On Sunday, October 5th I woke up at 4am and started eating carbs – a whole wheat bagel, oats with some blueberries, and a couple bananas. My dog got up with me and hung out on the couch for a little bit, but soon after finishing her breakfast she decided it was too early for her to be up on a Sunday morning and returned to bed with my boyfriend. My stomach was FULL of butterflies as I waited for the train headed toward downtown at 6am. At each train stop, the cars filled with people wearing running clothes, listening to their ipods, and eating bananas. We all got off at the same spot downtown and in the dark, we headed for our respective starting groups. Once in my starting group, I paced for a bit, listened to Adelle, and tried to answer the questions, “Should I pee now or closer to the starting time? Do I even have to pee or are these just nerves?” I looked around at the stretches other people were doing, trying to decide if those were the stretches I should also be doing in that moment. I had never run a full marathon before, and although I have run 8 half marathons and trained for this race for 18 weeks, I still felt like I had no idea what to expect. Luckily, I found a friend who reminded me that it was just another long run. Right, just another long run like the ones we have been doing every weekend since starting training….except THIS was IT. This was the Portland Marathon, not JUST another long run!
Our pace group finally took off at 7:15am and crossing the starting line was surreal. There were a lot of people already lined up along the streets cheering runners on. Within the first mile we passed at least 3 bands, and I couldn’t help but think about the members of those bands who were kind enough to wake up early on a Sunday just to entertain strangers who had volunteered (and paid!) to run 26.2 miles. I also kept thinking, “Holy cow. I am actually running a marathon right now,” while Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” played on my iPod.
The first 13 miles felt great. I had done two half marathons in the previous 3 weeks so that distance had become comfortable. Around 14, my left IT band started to tighten and my knee sent shooting pain with each step. I took a moment to stretch it and set my sights on mile 17. I knew the only way to get through the rest of the race was to mentally break it up into smaller distances. I set goals for 3-5 miles out, promising myself things like a walk break or a shot block, when I reached those markers. Prior to the race, I had also envisioned getting to the St. John’s Bridge. I had told myself over and over again that if I could make it up the hill to the start of that bridge, I would definitely be able to finish the whole race. I ran into a slight problem with that plan when I got the bridge in sight along Highway 30 and it was a bit farther than it actually appeared. I could see the dang thing, how was it still 3 miles ahead?! Destiny’s Child’s “Jumpin Jumpin” came on when I hit the steep part of the hill leading up to the bridge, which gave me the mental relief I needed.
It has been unusually warm for this time of year in Portland and by the time I got over the St. John’s Bridge and turned to run toward the Broadway Bridge, the sun was beating down right in my face. My next goal was to get to mile 20 and then 21.5, which was where I knew friends would be waiting to cheer me on. When I reached mile 21.5 it had started to sink in that I was really going to finish the race, but I had started to slow down quite a bit. I had to break up my goals into smaller bits, like getting to the next water station or running until that tree up ahead and then walking until the stop sign (Runners – you KNOW what head games I’m talking about!). At the best moment possible, a coworker jumped into the street with a sign with my name on it and she walked along side me telling me I looked strong, my outfit was well coordinated (super important!), and I just had a little more to go before a large decline and before I knew it I would cross that finish line and be showered with a medal and food and cheers. I felt so overwhelmed by her kind words I thought I would cry, so instead I put my headphones back in jogged ahead. Soon after that, I saw Nick and Reymie running toward me. I gave Nick a kiss, Reymie a pet, and told them everything hurt pretty bad. They ran along side me for a little ways, validated my aches and pains, and told me they would be at the finish line when I arrived.
That big decline from miles 22 to 24 felt better, but did not give me the sweet relief I was hoping for. My quads were so tender and it felt difficult to keep my pace controlled as I went down the hill. By the time I passed mile 24, I had accepted the fact that I may walk most of the last two miles. I walked up the slight hill to the Broadway bridge, jogged over it and down the hill back into downtown. I managed to alternate jogging and walking until I passed the marker for mile 25. As I got closer to the finish, the crowd on each side of the street got larger and everyone was cheering each runner on. My name was printed on my bib and I could hear complete strangers yelling, “You’re almost there, Scotti!” “Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga was playing on my running mix and I could not have felt more pumped than when she started belting out, “Just go on and ruuuuuunnnnnnnn!” Ahhh! Such an incredible moment!
As we approached 25.5, a former classmate and friend came up behind me and said “Come on, let’s finish this.” She stepped it to the highest gear she had left and I felt like I was sprinting to keep up. We ran around the two corners to the finish line, I saw more coworkers going wild as they saw me pass, and before I knew it we were under the finish line arch and I was being handed a medal. I was kind of dizzy, my ankles were killing me, and I felt sort of disoriented as I wandered through the finish line full of food, drinks, roses, people and warming jackets. What was I supposed to eat? Should I force myself to eat although I was the farthest thing from hungry? I saw a woman who was really dizzy and was requiring medical attendants to help her get to the nearest aid tent and I thought, “I need to find Nick now before I end up fainting too.”
After leaving the race, we went to lunch and although I still wasn’t hungry, I managed to eat a large black bean burger and down several glasses of water. A woman came over to our table and asked if I had just completed the Portland Marathon. I said yes and she said, “Congratulations. That is quite an accomplishment.” It was all really starting to sink in. The highs and the lows of the last 18 weeks. The anxiety of the night before that had me unable to sit still so I cleaned out my closet, tried on clothes I hadn’t worn in months, and checked and re-checked that I had packed everything for the next morning. Nick asked me all of the things I was feeling now that I had completed my first marathon. I started to simply rattle off everything that came into my head. I said I felt:
- Overwhelmed: I was overwhelmed by the support I had received from friends and family in the form of Facebook messages, texts, high fives and signs along the race course. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of complete strangers who offered words of encouragement along the way. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I had just accomplished something I didn’t think I could do, even in the beginning of 2014 when I declared this was going to be the year I completed my first marathon.
- Grateful: I was incredibly grateful for all of the support I had received. There was also a point in the race when I saw two women holding signs. The first woman’s sign read: One day you won’t be able to do this. And the next woman’s sign read: Today is not that day. In that moment, I realized I was taking advantage of an ability I wouldn’t have forever. I felt so grateful that I am physically able to run, that my body can handle me pushing my limits, and that my mind was able to push me past those limits in moments when I thought my body couldn’t handle it. I am grateful for the opportunity to run long distances and know I will look back on my life and fondly remember the times I used my body to its full potential.
- Proud: I felt proud that I had said I was going to do something and then I did it. I stuck to an intense training schedule for 18 weeks and forced myself out of bed 4 days per week to run no matter how I felt about the activity that day.
- At peace: In all of my previous races and throughout training, I struggled with thoughts of self-doubt. I usually mentally unravel around mile 11 in half marathons, especially if I realize I am not going to cross the finish line by the time I had hoped. I get caught up in thoughts about how I didn’t train enough, or I could have done more strength training or speed runs, or I should’ve pushed harder in the middle of the race before I got tired at the end. None of these thoughts are ever helpful. However, a magical thing happened on Sunday. When I became worn out around mile 18, my thoughts did not immediately turn against me. Instead, for the rest of the race, I reminded myself that 18, 19, 20 miles was one hell of a distance to run and of course I would feel tired. Regardless of how much I slowed down, I was ecstatic about the fact that I knew I was going to cross the finish line. I wasn’t going to get there in the 4 hours and 30 minutes I had hoped, but I didn’t have to force myself to be kind. I truly felt accomplished and at peace with how the race was going. This has literally never happened inside my head. I had reached a point where I was accepting where I was in that moment, acknowledging the strength and perseverance I had displayed already that morning, and was proud of the result regardless of the finish time. Those positive, loving thoughts are the reason I run. Running pushes me to new limits and forces me to accept whatever I am capable of that day. In the words of Tony Horton, I did my best and forgot the rest. Only this time, that phrase was real and I felt over the moon.
and the last thing I felt was…..
- I can totally beat my time next year! I think Nick and I were equally as shocked when these words came out of my mouth. Going into the race, I wanted to keep an open mind about the prospect of absolutely hating the experience. I told myself and others that I wanted to check marathon off of my bucket list and I would be totally fine if this distance wasn’t for me. I liked half marathons and would be content doing those for as long as I am able. However, as I sat there in the sunshine, cruising on that runner’s high, I realized I had not only survived my first marathon, I had felt pretty darn good about it. So good, in fact, that now that I know what to expect from running 26.2 miles, I can concentrate on improving my ability to run that far.
So, we will see what the future holds for me and running. I love the challenge and I love the discipline of training. I love the positivity of the running community and its amazing supporters. I saw some seriously hilarious signs being held up by folks along the course and I appreciated those moments when the task at hand was lightened up by some humor and really good music. I love the mental breakthroughs I have when I am running, when I finally stop thinking self-defeating comments and truly appreciate the fact that I am a total badass right now.
I ran the 2014 Portland Marathon and I LOVED EVERY SECOND. ❤