Last spring I had the thought that I just might be ready for a full marathon the next spring. The women’s forum (the LLR) on the running website I use was planning a meet-up for Flying Pig in 2012, and I posited that perhaps that could be my first full marathon. Training started on January 1st, 2012, and on May 6th, I started and completed 26.2 miles.
To start at the very beginning, Joe and I arrived in Cincinnati (well, across the river in Kentucky) late Friday night. The next morning, my mom and I went for a 2.5 mile jog across the river and back to shake out our legs. I felt good and strong, better than I had all week. I was raring to go…to the expo!
Where I got a little hyper at the Finish Swine, nabbed our very nice race swag, and took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a few items. Then we met up with the LLR ladies for lunch and headed back to the hotel to rest before an early pizza dinner with the LLR group followed by Graeter’s ice cream. I laid out my stuff, set the alarm for 4:15 am, and slept decently well given my adrenaline.
Early to rise for the 6:30 am start in order to let the coffee, water, and bagel with peanut butter provided by the Hampton Inn settle. Mom drove Joe, his friend Angela who was running the half with him, and me to the free carpool parking lot (one of the very few non-ideal race-related organizational things). We waited to get on a bus and shuttled to the start line where there were lots of other half-awake, half-jittery runners mulling about. We checked our bags easily and quickly, hit the bathrooms, and found our corral AKA our “pigpen”. Luckily, we ran into the other LLR gals and hung out for a while before the start.
The support of these ladies is phenomenal. I don’t know who was more excited about how my first marathon – me or them! We crossed the start line a short 8 minutes after the official start, and I settled into a comfortable pace up and over the first several bridges, into Kentucky, and back into Ohio before we turned to head through downtown. I cannot say enough about the crowd support for this race. We could hear the crowds along Seventh before we got there, and the cheering didn’t stop there. After we left downtown, we began “the climb”, 3 miles of elevation gain leading up to an overlook. I was thankful for doing a lot of my training on hills. We slowed our pace a little, but I never felt my legs or lungs really hurt.
My dad rode his bike around the course and snapped this picture of us after mile 7. I was looking and feeling good but had to make a short bathroom stop once we reached the top. The half marathoners split off shortly after the climb, and we continued on our way, ticking off the miles. Somewhere between 8 and 10, I took a swig of Gatorade and almost immediately felt it hit my stomach. That began a series of off and on stomach issues that resulted in a total of 6 stops. Fortunately, there were a LOT of aid stations and bathrooms along the course. Besides the bathroom time lost, our pace was right on target through the halfway point.
Then the temperature started to noticeably rise as the sun got higher in the sky. It was going to be a warm one, and we had a lot of time left out on the course. Crowd support got me to mile 18, and then we hit a long expanse of highway with no shade in sight. I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, this is about to get REAL.” I took a vanilla bean GU and tried to think about grinding out the last 8 miles. Our walk breaks became more frequent. Everything hurt. The sun was beating down on us. My mom looked at me and said, “One goal: get to the finish line.”
Somewhere, there was a group of girls with Frisbees full of ice chips, and I grabbed a handful and shoved them in my sports bra, thanks to a tip from Kelly. Along the way, after 20 miles, another group had cold towels. I ran through every sprinkler and dumped water on my head and neck, just trying to stay cool. We turned the bend and could see downtown Cincinnati in the distance, and it looked So. Far. Away.
The mile markers seemed to stretch out as our pace slowed, and I had to make a few more bathroom stops. Even with two miles left to go, I wasn’t sure I could make it. The 5:00 pacer passed us with no one in tow. I had really wanted to finish in under 5:00, and my mom asked if I wanted to go with her or keep walking. I shook my head and let her go by. One goal: Finish.
Around mile 25, I realized that I just might actually finish this thing. It helped that everyone around us looked just as bad as we did or maybe worse. At every aid station, people told us how strong we looked, how awesome we were, and shouted out our names from our bibs. “C’mon, Kira! You can do this!” We walked up a final hill and began the descent to the finish line. Spectators still lined the white fencing, and I saw Joe, Angela, and my dad cheering for us. My mom and I grabbed hands as we crossed the finish line and stopped our watches. 5:06:39, unofficial. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want anyone to think I needed medical attention. An LLR friend was in the chute and gave us a sweaty hug while we got water. Food-wise, NOTHING sounded good, but I grabbed a granola bar for later.
I tried to walk around a little bit, but all I wanted to do was sit down shortly after we found Dad, Joe, and Angela. Joe & Angela had a great race and really enjoyed it. When we got back to the hotel, the front desk staff saw our medals and clapped and cheered for us. I teared up all over again! Changing into my swimsuit to head down to the pool, I inspected the damage: a giant blister on my left second toe, a bad sunburn on my back left shoulder, chafing around my waist from my SpiBelt, and a digestive system that was not feeling good. The next morning, everything was sore including my back and abdominal muscles.
Running a marathon is physically the hardest thing I have ever done, but mentally, I never gave up, even when it really hurt. The crowd support in Cincinnati was unreal. For a city that I haven’t spent much time in, I loved what I saw – fun neighborhoods, great scenery, and intergenerational support ranging from seniors sitting out in front of assisted living homes to little kids passing out high fives and Twizzlers. There were very few logistical glitches that I saw – one being the whole free carpool shuttle thing (not enough shuttles, waiting too long, uninformed bus drivers) and the other being the Port-a-Potties right near the entrance to the corral creating a major traffic jam. I would definitely recommend this race to anyone wanting to run their first marathon.
Thank you Flying Pig, Cincinnati, LLR Ladies, Joe, Angela, Dad, and especially my mom for getting me through my first marathon! Next time, sub-5:00 for sure!