out how they did here on Pink Ribbon Runner. 

You know how you let yourself think that everything will be alright if you can only go to a certain place or do a certain thing. But when you get there you find it’s not that simple.

– Richard Adams in “Watership Down” –

I wanted to tell you all about running the Twin Cities Marathon mile for mile, but honestly after about 9 miles, it all started to blur.  I can’t tell you how Stephanie and Anita’s race went in detail, as they ran ahead after about a mile into the race.  So, I will tell you about my experience of running my first marathon.  In a nutshell, it was hell in running shoes.  

An Early Start

We woke up early on Sunday morning and had a quick breakfast.  I had my usual oatmeal with a mashed banana.  My stomach had butterflies, so it was a bit of a chore getting it down.  But I knew I needed this to fuel me for the first few hours of the race.  So, down it went. 

We stayed close to the start line.  Stephanie had found us a nice Airbnb a short walk to our corral.  It was nice, as parking in downtown Minneapolis was such a pain.  We didn’t want to have to move our cars.  It was a chilly walk to our corral.  We were thankful we had throw-away jackets and gloves.  I marveled at the couple that had long fluffy housecoats on.  That was sheer brilliance. 

Adjusting My Goals Race Day Morning

We found our pacers quickly.  My new plan was to run near the 5:15 pacer and just see what happened.  I could feel my body fighting something a few days before the race.  I felt run down.  The week before the race, I pumped my body with immune-boosting supplements to evict whatever virus was invading my body.  I thought I was winning the battle, as I didn’t’ feel too bad that morning.  But, I still removed all expectations of time from my head.  Or at least tried not to think about that 5-hour goal I set myself in the first few weeks of training.  That didn’t seem achievable now.  But I thought I could stick with the 5:15 pacer for a while, anyways. 

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And They’re Off!

We were in the 3rd corral and moved slowly to the start line.  Music was blaring.  You could feel the energy and excitement in the crisp cool air.  The announcer yelled “Are you ready” and we screamed back “Yes!”.  The gun went off again, for our corral this time, and we were running. 

Stephanie, Anita and I ran together for a little while.  But I glanced at my watch and noticed we were going at a fair clip.  I didn’t want to run that fast.  I wanted to keep a nice even 12:00/mile pace, so I dropped back and watched them pull ahead.  Stephanie glanced back and I mouthed “just go”.  We needed to run our own races.  See what we could do.  I had no idea how this was going to turn out for me, and I certainly didn’t want to hold anyone back. 

First Water Station Was At 2.5 Miles

I was feeling good when I reached the first water station.  My plan was to run water station to water station.  At the first half of the race, the stations were about every 2 – 3 miles.  After 20 miles, they were to be at every mile.  So, this seemed perfect.  As I become tired, the water stations were closer together.  I have run water station to water station in other races and it has worked well for me.  All I had to do is keep my focus on getting to the next station. 

I walked a little to drink my water and take a quick video for Facebook.  The 5:15 pacer got ahead of me at that point.  The group running around her didn’t stop for water.  I did notice she was running at a faster pace early on.  If she was able to maintain her current pace over the whole distance, she would be in well under 5:15. I caught up with her before the next water station.  I heard her tell those around her that they were doing great.  She admitted that she was running at a faster pace and was impressed that they were keeping up with her.  She promised them a longer break at the next water station.  I am not sure that this was a good strategy for a group of first-time marathoners aiming for 12:00/mile pace.  But I just shrugged my shoulders, didn’t say a word and kept running.  I was still feeling good, so I continued to run with this pacer. 

At Mile 7 I Knew I Was In Trouble

Before the next water station, around the 7-mile mark, I started to feel symptoms of my cold virus coming on again.  My chest tightened and a pain started in my upper back between my shoulder blades.  “Oh, oh” I thought, “This is not good”.  It was so early in the race.  I was starting to feel crappy at only ¼ way into the marathon, scared that I still had 19 more miles to run.  I tried to put my worry out of my head and just focus on running. 

The Spectators Did Not Disappoint

Music blared as we ran mile after mile.  The spectators were amazing.  They offered us beer, mimosas, candy, fruit and an assortment of other snacks.  Signs and cheers of support kept me moving forward.  My name was on my bib and I could hear people yell “Tricia, you got this!” and “Tricia, you look great” from complete strangers.   I was still running and maintaining the pace with the 5:15 pacer. 

The Views Were Amazing

The views on the course were amazing as well. It truly is a stunning course. Running by lakes and through nice neighborhoods with beautiful houses. It kept my attention off my suffering for a little while, anyways.

Halfway Through The Run My Suffering Got Much Worse

However, halfway through the race, I was in trouble.  My chest was tightening more and more.  It hurt to breathe.  My upper back and shoulders were starting to seize on me.  I had pain in my ribs.  Every part of my body that allowed me to breathe, hurt.  I started to doubt that I could finish this.  I started to wonder if I would be that runner that collapses and a medic rushes in.  I tried to push these thoughts out of my head. I kept running.   

A couple more miles of running and my upper and lower back started to spasm sending pain shooting up and down my spine. It took the wind out of me.  I had to walk.  I searched for a medic.  There were none around.  I would have to get to the next water station on my own.  “Okay, just make it to the next water station, like you planned.  You got this.”  I told myself.  I walked for a little bit more.

The Pain Was Making Me Mad

I was in pain and was starting to get angry with myself.  I had done so much better during our training runs, where I was strong to 18 miles.  And here I was at about 16 mile in pain and thinking about quitting.  “F-That” I huffed to myself, “You are not a quitter.”  I kept running.

Another runner beside me suddenly yelled “this sucks!” and I completely agreed with her. 

Robaxin Saves The Day!

Then I remembered that I had tucked some muscle relaxant/anti-inflammatory medications in my pouch.  I took one tablet and told myself to keep moving forward any way I could, run or walk, until it kicked in.  It would take about 20 – 30 minutes to start working.  If I still felt this crappy then, I would find that medic and give up.  But I would give it a chance to start working.  I allowed myself to walk for a bit and I tried, by sheer willpower, to relax my back muscles.  The 5:15 pacer pulled ahead until I couldn’t see her anymore.  I ran again to the sudden cheers of the spectators. 

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Cheers From The Crowd

It was kind of embarrassing to hear people cheering for you when you are walking.  I knew I was a better runner than this.  So, to hear “Tricia, you’re looking strong” when I was walking, really stung.  I tried to keep running despite how painful it was. 

Mile 20 Piqued My Curiosity

I found myself at mile 20 somehow.  The pain in my back was starting to subside a little.  The acute spasm was gone. It was more of a dull ache now.  So, I pushed on.  Mile 20 was the start of the 3-mile climb that all Twin Cities Marathoners dread.  It was also further than I had ever ran before.  My curiosity got the better of me and I kept going.  I allowed myself to walk up the steep overpass.

A fellow runner came up beside me at that point.  She was walking too, although faster than I was.  She asked if I was okay.  I simply said “Back”.  She then said “Knee” and we continued walking in silence up that hill.  She was a fast walker and I tried to match her pace.  We power walked up that hill together.

I looked at my watch as we walked the hill.  At this pace and with the time-buffer I had established in the first half, I could probably walk the rest of the marathon and still make it within 6 hours.  This gave me hope.  I started to perk up. Those thoughts of quitting & needing a medic slowly left my tired brain. 

Quitting Was No Longer An Option

At mile 22 quitting was no longer an option.  Those thoughts were completely gone from my head now.  I had time on my side, even if my body wasn’t cooperating.  I could do this.  I was still in pain and it hurt to breathe.  The speed walking, which I was not accustomed to, was causing cramps in my legs.  My hamstrings and quads were screaming at me to stop.  But I was determined to keep moving forward.

Getting Into The Zone

Something I read in Matt Fitzgerald’s book, How Bad Do You Want It, stuck with me during these moments.  He was talking about a phenomenon called flow.  It was basically letting your body do what it trained to do and not letting your brain interfere with the outcome.  I was letting my brain interfere.  I wasn’t feeling well, so I had negative thoughts that I couldn’t continue in such pain.  But pain is a mental thing.  Pain is just perception.  Without my brain involved, pain doesn’t exist.  So, I tried to separate the two things.  I tried to let my mind go and let my body do what I trained it to do.  It was working.  I started running again. 

The athlete who lacks self-belief can gain it by consciously pushing her goals and the worries that surround them out of her mind and teaching herself to stay focused on the task of the moment …

– Matt Fitzgerald in “How Bad Do You Want It” –

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Meditation While Running

I used my mediation techniques that I learned during my cancer treatments; clearing my mind and focusing only on breathing.  I have used these techniques during running before, but not often enough.  They are good techniques.  But I need to run solo to get into them.  Running with buddies is great.  They provide a distraction; something else to focus on besides how tired and sore you are.  But I was running solo now.  Yes, there were spectators and other runners around me, but they weren’t enough of a distraction at this point.  I was in too much discomfort.  So, I tried to block it all out and meditate. 

I was running again.  Focusing only on my breathing.  Trying to empty my mind of thoughts of the pain of muscle cramps, the fear that I was having trouble breathing regularly and all thoughts of quitting.  I was too close to finishing with just a little over 4 miles left to go.  I successfully got into a zone and was able to push forward.  My body was running on its own and my mind was blank.  I continued like this for a little while, anyways.

Zombie-Running

I must have looked rather zombie-ish doing this.  I just let my body run as it has done everyday for the past 660 days. Shortly after I achieved this state of mindless running, I was flagged by a medic.  I must have been a sorry sight.  The medic waved a flag in front of me, to which I snapped out of this zone.  I looked at him in annoyance, but he seemed relieved.  He said “okay, your fine” and let he me continue.  Now I needed to get back into this zone again.  No easy task. 

More Walking

I walked for a bit, looking at my watch trying to figure out how long I could walk and still make the 6-hour cut off.  It was about then that the runner with the knee issue caught up to me again.  She was really too peppy for me right now.  I get it, she was trying to encourage me.  But I was too miserable at this point.  She was still speed walking.  I let her go ahead, not even attempting to keep up with her. 

After a few minutes of walking, I started to run again telling myself “okay, lets do this and get it done”.  Again, I started to focus on my breathing and just let my body run.  I emptied my mind of those negative thoughts, ignored the pain and just kept moving forward.  It was working. 

More Cramps At Mile 24

At around mile 24 a spectator came out onto the course and was giving high-fives to the runners.  Once again, I was snapped out of my zombie-state.  As soon as my hand contacted his, my left hamstring tightened instantaneously.  It was intense this time.  I cringed.  The pain shot up my leg and into my back.  “Don’t go down” I thought.  I started limping.  “Walk it off, walk it off”, I chanted.  “Focus!  Only 2 miles to go.  You got this.” , as I silently tried to cheer myself on.  I was so close.

I Walked To Mile 25

When I reached the mile 25 flag, I was still walking.  I saw the Twin Cities Metronics Marathon signature blue tunnel and photographer on the other side.  “RUN”, I yelled inside my head.  I managed to run through the tunnel and past the photographer and I was walking again.  At least the photo would be of me running.  I chuckled to myself.

Are We Going To Make It?

Another runner, just ahead of me, looked like she was suffering too.  She was attempting to keep running, but her gate looked very awkward, painful and slow.  Believe it or not, I was in better shape than she was. I was speed walking and I was gaining on her as she ran.  I thought to myself that maybe she should just walk and not waste the extra effort to get her feet off the ground.  But I very much admired the fact that she was attempting to actually run the marathon, which is more than I could say for myself at this point.  Most runners around us were walking now.  As I passed her, she looked over at me and asked, “Are we going to make it?”.  There was a quiet desperation in her voice.   

And Then There Were Tears

I looked at my watch and tried to calculate out our pace and how much we had left to go.  This was no easy task.  My brain was exhausted at this point.  Doing math was almost as painful as my leg cramps.  But I managed to calculate it out.  If we could maintain this pace, we would be into the finish in under 6 hours.  In fact, there was even a little time to spare. 

I slowed down and walked with her for a bit.  I told her that we were indeed going to make it.  Her smile was so big it brought tears to my eyes.  I started to cry, realizing that we were going to finish.  I was going to finish my first marathon.  Wow, that was huge. 

Run, Damn it!

A little while later, my determination returned.  I was so close to the end.  “Run” I thought.  Or did I say that out loud?  The crowds of spectators gave a very loud cheer when I started to run again.  They were yelling “Tricia, you got this”, “Tricia, keep going”, “Tricia, you are so close”.  I allowed myself to listen to them.  I kept running.  Slowly, but I was running. 

The last little hill was tough.  I allowed myself to walk up it.  One of the spectators yelled out “Last hill” and I managed to joke “That was what the last guy said a mile ago”.  He chuckled.  But in my heart, I knew this had to be the last hill. The finish line was so close.  I walked, saving the last of my strength to run across the finish line.  I had time to spare.  It was looking good to beat the 6-hour time and officially finish.  Someone shoved a piece of banana in my hand and I ate it. 

Over The Hill And To The Finish

Once over this hill, I could see the finish line.  “Oh, thank goodness!” I thought. A wave of relief hit me, and I could feel myself slouch and relax.  I straightened up and started to run again.  There was still quite a distance to go, but I wanted to finish by running. 

Then another hamstring cramp hit.  I was limping again. “NO!” I screamed.  “Just finish this damn thing”.  I walked off my cramp by about 100 meters within the finish and was able to run again.  I ran across the finish line of my first marathon.

Numb After Crossing The Finish Line

I am not sure what I was feeling after I crossed.  I was expecting to be all emotional and overjoyed.  That wasn’t the case.  My emotional aha-moment was earlier on with just a mile left to go. I guess I was cried out and exhausted.  I seemed to be mentally numb, in physical pain and so tired after I crossed.  There was a little disappointment too.  I crossed at 5:57: 01.  Could I have pushed myself harder for a better time?  Maybe.  But I didn’t.  A Twin Cities Marathon volunteer placed the finisher medal around my neck.  I am not sure if I even smiled. 

Insatiable Hunger Set In Suddenly

My husband was there at the finish to help me celebrate.  After a hug, he pointed me to the bananas and rest of the finish line goodies.  It was at that moment I realized that I was absolutely starving.  I grabbed an entire banana.  Not the little cut up ones… the biggest one I could find.  I shoved that thing into my mouth as fast as I could and grabbed another one.  Then I noticed the chocolate milk.  I grabbed one and downed it like it was a shooter in a shot glass.  I was going to grab another chocolate milk until I saw the potato chips.  So, I grabbed a bag and inhaled that too.  I was starting to feel better when Stephanie and Anita approached.  It is a good thing that only my husband witnessed my cookie-monster-like eating.  I probably had chip bits all over my face as I hugged my friends. 

My Friends All Finished Too

We all congratulated each other for the finish.  Stephanie came in at 5:17:14 and Anita at 5:27:26. My husband finished in 3:26:16.  I listened as they told me a little about their experiences. 

My Husband

My husband, Dave, was the first of us to finish. This was his third marathon. He started in the 1st corral and had hours to wait for us.  I thought I would find him in the beer tent enjoying his free beer.  But instead he told me that he was being treated by a medic for heat exhaustion.  It wasn’t that hot out, only reaching 17 oC.  But with the sun coming out and reflecting off the pavement, it felt hot.  There was very little shade on the course.  We all got a little sunburnt during our runs.  Dave felt nauseated and was slowing down in the last miles.  Luckily, he felt better by the time the rest of us finished.  But he never got to drink his free beer. 

Stephanie

Stephanie finished next.  She was suffering in the last few miles too.  She says she walked too much during the later part of the course.  Also fighting a cold virus, her stomach was acting up and she had side cramps as she ran.  Her finishing photos tell the story of her pain. Those photos also show pure grit and determination!  She did it.  She finished her first marathon.  I am so proud of her! 

Anita

Anita was the only one of us that had no real pre-determined finishing expectations.  Starting the race with a history of illness and injury made her more realistic in her goal.  She only wanted to finish.  And she accomplished that.  Coming in at 5:27 was incredibly satisfying for her.  She is one of the most tenacious people I know.  I am very proud of my friend, Anita. 

Goal Times, Schmoal Times

None of us made our original goal times.  But my friends were all happy that they finished.  As I have said, I am very proud of my friends and husband. I started to feel a bit better about my time after chatting with them.  Running 26.2 miles is a very hard thing to do.  Less than 0.5% of the world’s population run marathons.  Just finishing is the accomplishment.  It is not about time.  I keep telling myself that.

Don’t stop until you are proud

But in the back of my mind is a nagging little voice that says, “You are a better runner than that.  You did better in training.”  I walked way too much during the last half of this Twin Cities Marathon.  And that fact is not something I am proud of. 

My original thought was that this would be my one and only marathon. One and done! I knew it was going to hurt, but it was more painful than I thought it would be.  But the fact that I am not entirely proud about walking so much on that course is making me consider running another one.  

So, I will run another marathon.    

If you want to read some of the back story about us and our training for the Twin Cities Marathon, have a browse through the Pink Ribbon Runner Marathon Challenge Archives.



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