Race Report: My First Marathon

Going to bed on Friday night, I just couldn't believe I was going to run a marathon in the morning. I actually slept pretty well between 9:00 p.m. and my 4:00 a.m. alarm. I got up, had breakfast, checked and double checked my gear, and was out the door at 4:55. My husband drove me and another couple of marathoners to within 1/2 mile of the start of the Country Music Marathon/Half-marathon.

I got to the start around 6:10 a.m. Thousands of people were already milling around, standing in port-o-potty lines of 40 people or more, stretching, etc. There were many more brown half-marathon bibs than black full marathon bibs. I read 31,000 people were expected, 25,000 of them for the half. It's the 2nd largest half marathon in the country. I felt a kinship with the people in black bibs. I knew we had a really tough day ahead of us. It was already 68 degrees at the start and very humid---more like August in Tennessee than April.

I was supposed to be in corral 16, but as I watched corrals 1, 2, 3 start and it was getting hotter and hotter, I decided to jump in corral 9, which was right where I was standing. At this point, I had already been on my feet an hour and 10 minutes before even starting running. Our corral was released about 7:16 a.m. The 4:00 hour pacer was in that corral, so I knew they'd be starting fast. In the first mile, everyone around me started at about a 9:00 minute pace, so I had to struggle not to go that fast. The PICTURE in the post below is from that first mile. I look happy and excited at that point. I managed a 9:55 first mile, a little faster than planned. I wanted to stay between 10:10 and 10:45/pace per mile, but I wasn't too far off.

In miles 2, 3, and 4, I was just warming up and making sure I stayed on pace. Instead of warming up, I should say "heating up." By mile four we had completed a series of long, large hills. My breathing was rough and I was burning up. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. That's when the specter of self doubt reared its ugly head. "How can I do this for 22 more miles?? It's only going to get hotter."

I remembered reading about pouring cups of water on your head in a hot race. At the 5 mile marker, I poured my first cup of cold water on my head. It was like an electric shock when it hit my scalp and my neck and back. I immediately felt better. I think I smiled for the first time in many miles. Right there at mile 5, I began to formulate a survival plan of what it was going to take to get me through the day. At every water stop for the rest of the race, I walked, drank, and poured. I knew I had to keep my core temperature regulated, that the evaporation of water off my body would cool me, and I HAD to stay hydrated and keep my electrolytes up. I took salt packets when they were offered, and I drank plenty of the Cytomax on the course.

Miles 5-9 were good miles. I was on my pace. It was scenic. There was crowd support, even people with water hoses. I went through every single hose on the course! Miles 10 and 11 were long. I knew the half-marathoners and marathoners split around 11.5. It was 80 degrees around this point. Despite my survival measures, running in the heat was sucking the life out of me. I started walking the major hills to conserve energy. At the split, I thought, "Wow, they have less than 2 miles to go and I still have 15 more miles. I've got to do everything I just did AND two more miles." At that point, it was almost inconceivable. It brought my spirits way down. My knees and right hip had started to hurt. I just felt like walking those last 15 miles.

I decided I need to stop at the next medical station for some Tylenol to help with the pain. It made a big difference within two miles. Around this time, I started chatting with the runner walking next to me--Carol from Evansville. The only reason I was started back running is because she did. We only stayed together for about a mile. We ran and chatted, but she was going a little faster than I wanted to go, so I stopped to walk (alone) again. I had my 1/2 peanut butter and honey sandwich from my pocket.

We were in this industrial area with concrete everywhere, no shade, and it was blistering. Then I ran upon a guy I recognized (out of 30,000 people!). He was from my town and had come to a couple of group runs with my running club. I said hi, and he said he'd run with me for a bit. He was hurting, too. A minute or two later, we saw Carol again. I yelled, "Carol!" and she was actually shocked to see me. She had thought I was done and would be walking the rest. That's when I realized the Tylenol and sandwich had kicked in and I felt so much better. I got my second wind around mile 13.5. I was actually feeling ok.

Carol, Phil, and I stayed together for many miles. We chatted. We ran in a little pack. One in front for a while, then the other, or three across. We heard about hometowns and spouses and kids and jobs and other races we had done or wanted to do. Miles 13-19 were the most pleasant of my whole day. All of our time goals were shot, so we ran as slowly as we wanted, walked up most of the hills, and just had fun. What a difference having someone to talk to makes. At 19.5, my husband was waiting to see me. I introduced him to "my new best friends." We all shared the sunscreen he had brought, and I told him I'd see him in about an hour and 15 minutes.

Finally, at mile 21, Phil wasn't feeling as well as Carol and me. He was having stomach issues. We hated to keep going, but we were SO CLOSE. I guess I was still feeling well, because around mile 20 or 21 it hit me: I'm going to finish this thing. And not just walking--running. If I had been alone, there is an excellent chance I would have walked those last 13-15 miles. Oh, sure in miles 20-26 there was LOTS of walking. But there was an equal amount or more of running. It was 85 degrees, humid, and frankly, I was just glad to still be on my feet. EVERYONE around was walking at some point or just walking altogether. But it wasn't the limping shuffle of the living dead I expected. Most people were actually in decent shape.

We picked up a new friend--Missy (I think--I never really caught her name), from St. Louis around mile 22. She really pushed us to run more than we wanted to, but that was what we needed. Finally, I saw the mile 25 sign. Then the mile 26 sign. At mile 26, there were tons of spectators lining the streets for that last .22. I hadn't walked in a while and I really, really wanted to. But I was embarrased to walk in front of all those people when I was that close to finishing. So I ran and ran the longest .22 miles EVER. I turned the corner to the finishing area and the finish line was in sight AND slightly downhill! Carol had kicked it around mile 26, but I waited until I could see the finish. I sprinted to the finish with EVERYTHING I had left. I heard John "the Penguin" Bingham from Runners World say, "Donna, Donna, Donna!" as I ran down the finish chute. That was cool. I had just read his book a few weeks ago.

I crossed the mat, hugged Carol who had finished 15 or 20 seconds ahead, and got my medal. I passed on the space blanket because it was a million degrees at this point.

Carol and I got our photos taken together. We had bonded through the traumatic event of the last 13 miles of a marathon. We hope to keep in touch. We found my hubby and then parted ways.

I felt exhilarated at the end. Still hot and tired, but exhilarated. I was glad it was over. I thought I'd cry at the finish line for sure, but there were no tears.

I'm a marathoner. I had hoped I had it in me, and I did. I wore a temporary tattoo in the race that says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phillippians 4:14. I really can. I prayed and prayed throughout the race.

My finish time was 5:17:11. Slower than I'd hoped, but with 85 degree-weather, it was all about survival today. Sadly, one half-marathoner did not survive. He collapsed and died after crossing the finish line. He was only in his mid-twenties. At least 27 people were taken to area hospitals, not to mention those treated on the course for heat exhaustion. I just thank God He got me through.
Did I ever hit the proverbial WALL? I went through a rough patch between miles 11 and 12 where I was over it and didn't want to be there anymore, but I never had a point where I could no longer run. I never had any major physical discomfort after the Tylenol at mile 12. I was never fully depleted of energy. In miles 20-26, when I was running, it was my normal 10:30ish pace, not that feet-dragging 13-minute pace from the end of my 20-miler. So, no, I don't think I hit the wall! (All that walking helped.)
Will I do it again? Yes, I believe I will.


I am so happy you finished. What a brutal day it was for the south. I can't believe someone died. not sure how many people were takin to hospitals here but I know it was alot... I heard sirens like crazy... I was determined to finish no matter what my time was. I think you had hotter and more humid weather then us. I dont think we got over 85... still hot and suckie. Glad its over... not I an think about my next marathon in June which will be in the mountains of utah.... awwww. sounds so refreshing.
Bethany said…
WOO HOOO!!! Donna, You did it and you have that awesome picture to prove it! I love it :) That is really a great picture. I thought about you and J all day and could not wait to get to my computer. well done, friend!
Shelly said…
Great job Donna! I am so thankful that we were able to get to the finish line in such crazy temperatures. I was so happy to see you at the end of the race- I had been thinking about you the entire way. I don't know if I have another one in me- it was such a mental and physical challenge. I am going to slap my 26.2 sticker on my Suburban today. Woo Hoo! We did it!
tamara said…
Congratulations!! You have completed something not many people can say they have done! And you should be very proud of what you have accomplished!!!
Stacey said…
Congrats again! I love the friends you meet at a race. They really do become "new best friends"
I can't believe someone died. Crazy!
Glad you had a good experience.
Jules said…
yeah!! SO proud of you! I was crying reading your post! I was out of town all wknd and couldn't wait to get home today to read about your experience! Wonderful!

You did it!
Lisa said…
Great race report! I am very impressed that you ran it in such extreme temps. I think those are the kinds of temps that got the Chicago Marathon called early a couple of years ago. You really pushed through it. WTG!!

YOU ARE A MARATHONER. Next step: you run marathons?

Funny thing... when I crossed the finish line of my marathon last year, I thought I would cry. I didn't either.

That is terrible about that guy dying. Wow. I feel terrible for his family.

Well... you should be very proud of yourself. I hope you are feeling good today.
Donna, I 've got goosebumps reading your race report. What a smart and gutsy run you completed in such hot weather! How wonderful ... congratulations!! I hope you're enjoying a well-earned day of rest today and being spoiled and celebrated by your family.

Take care.
NY Wolve said…
Great job, be proud. Work, dedication and perseverance bring you your reward. Enjoy it, you have earned it.
Backofpack said…
Wow! Great report and great race! Running in the heat is so hard - and yet you did it for your FIRST marathon. That is awesome!

Thanks for commenting on my blog and letting me know of your fantastic race and that I had a little part in it. Really, it all came from you though - your drive and determination. Again, great job!
Velma said…
You did it! I am so excited for you. If you can do it in this weather, then it will be easy next time. Way to go and enjoy the deserved rest.
CONGRATULATIONS!!! I'm so happy for you. It is too bad that it was so hot but even with the heat you did a terrific job! Yay, Marathoner!
Amy said…
YAY!!!! Congrats! Not only did you complete your first marathon, but you finished a TOUGH one. I was so nervous for all the runners with those temperatures. I have to admit, there is no way I would have ran the full that day. Great job!!!

I have to say that you are such an inspiration. I find all women who are wives and mothers and who tackle the marathon to be inspirational. I mean, me? I've got all the time in the world to train, with no one to take care of or waiting for me at home. But reading about how you juggle it all, gives me hope that I can continue with this throughout my life! Thanks for sharing your training and life in your blog!

Congrats again!
Legs and Wings said…
Congratulations. You'll never be the same. Good job.
MCM Mama said…
Great job!!! Congratulations!! Can't wait to hear which one you are going to do next. ;o)
Bill said…
So you jumped into my corral? No wonder you had such a great race, especially considering the conditions.

Excellent race report. You definitely should be proud of your accomplishment.
Cyndi said…
Congratulations! I loved reading your story! It makes me wonder...hmmm...could there really be a marathon in my future? Gotta get through this half first though, which is making me nervous enough!

I did not know that someone actually died - that is terrible.

I'm glad you had a great experience!
Hi, I found you on ummm, I forget who's blog! BUT, I'm so glad I read your blog and got to read your report from your first marathon!! Congratulations on completing it in spite of the hills and hot weather. The first marathon is always the BEST marathon! It's all "downhill" for you now!
Teresa said…
That's awesome! Of course I got knots in my stomach reading this as I am still working training for my first marathon myself. I can't imagine trying to run in that kind of heat. Congrats to you! Great race report. You have so much to be proud of.