After passing my comprehensive exams in November 2015, I decide that I want to run a half-marathon and eventually a marathon. The half did not worry me too much, since I had run hundreds of 13-15 mile runs, so I knew I could go the distance. The marathon, however, is a different animal, and I go back and forth between whether I really can pursue it or not.
In the summer of 2016, I start training with the Brighton Bangers Running Club and wonder, “Where have these people been all of my life?” I get up 16 miles, then 18, then 20. In July, I sign up for the BAA Half Marathon, which is going to be held in October. I hold off on signing up for a marathon, though I am highly considering Philadelphia on November 20.
It gets to be September and I realize that I am ready. I am not following a training plan but I am putting in the miles. In fact, I am more than ready and a colleague advises me that I should do a marathon in October or risk overtraining. I find the Loco Marathon in New Hampshire. It’s close by and has all the things I want- flat with some rolling hills, pacers, and it’s an hour drive from home. After convincing myself for two weeks that I was coming down with a non-existent cold, I tell the voice inside my head to “SHUT THE **** UP” and I register.
On October 9, I run the BAA Half Marathon in the pouring rain. I do not recommend running a half two weeks before a full, but I did not want to waste my $85 registration fee. My time is 1:43:24. Not much better than my first race, which is disappointing, but given the rain and the hills….
Two weeks later, Bryan and I are up at 4:30am driving to New Hampshire- its actually a quite beautiful drive. I am sooo nervous and keep asking “what if I don’t finish? What if I have to go to the bathroom on the course?” and other annoying questions. When we actually get to the race, I start to feel better. People are so friendly. I ask a random stranger who looks experienced for advice on what I should wear for the weather conditions (which are around 46 degrees and sunny), and him and his wife end up chatting with me for a while. I also bond with veteran marathoner in her 40s who keeps re-assuring me that I am going to be OK.
Based on my half marathons, my predicted marathon finish time is around 3:40-3:50. I make my personal goal to finish under 4 hours to give myself lots of wiggle room. However, I decide to line up with the 8:00 pacer, because that Boston Marathon Qualifier dream is lodged somewhere in the back of my mind and just maybe…..
The race takes off and I am loving it. For the first couple of miles, the pace actually feels too easy, and I want to go faster. Nevertheless, I listen to my college BFF Jana’s advice that I need to start out slower so that I have energy at the end. So, I literally run right next to the pacer. I learn all about his life and he learns all about mine. By mile 8, I know I am going to finish this race. At one point, I tell him, “If you get me a BQ, I’m buying you a drink!”
For the first half of the race, there is a huge group of us running together. I feel like I am on a training run. Spectators love it, shouting, “look at that wonderful group! They are all helping each other!” It was true. I still love those people so much and pray I will see them again someday.
At mile 13, I get a chance to see how much time has elapsed since I ran right by the half-marathon finish line. 1:44ish- only a minute slower than my half marathon race- this is great! The course is two half-marathon loops, so I am comforted by the fact that I know the course already. But soon, things start to change. We switch pacers, and I aim to keep up with my new BFF. There is no longer such a big group of us anymore. By mile 16, I am struggling to keep up with the pacer. I’m so disappointed! I haven’t gotten to hear his whole life story yet!
By mile 17, I am slightly behind him but he is still in sight. I keep calm. I have no watch on me so I have no clue how fast I am going.
When I reach mile 19, I have totally lost him. I am also starving and freaking out since I have never run longer than this in my life. I take another GU but realize that I have not been taking in enough nutrition throughout the race. My knees are starting to feel pretty weak. I start to really lose heart and wonder if it is even worth it to keep pushing myself. Suddenly, there is a voice behind me, “Keep going Kathleen!” It’s one of the men I was running with earlier in the race. He assures me that I am still doing really well and that the pacer is really not that far ahead. This gives me a boost. When I reach mile 21, I know that I have no run more than I ever have in my life, but I try not to let it get to me.
By mile 23, I enter the Rail Trail again. The last 3 miles of each loop are in a well- paved, flat trail in a very wooded area- its nice and shady as there are lots and lots of trees. I start to feel nauseous. I am learning the hard way that you need a lot more gels during a marathon. I feel that it is too late to consume another GU. I keep telling myself, “Its 5K- you can do a 5k in your sleep now.” Instead of hoping for a BQ, I am now just hoping to finish. I realize the BQ was a reach anyway and accept that it’s not going to happen. I think of how proud I will be with a 3:45, which is about where I think I am.
It seems like mile 25 goes on forever. I actually start asking spectators how much longer I have. Then, all of a sudden, its like heaven has opened up- I see light and realize that the path is ending. There is a sign that says mile 26. I try to find Bryan, but do not need to look too far. A face pops up in front of me. I spot him and I start moving fast out of the woods. I expect the words, “great job, honey!” “I love you” or even “just .2 to go” but the first things out of his mouth are “Hurry up! Hurry up!”
“Hurry up! Did I hear that right? I just ran 26 miles and he wants to hurry up?! Is he f****ing serious?!”
Then I look up at time clock. 3:33. What?! That explains it. I can still do this if I sprint. I was cursing him a few seconds ago, but I love my fiancé.
I shout to Bryan, “Honey, I love you! Go get the bagels!” People start laughing. I give it all that I’ve got, even let out a little scream, and finish in 3:33:27. I look up to the sky, “Thank you Jesus.”
Bryan comes running over to me and I fall into his arms. He is wearing his medal, so I know he finished. He told me before the race to expect a 2 hour or even 2:10 finish. He finished his first half marathon in 1:50:20! I am so proud!
My knees hurt so bad, and it is painful to walk. I keep talking to the people I was running with earlier in the race and thanking my pacers. I am so excited. Bryan, remembering what I shouted to him while crossing the finish line, is starting to get annoyed and keeps telling me I have to go eat my bagel with peanut butter. I quickly call my mom, “Mom, I just wanted to let you know that I am alive and I qualified for Boston and I’m really hungry and need to go eat. I love you. Bye.”
I do not know if the -1:33 will be enough to actually get me into the Boston Marathon but I am beyond excited.
On the ride home, I eat BFresh Homemade peanut butter out of the container and smile at Bryan. I also complain that my legs hurt, but I know I shouldn’t since Bryan has it worse sitting in the driver’s seat. Sixteen years earlier, I would often cry at the door begging my mom not to make me to go to school because of how bad the kids would pick me, especially during gym class.
ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, MY FRIENDS, NEVER LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT YOU CAN’T.
Overall Race Review (if you are interested):
I give the Loco Marathon 5 stars! I highly recommend this race, especially for my Boston friends. It was only an hour drive. The race had free parking about one mile from the starting line, and there were tons of buses to take you from the parking lot to the race and then back to the parking lot after the race.
The two-loop course was beautiful. Some people do not like races with two loops but I thought it was comforting, especially for my first marathon. It was nice to know what lie ahead for the second half of the race. I also loved the fact that Bryan and I could experience the same course. Half and full marathoners actually end up running together for the first half of the race, and it was fun to see some people from our group finish and cheer for them when we got to the halfway point. It was a great mix of residential streets, farmland, and woods. My only complaint was the 3 mile Rail Trail which got kind of boring – 1 mile of woods is beautiful- but 3 miles going in the same direction got pretty tedious. The pacers were fantastic and not only did they pace me well, they carried extra nutrition with them and were offering people gels and jelly beans. Spectators and volunteers were super friendly, and water stations offering both water and gels were plenty!
We also appreciated the large ballroom in which runners were able to gather both before and after the race. There were tons of seats so I could comfortably eat after the race. They also offered a nice buffet of various types of chili and bread, as well as free bear. Sadly, I did not partake of the chili as my body only wanted bread and peanut butter post-race, but Bryan said it was delicious and the perfect snack for a chilly day. The medals were nice, as well as the long sleeve race shirts. If we weren’t so tired, I would have stayed much longer chatting to people in the ballroom. This race was a lot of fun and I would definitely do it again if I had the chance!