“Pay to run? No. That’s dumb,” I told my mother as she was trying to convince me to enter a race. I ran a fair amount on my own. I had my own goals and didn’t need to compete to push myself. Growing up, the schools I went to didn’t have track or cross country so I didn’t even know what a race felt like. I think that’s why my mom wanted me to try it. Finally, she wore me down. But if I was going to spend money on this thing, it was going to be worth it. So at 19, I registered for my first race ever – the 2011 Roadrunner Akron Marathon.
I had very little experience distance running. The farthest I had gone at that point was 9 miles. That was okay. I was going to get a training plan off the internet, just do what it says, and have a marathon on my list of accomplishments. But as most of you probably know, it’s not that simple. At least I had printed a training plan that started me at the beginning – 1 mile. I had eight months to train so I thought I might as well take it slow. Looking, back that was a great idea. I had a lot of lessons to learn.
The first few months went pretty well – nothing I hadn’t done before. I was running five days a week, leaving Thursdays and Sundays as off days. Saturdays were my long runs. I always, always trained on the road. After all, it was a road race right? However, I had not yet acquired a GPS watch so I would drive routes in my car to figure out the distance first. I liked listening to music while I ran and soon David Crowder became the only artist I would listen to on my long runs (and still is). I was having a blast pushing myself each week. The endorphins were flowing and getting that “runner’s high” was an incredible feeling. It brought a peace to my mind that melted whatever stress had been building up that week. And then there was fighting to win the mental and physical battle of simply not stopping, not giving up until you’ve hit your number for the day. Unfortunately, in my lack of experience I made a terrible mistake in running these long distances, and my first 19-miler landed me in the Emergency Room because of it.
I never thought to take food or water with me on my long runs. I figured you eat and drink before you go, then eat and drink when you get back. I woke up at 5 a.m. to make sure I could get those miles in and still make it to work by 10 a.m. I walked out the door and started running as usual, David Crowder singing in the background. The previous week I had had a little bit of “stomach cramping” towards the end of the 16 miles. I had chalked it up to being an amateur. I was hoping this week I would be more conditioned and avoid that obstacle. Of course, that didn’t happen.
The pain was excruciating. I had never felt anything like it. By mile 16, I could barely keep going. Stopping, however, was not a real option. The country roads were barren of traffic at that time on a Saturday morning and I didn’t have my cell phone with me. It was either keep running to get home or make friends with the roadkill. I dragged myself through the last 3 miles, praying to be able to make it back. Mentally, I felt so far gone. Physically, my sympathetic nervous system kept shouting, “Fight or flight! Fight or flight!” Finally I could see my driveway and had a little bit of relief stumbling into the house. Making my way through the kitchen, my mother looked at me and asked, “Are you okay?” “Water and juice,” I mumbled as I kept a forward motion towards my bedroom. Pushing open the door, I immediately collapsed on the floor. In came my water and juice along with another, “You’re sure you’re okay?” “I’ll be fine,” I breathed out as I began sipping the desperately needed sugary liquid. A few minutes later…
Nope. Not fine. Not fine at all. Lightheaded and dizzy, I couldn’t stand up. I had intense stomach pain and I began to vomit. At first it was just fluid, but as I kept vomiting these dark, fleshy-like chunks started coming up. In the meantime, my mother had already called my nurse Aunt who had told us to meet her at the E.R. Off we went, me starting to freak out a little about what those chunks were, but still in a lot of pain with my stomach. We got there and I was taken back pretty quickly to have an IV of fluids and morphine put in. It didn’t take long for my body to relax and my vitals to return to normal.
Upon hearing what I had done and getting test results back, the doctor couldn’t believe how stupid I was. To give you the short version, not only was I dangerously dehydrated, but because I didn’t have the nutrition in me I needed, my stomach acid started to burn a hole to form an ulcer. Yes, my body said, “Fine, if you won’t feed me, then I’ll just start eating myself.” And so those dark, fleshy-like chunks? Part of the epithelial lining of my stomach with some blood. Gross. Before being released, I was given a strict warning to never ever do that again (as if I would try). She also gave me some running snack suggestions – because I still had two and a half months of training left. Mistakes help you learn and grow, but this one cost me. I didn’t know it then, but I would be paying for it for several years.
After taking a week off from training, I was more determined and excited than ever to run this race. On my long runs I made sure I drank every few miles and then ate gummies, a bar, or something every 6. The rest of my training went pretty smoothly. My peak run was 20 miles two weeks before race day, and then 16 the week before. I was nervous, but I was ready.
On Friday September 23rd, I woke up and already felt anxious – but a good anxious. I packed my lunch for class (pasta and pasta) and had zero focus for the day. I had to go pick up my bib at the expo which I considered a chore (still do), though I didn’t know about all the promotional hype and hullabaloo that came with a runner’s health and wellness expo. I was in, got my bib and jacket (because Akron is “the shiz” and gives you a running jacket instead of a t-shirt), and got out. I still had more pasta to get through. Sleeping that night wasn’t really a successful endeavor. My alarm went off. I was already awake, but it was time to get out of bed. I had my race outfit already laid out. I grabbed a banana and water bottle and left – to the start line!
At 6 a.m. on a late September day in Akron, OH it’s chilly. As a newbie I didn’t know runners typically wore old or unwanted jackets and/or sweats to throw off at the start of the race. So there I stood, freezing in my tank and shorts. Oh well. I weaved through people to try and find a comfortable spot to start. Since it was my first, I didn’t really have a time in mind. I decided to start with the 4-hour pace group, but with every expectation of being faster than that. As the time drew near, voices came over the loud speaker, people said stuff, yadayadayada….sang the national anthem, then BANG! The gun went off and the masses started moving.
I was pumped. I didn’t expect it to be that cramped, but I worked with it and darted to openings as they came. After about 4-5 miles, it thinned out and was much more comfortable. I was able to get some momentum going. I was told NOT to use an ipod/mp3 player during the race and was so glad I didn’t. With people encouraging on the sidelines holding signs and so many other fellow runners around me, I would have missed out. Everything was going so well. I was making sure to get water at every station and used the Gu gel that was also provided at certain points. With every foot strike it felt like my legs were getting more powerful. And the adrenaline of a race combined with the usual endorphin fix? I felt amazing and was increasing my pace until about mile 20.
My knees hurt so bad. And my toenails were apparently too long. Oops – forgot to trim them. I ended up losing one of them (which I found out later was a “thing” for runners). I wasn’t even close to stopping, but I did slow down a bit, especially on the downhill slopes, as it made my toe and knee situation much worse. Luckily for me, the last little bit was uphill. I was almost there. That rush was coming back as the crowd got louder and thicker, and I began to pick up the pace again. Heading into the prepared baseball stadium I sprinted that last two-tenths of a mile, passing one more young female on the way. Crossing the finish line at 3:40 with an exhausted, out-of-breath smile, my first thought was, “Wow that was incredible. I’m definitely doing that again.” Without a clue of what was ahead of me, I completed the 2011 Roadrunner Akron Marathon 1st in my age division along with just barely qualifying for Boston (for the standards at the time).
Tired and pretty satisfied with the day, I grabbed my race goodies, found my mother, and headed home. My cousin, who had run the Akron Marathon before and again this time was impressed by accomplishment and mentioned that I had “even qualified for Boston!” I didn’t really know what that meant, and simply thought, “That’s cool” and let it be. But as people began to ask me about the race, this Boston thing kept popping up. So I did a little research and what? There’s an elite race that marathoners come to from all over the world, that has qualifying standards thousands of runners try to beat to get into? Count me in! Oh, but registration is closed for next year (2012)…and the following year the qualifying standards are changing to 3:35. Alright, new goal – Boston! I would sign up for another marathon and run to qualify, then run the infamous Boston Marathon.
The 2011 Akron Marathon was the race that started it all for me. In my next section, “Boston Bound,” I tell the story of how I qualified and ran the 2015 Boston Marathon (because again, it wasn’t that simple).
I mentioned that I only listened to David Crowder on my long runs. Well as it turns out, during my training months for every marathon, there is always a specific song that resonates with me. My long runs are not just training to me, but also an emotional outlet. At the end of each race post, I will include that song. For Akron 2011 it was: “O Praise Him.”