I’m A Marathoner

It’s been one month since I crossed the finish line.

One. Whole. Month.

 

The emotional roller-coaster I dragged myself on kept passing by the station. I sat frozen in my seat.  I couldn’t jump off. I’d see my friends off in the distance. I’d try to yell out to them, but they couldn’t hear me. I forced myself to smile – to have the appearance that this constant up-down-up-down had no effect on me. I couldn’t pinpoint when it happened, but the roller-coaster slowed down enough for me to attempt to get my footing. The ground felt unstable. My legs felt like bricks.

My legs still feel like bricks.
One month later.
I keep looking to see if someone told their toddler to wrap themselves around my legs and not let go.
No one is there.

Everyone talks about the hardships of training for a marathon. You carve out so many mornings. You skip out on a lot of Friday night drinking plans because, “Sorry, I have a long run Saturday morning.” Instead of your friends asking, “So what are you up to this weekend,” they’ve learned to ask, “How many miles do you have?” And each and every time you answer that question, your friend gasps at the amount you’re doing each week.

“Are you sure that’s good for your knees? Your body?”

Yes.
Yes we are sure.
There’s a reason why training programs are designed they way they are.
Trust the training process.

I knew what I was getting into when I decided to train for a marathon. At least I knew what I needed to give up. I prepared myself for what training would look like. My support system astounds me. I feel so thankful to have these people in my life. From family to friends to “IG friends.” We are just all here to support each other. I had some of the best cheerleaders around. People got up to start a run at 0500 with me. Once I started getting beyond the half-marathon distance, people would plan to split runs with me so I would never be alone. People texted making sure I ate enough and drank enough water. People messaged asking how training was going. The actual training process is something that I will always look back on with such a grateful heart. I would never have been able to get through this alone. I cannot tell you how much the “I am so proud of you” messages really kept me going.

I leaned on people a lot. I had to. I don’t know what I don’t know. And everyone was always so willing to talk with me. I asked for advice with stretching and hip strengthening exercises. I asked for advice on the best types of foods to eat. I asked for advice on fueling during a run, and what types of things to bring with on a long run. I asked for advice on the training process.

But you know what I never asked for?

How to mentally be “okay” after my marathon.

I have never felt so emotionally challenged before. When people say “Want to change your life? Run a marathon” or “If you are losing faith in humanity, go watch a marathon” they really aren’t joking. I just did not understand the magnitude of this until I was knee deep and couldn’t look back.

It felt like I was out having celebratory drinks that I had one more month left of training, and the next day I woke up getting dressed to get ready to become a marathoner. I don’t know where time went. But there I was getting ready to start. I was so nervous that I barely slept the night before. I am an anxious person, and not someone who particularly enjoys the fear of the unknown. It’s very hard for me to just JUMP right in. But every year I challenge myself to do something new despite how much of a nervous-wreck it makes me.

 

I had a lot of things to distract me until my own race day.  I had friends running a race in my hometown the day before. I stayed up late to make signs. I got up early to cheer them on. It was a great time!  I still didn’t feel like my own race day was coming when we were on our way to Kalamazoo. It just felt like a little road trip.   You’d think that after getting my clothes together, I’d feel like the race was coming.  Nope.  It wasn’t under after we got to the race and went to take our group photo. After we took it, I was surprised with a sign that everyone signed for me. I found out later that people were passing it around at a KRC event – THAT I WAS IN ATTENDANCE for might I add – and I had no idea it was happened. Kudos guys. But that’s when it hit me. I was about to run my first marathon. It brought tears to my eyes seeing the support from everyone. I attempted to read what people wrote, but all I could do was stare at it in awe.  I know sometimes when I talk about KRC, I joke that I make it sound like a cult. But these people have become like family.

I pulled myself together and got to the start corrals. The first three miles I enjoyed so much. I ran with Janet, who was participating in the Mittens Challenge – Half. She made it her goal to take photos of me, to which I am forever grateful for. She yelled to a few people “IT’S HER FIRST MARATHON!” It still hadn’t quite sunk in that I was in the process of running a marathon…

… It didn’t hit me until three miles in where Janet and I ran through Kalamazoo’s super cute downtown, and up head I see the split ahead.  “Half goes straight. Full to the right.”  I felt ready. “YOU’RE DOING IT!” Janet yelled.

 

 

And I was off. The rest of the race was by myself. 23.2 more miles!

I trained for this! “The race is a celebration of all the miles you put in during training,” I could hear Abby’s voice in my head. “You’ve already put in the work. Enjoy it!”

64 training runs
85h 40min total
411 miles
10,554ft in elevation

“I DID train for this” I kept reminding myself. I course was very diverse. We went through all different parts of town. I kept a slow and steady pace. Mile 8 presented itself with a lovely hill. BUT I DID HILL TRAINING!  It could never have been more proud of myself. I took the hill slower since I knew I had so much more mileage to go, but it was nice knowing that at mile 11 was the downhill for that same hill.  I was tired, but knew I needed to press on. It was getting hot. I was tired. And I was only just about half-way done. To my surprise, as I was just down that hill and turned the corner, I see some familiar faces! Josh, my mom’s boyfriend Loren, and my half-brother Chad. (My mom was volunteering at the finish line, otherwise she would have been there as well.)  I had thought about quitting so many times at this point. I threw my arms out and ran to Josh to give him a hug. I was SO happy. I felt like I got a little energy boost from them.  I found out later that they had JUST missed me as I went up the hill (at mile 8) and they were driving around looking for me, but blocked off roads and timing wasn’t in their favor. But it worked out for me! I NEEDED that boost right when I saw them, so it was meant to be.

 

I still had ~13 more miles to go. I didn’t feel terrible, but I didn’t feel great either. In hindsight, I could have used a little more sleep, and a LOT more water in the days leading up to the race. I passed all sorts of signs that gave me a good laugh. “Way to go Team Poor Life Choices” was one of my favorites. Someone also made a sign that said “Here’s some photos of my dogs” so naturally I stopped to take a photo of that sign. I sent it to a few people. I jokingly said “Look I stopped for puppies!” Little did I know that one of the KRC members Lisa wrote on my card “Don’t stop for puppies.” Whoops.

Mile 18 came and I began to feel emotions that I wasn’t ready for. I was ready for the hills and ready for how much my legs hurt. I wasn’t ready for the wall. I thought I had hit the wall before. Oh how wrong I was. I started to feel down on myself. “You got farther than this in training! And faster, too!” I was trailing a little behind of where I was for my 20 miles run. I needed to keep myself in check. Of COURSE I could go faster during my 20 mile run. I WAS DONE at mile 20. Not this time.

I hit mile 20 and had tears in my eyes. “This is it,” I told myself, “You’ve come this far. You are not quitting. It’s game time now!” 20 miles was the farthest I had run. I wanted to quit. My legs hurt. My hips hurt. My brain hurt.

I had so many people following me through the tracker. “You can do it!” “Drop the hammer! Go go go !” “It’s smooth sailin’ now!!” And my favorite “THIS IS WHAT YOU TRAINED FOR!!”

My friend Kristin ran her first marathon the day before. Her emotions from the race were so raw that I felt like I had a friend RIGHT there with me. We were not physically together, in fact, we didn’t run any of or training runs together. But the entire time, we had the same distances on the same week. The feeling of support from someone who has already ran a marathon and someone who hasn’t ran a marathon and is just so proud of you isn’t quite the same as someone who is balls deep with you. Feeling the same things at the same time for the first time. And I by NO MEANS ever ever mean to say that the support from other people meant less – furthest from the truth. But hey, It’s 2019 and the Internet all hates each other sometimes. I LOVE YOU ALL!! It was just in THAT moment. Mile 20.01 when Kristin texted “this is what you trained for” I about lost all hold of my emotions. She was right, though.

But I wanted to quit. I faked a jog for mile 20. At that moment, the pacer I was trying SO HARD to stay in front, passed me. The 16 min/mile pacer was now in front of me. My confidence dropped. I could feel the weight of my legs. I walked damn near all of mile 21. I passed a couple who were walking. We high-fived each other as i fake jogged by them. “GREAT JOB!” they yelled back. It looked like the the woman had hurt her ankle. I picked up my feet and trudged along: not quite slow enough for a walk, but a struggle to call it a jog. I texted Josh nearly in tears, “I feel like I’m letting everyone down. Everyone is just sitting around waiting for me.” I hated that feeling. I hate when people are waiting on me. He reassured me that it was okay. That there was no pressure to finish quickly. And that he was proud of me.

My calves kept seizing up.
My hips tightened.
I couldn’t feel my feet.

I rounded a corner to just about mile 22… TO A HILL. A BIG HILL. What kind of a sick joke was this? I stood there, right at the bottom, with the two ladies clearing up the water table. I started up the hill. One lady handed me my water, took my other hand and said, “You got this. You can walk up that hill. But you got this. You are so close!” All I managed to get out was, “This isn’t fair.” before the three of us busted out laughing. I was pretty delirious at this point. I’m not sure if they were laughing out of awkwardness because I started laughing first, or if they really thought I was funny. I’ll never know.

You bet your ass I walked right up that hill. It was near a half mile long. After the hill, the route switched from residential to go into a park. Right as I was passing mile 24, a truck pulled up and took the mile marker down. My heart sunk. I wasn’t fast enough to have them keep the mile markers out. I asked him if the signs of where to go would still be our. He assured me the directional signs were out, but he was just picking up mile markers. He wished me luck and I was on my way again. I get to a point in the road where it looks like I could veer off from the driving road and go onto a path. BUT, written in chalk it said “Not this way.” I wish I had taken a photo of it, but I hadn’t. I had to focus all of my energy on not falling over. I kept looking around for a sign, but didn’t see anything. There weren’t any volunteers around. I heard from close behind me, “Hey! Are you in the race?” I told him “I think so. I feel like I’m going the wrong way.” He said “Don’t worry you are RIGHT next to the path where all the runners went. They followed the walking path here instead of the path for the cars.” So i quick shot over to the path and followed it. It was eerie. Taking directions someone a random group of fisherman. I was on a paved path. It reminded me of some of the paths back home. I rounded a corner and thankfully saw some volunteers packing up the last water station. They had music going and cheered me on as if I was the first person through their station. I put my sunglasses on and tried not to cry. I was so close yet felt so far away.

 

My feet were dragging from under me. I could barely feel my legs. I rounded another corner to a hill – smaller than before – but I reached the top. Mile 25. ONE MORE TO GO. Austin and Robert were there waiting for me. Another very needed surprise. I fake jogged again. My jog was so slow that they could walk next to me. (Hey it’s ok to joke about now.)

One more mile.
Two more corners to go around.
I had to finish the few blocks of residential-ish area.
Take a left.
few blocks on the coned off area for a small stretch.
Then a left into the finisher’s chute.

I see Josh and Chad just before the first left. I now had Robert, Austin, Josh, and Chad jogging along side me. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about someone carrying me. I was done. I kept going back to all the signatures on my card of people telling me that I could do it. I had to finish now.

We take that first left. And I can see it. Just ahead. I can see the finisher’s chute. It’s RIGHT THERE. I tried to pick up the pace, but I was pretty sure someone tied bricks to my legs. As I was nearing the very last left, the guys broke off so I could finish the race. Janet and Roy were at the beginning of the finisher’s chute. She was videoing. You can watch it here on IG. I see Molly… and Jen and Patrick… and right there at the finish line is my mom. I hear the announcer “Hello Megan!” I waved.

And I ran.

I wasn’t going very fast, but I was pushing it as hard as I could to get across that finish line. I could almost reach out and touch it. Just a few steps in front of me.

And there it was.
I was a marathoner.

My mom gave me my medal. I cried. SHE cried. By the time I managed to pull myself together, everyone was around me hugging me. Of course the first words out of my mouth are, “people chose to do this more than once???”

 

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I don’t think I could thank people enough for sitting around and waiting for me to finish. I can’t put into words how much all the support had done for me: whether it was in person or messaging me along the way. I needed it all more than most people know.

Being a part of the Kenosha Running Club has been life-changing for me: the friendships, the inside-jokes, the camaraderie, the unquestioning support. I often wonder “what would I be doing RIGHT NOW if I didn’t know anyone from KRC?” It’s so much more than “oh that group of people I run with.” We laugh and cry together. We share secrets and inside jokes. We drink beer and a lot of coffee. We challenge each other to be better both in running and in life. We pick each other up when we fall down. We have way too many FB group messages. But mostly, we are all better for having known each other.

So for now. I’m navigating this whole marathon recovery process. I still can’t watch Janet’s video without crying. I’m keeping busy with volleyball three nights a week. I’m not running more than 3-4 miles at a time. I don’t want to start to hate running, so I’m taking it day by day. I know I am not mentally in the place where I was before marathon training. Or even when I finish my mile 20 training run. I’m not usually an emotional person so for all this to be happening — it’s emotionally exhausting.  I find myself struggling to get out of bed at 7am to run 3 miles when I was fine waking up at 4am to run 18 miles. I don’t know how to answer “So you going to run another marathon??” Some people have told me it’s normal to not feel normal right now. I just need to give it time.

Despite the struggles, I am so proud of myself for finishing my training and becoming a marathoner. It’s something that I’ll always be able to reflect on. All of the memories that I created along the way and the friendships that became stronger because of it I will cherish forever. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much to the family and friends that have been there for me. It will not be forgotten. 

“I dare you to train for a marathon, and not have it change your life.”
– Susan Sidoriak

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