Here I was. Twelve weeks of training had taken place and race day was here. Whether I was ready or not, there was no turning back at this point. I felt pretty good about training, maybe not sub-5 good, but good. Overall, I was very pleased with my 12 weeks of training and knew I had at least given everything I had to give.
Before I get to race day and the roller coaster that happened there, I probably should touch base on race week. Let me preface this by saying before a big race I am a weather stalker. I start looking at the weather 10 days out and every day check to see if it’s gotten better or not. Well, based on what I saw, I honestly thought this race would never happen.
They kept calling for high humidity and major thunderstorms during race hours. Even going to bed Friday night, I really did not think I would be starting, letting alone finishing this marathon. It wasn’t the rain that I was worried about, but more so the storms and humidity. Any time there was a high humidity on runs, I barely made it through. Needless to say, I was freaking out and wasn’t too happy about what the possibilities held before me.
Friday before the race, I got to Dayton in the afternoon to hit the expo to get my bib. I had enjoyed this expo last year, so I was looking forward to it again. However, I wasn’t all that impressed this year. It had similar vendors, but so many vendors had stepped away when I was there so it seemed like there were not that many.
They highlight of the expo was being able to listen in on Meb speak a bit. I didn’t get down on the main floor, but still being able to hear him from the top level was great. Once I was done with the expo, I headed to the hotel. I was staying about 20m south of Wright-Patterson base. The hotel upgraded me to a great size suite so I had plenty of room to stretch out. It was nice to actually just relax and watch some TV.
Around 5:30pm, I decided to go grab some dinner and since I had the space in the hotel room, I wanted to grab food to go and eat it back in the room. I found a Carraba’s nearby and it ended up being perfect. I was expecting to wait about 20 minutes at the bar for my food, but probably within 7 minutes the bartender had brought it out to me. I went with a basic spaghetti with some extra meat sauce and lots of bread.
After dinner, I continued to stalk the weather but nothing seemed to change. My friend Jen from Indy kept telling me the storms would not hit Dayton but it was hard to believe that. I just didn’t want to get this far, show up to the start line and then not race and be given the opportunity to finish. I called it an early night since race organizers suggested getting on base an hour early. For me that meant a 5am wake up. By 10pm, I was out and dreaming of that sub 5.
Around 4:30am I woke up not to my alarms but to the sound of Mother Nature bowling in the sky. The rain itself wasn’t bad but you could clearly hear the storm going through. Well, at this point I could not go back to sleep. I was up. I laid in bed waiting for my alarm to officially go off. Before my alarm went off though the race organizers had sent an update to all runners that there was lighting within 5 nautical miles (seriously, just give me real life miles) and that the race start would be delayed. Even though there was a delay, I still got up once the alarm went off and planned to get to the base when I had first planned.
The hotel was great and that they had put out breakfast bags in the lobby for any runners staying there. I grabbed one, but after a close inspection, I decided to forgo most of it. Yogurt did not seem like a good idea. They did have a granola bar which came in handy while I waited almost an hour to get on base. With the delay, I thought there would be no issues getting to the parking area. Boy, was I wrong.
Since I was driving up I-675, I was getting off at exit 15. As soon as I got to the exit ramp all I saw were red brake lights FOR MILES. Literally. Everything that I could see in front of me and then way out to the right was red. Red brake lights was all that I could. I remember this from last year but I also remember it going pretty smoothly and getting to the parking area in no time. Well, history did not repeat itself.
The start of the marathon had been delayed until 8am, so my idea was to be able to get through security by 7:15am so I could check my bag and get to the bathroom line. Yup, that did not happen. It took forever to get through the gate to enter the base. Security at this point is actually pretty relaxed. What the issues was is they took 3 lanes into 2 but the merge happened at a sharp corner. Since that took about 35 minutes, I started making my breakfast bagel while in the car.
Finally it was around 7:10 and I was parked and ready to walk the almost mile to the security gate to get to the start line. Since they had the delay it seemed that everyone waited to get through security to the start line. I realize this is an active base that we are running on, but waiting to get through security and seeing half marathoners and spectators go through before me was just annoying. At some point they really should have a marathon/10k runner only security lane.
It was finally around 7:40am that I was able to get through the security line. I rushed to the bathroom line as I needed to make sure all GI issues were under control. Luckily the line did seem to move fast, but I was starting to panic and knew this would not be good. As I waited in the bathroom lines, two of my 50 State friends happened to go by. It was great to see them and say hi! I had last seen them at Grandma’s Marathon and I think I actually the reason they signed up for this race. Oops.
Well, it was maybe 7:52am, the anthem had played and I was finally getting my turn in the bathroom. Once I was out, I sprinted to bag check. My heart was racing and I was just pissed. This was not how I wanted to start any race, let alone my goal marathon race. With literally a minute to spare, I weaved in and out of the start line corral to find the 5-hour pace guy and was lined up to get this race started. There was zero time to breathe. All of a sudden we had Osprey’s doing a fly over and then BOOM. The starting gun signaled that we were off. There was no looking back now. This was happening.
Analyzing the course map, I knew the big hill of this course was within the first 2 miles. Since I was late into the start corral, I did not have time to say hi the 5-hour pacer, but I snuck in right behind him. Right at the first mile we started hitting the first hill. This was the single biggest climb. It had a false peak or two, as you thought you were done, but you turned the corner and oops, you had more hill to climb.
The pacer was taking some walk breaks and I missed the signal on the first one, but by his second one I figured it out and just followed along. I didn’t care if I walked at all during this race as the only goal was the sub 5. Once you were at the top tough, there was a nice downhill. At the bottom of the downhill, the 10k runner split to the left and the marathoners headed to the right. We hit our first water stop here. Even though I was carrying my own water, I wasn’t afraid to grab from the stops if I needed it and I think I took from almost every stop if not every one.
Even before we had hit mile 3, I had already realized my shirt was soaked through. It was gross and it was only going to get worse. It was also around this time that I started chatting with the 5 hour pace group a bit more. In chatting, I learned that it was his son that paced the 2:15 hour pace group for the half the year before that I tried to stick with. Hrm, this should have been my first clue. Like son, like father? Yup.
As we hit each mile, he would let us know how much time we had banked. I was trying so hard not to focus on the watch and just focus on how I felt, but I think that was actually a mistake. Overall though these miles were ticking away and I wasn’t thinking anything was wrong. Oh, how I wish that feeling stayed longer than it did.
When you run a marathon, so many people talk about how the wall comes during miles 18-20. Well, mine came early. And when I say early, it came during miles 8-10! This was not at all how I saw this race going. At mile 8, the pacer made mention of the time again that we were banking. At this point he was about 4 minutes ahead of where we should be. My head starting spinning inside. With the weather, I knew this was going out way too fast.
This is about when the wheels came off. I started thinking about the time way too much. It was also about this time we left the base for about 2 miles and hit the small downtown of Fairborn. This is the one big spectator spot for the race. I had been looking forward to this area as I knew it would be a great pick me up. Well, it was quite the opposite. As we turned on Main St, I basically just came to a halt. I thought I would do a quick 15 second walk break, but that was not the case. One of the other guys in the pace group saw me fall back and looked back to say come on, get back up. It was nice of him, but I knew I just couldn’t.
I slogged my way through the main spectator area and started my way back onto the base. At this point in the race people were pretty spread out, so it was nice to be alone in a way. I had a moment and I needed that space. I was walking along, shaking my head and hand in my head. I knew this race was done. I just knew it. There was no clawing my way back at this point. Some random spectator saw me going down the rabbit hole, came out and patted me on the back. She said I got this, but I was already mentally gone and it was hard to believe her.
Here I was with so many more miles to go and I was already done. Let me tell you, this was daunting. So many thoughts kept swirling through my head. I told myself I could get to the next med station and bail and that seemed like a pretty great idea, especially after I thought I was going down. Pretty quickly after getting back on base, I noticed I wasn’t necessarily going in a straight line and I started getting pretty light headed. I grabbed some fuel and water and after a pretty extended (a few minutes) walk break, I was feeling better.
Remember that 20 mile training run I did on the treadmill? Well, I thought I would never be using it as a mental strategy in my race, but there I was , recalling it back in my mind. At this point with 16.2 miles to go, I told myself to break it down into 3 5 mile races and one last 2k. I was just doing everything that I would to take my mind off of the pain and sheer fact that my race was done by mile 10. I was embarrassed. I was pissed. And to say that I felt like I was letting my grandfather down was a quite the understatement.
Around the half marathon mark, a few others really started looking like I was feeling. I asked if everyone else was feeling like death and they all agreed that the conditions were horrible. I have to say, there was a little joy in knowing that I wasn’t the only one out there slogging my way through this marathon. There were so many people walking and hanging their heads low that we sort of just took solace with each other. I won’t say before I know it I was hitting mile 15, but it was a good feeling that the first of my three 5 mile races was done.
It’s in these miles that a marathoner might typically think they would be hitting the wall. Well, in my case, some things started clicking in a way. I am not saying I got my race back, but mentally I was in a better place during these 5 miles than I was for miles 10-15. What clicked? Nothing really I think just mentally I knew I was getting closer to the back stretch and if I could get this far, I would make it to the finish line. I no longer kept thinking of the bailing at the next med tent.
The other thing that happened is around mile 17 to 18 I actually started assign people from the original 5 hour pace group. Here they were starting to hit their wall and here I was passing them all. Something seemed wrong, but I was going with it. I never thought I would see anyone from that pace group again and it was a good handful that I did pass before mile 20. And to my knowledge, none of them passed me again.
Passing those people actually helped keep me going. Knowing that I almost quit this race 10 miles ago and here I was still slogging on meant something, right? Physically, I wasn’t in too much pain because of all of the walking. I really tried to hit intervals of minimum 3:2 but was going for 4:1. Truly, at this point, I was just trying to do a longer run over walk interval. By this point of the race they were also having a water stop almost every mile. I would stop and get water or Gatorade even though I had my pack. The cold water felt nice and half also just went on my head.
This was it. The last 10k was here. I could do this. Right? Well, spoiler alert. I did, but there was a lot of doubt still left this late in the game. Don’t get me wrong, miles 18, 19 and 20 were by far some of the better miles mentally, but this was still a marathon and anything could still happen.
In mile 21, I passed my fellow 50 state friend Jodi. She was also struggling during this race. It just wasn’t pretty for many. We played cat and mouse for about 2 miles. It was great to see a friendly face out there. Mile 21 is the last incline of the race. It’s not really a hill but an overpass, which is why I call it more of an incline. It was the same one we hit in mile 5. These last 5.2 miles were going to be some of the same ones that we had in the beginning of the race. After that overpass though it was pretty flat and if anything a downhill in mile 25. I caught myself smiling more during these miles. I was getting closer to ending this pain and torture.
Since we were getting back toward the start line, we had more opportunities for spectators as well. These late water stops were also just amazing! Their spirit was great! It’s certainly what you need to help keep you going. Many of us had noticed some pretty dark clouds in the background and finally it started to rain a little. Nothing crazy, but it was honestly welcomed by this point. It didn’t last long though and as soon as it stopped, you could just feel the humidity again.
As I mentioned, mile 25 had a little downhill. Nothing by any means crazy, but something to enjoy and let gravity just work. I wanted to take full advantage of anything downhill by this point. As much as I appreciate the run/walk method, starting back up on the run sometimes just hurts and throws me off. It’s like my hips get out of whack or something. Even though it was last 2k, I was certainly doing shorter intervals and just picking a spot on the course to run to and start my walk break then.
Around mile 25.5, you go through the last water stop and come back through base gates. I remember these last turns from running the half from the year before. Once inside that last gate you had one right turn until you hit the last part to the finish line. As you make that last turn though you can see the finish line over the right. So many finishers are hanging around but you still have a good 0.3 to 0.4 miles to go. It’s pretty much the biggest tease ever.
In this last bit of the race, the head wind decided to come in like a mad man. Seriously it just swooped in out of no where and I let out a big ‘what the fuck’ and had about 10-15 heads spin around to me. Oops. I was pissed and well, was voicing it. Why couldn’t these last 0.2 miles of the race be easy? Oh right, because I’ve just run 26 miles before that. At one point I started a small walk break. Someone looked at me and said “Come on, keep going, you’re almost there.” Well, thank you Captain Obvious. I realized I was almost there, but I was also still doing a run/walk. I would rather do a small walk break right before the finish line so I could try and give it one last push through and in this case, I did have a nice little last push that seemed to come out of no where.
As you go through the finish chute, there are active Airmen there to give you your medal. I was given mine by a guy with the biggest smile and I made him take a selfie with me prior to giving me my medal. Then, as he gave me it, I lost it. I mean big ugly tears just came out. I couldn’t help it. So many emotions starting flooding through. I looked up and saw Frank and eventually Elle waiting for me to come through the finishers chute. I knew they were there, but did not know they would be staying after for me.
Very slowly I made my way over to bag check to get my stuff and then I found the ground. All I wanted to do way lay down. I was thinking if I couldn’t get up, that some hot men in uniform would come rescue me, but sadly I was able to get up on my own. Once up, Elle made me do my infamous jump. I hated her for that, but somehow I got off the ground. It wasn’t a high jump.
I certainly took my time trying to put myself together after this race. As I mentioned, once I came across that finish line, there were a lot of emotions. The first round of emotions were tough. I kept telling myself that I didn’t deserve that finish and that it was a complete failure. The worst part is that through this failure all I felt is that I disappointed my grandfather. This race meant so much to me as he served in the Air Force and running this particular race is a connection to him that I get even if he’s no longer with us. I was really beating myself up on this one.
So many of my friends reached out to me after the race and told me finishing a marathon is still a great thing and that by digging in and finishing my grandfather would be even more proud of me. I was listening to them all, but I wasn’t hearing them. It honestly took a good 24 hours for me to truly digest my emotions and realize they are all right. A marathon finish no matter what is still something to celebrate. Don’t get my wrong, I was still disappointed I missed my goal and didn’t even come close to it, but it wasn’t my day and it was a good reminder that no matter how prepared you feel, the marathon is still something to respect and understand anything can happen out there come race day.
Official Finish Time:
70/124, F 30-34