When I set out to run my first marathon I had two goals:
- Do not poop yourself in the process.
I would have been satisfied with only the first goal. I assumed a slight tinkle midway through was a foregone conclusion. At least that I could pass off as sweat.
In the end I met both goals, (though at least one fart seemed it might have had questionable intentions) but it was the most grueling event of my life.
The idea of training for a marathon came on slowly. I signed up for my first half marathon on a lark a few years back as someone who could barely jog a 5K and walked most of the way. Doubling that distance seemed a Herculean feat that only super-humans or the clinically insane could perform.
I slowly started running for realsies about 2 years after the first half marathon as a way to facilitate weight loss. After 6 months of running with a goal and a training plan, I was able to run a half marathon and smash my previous personal record. I also lost 40 pounds.
An idea started to germinate. Maybe I could be one of those criminally insane people and double the distance. I ran 3 more half marathons and I was sold. My husband, Cameron, and I were set to embark on our first military move as a couple from Monterey, CA to New England a week after my November running of the Big Sur Half Marathon. Giddy off of that race, I signed up for a marathon in Rhode Island the following May.
There is no way to understate what a terrible mistake that was. I am a Californian, and up until that point, had never run out of state. Monterey is ideal for runners. There’s a great path along the ocean and the temperature is a perennial 65 Degrees. I assumed training for my marathon from December through May would be just as easy as training for any of my other races.
Then winter laughed in my face. I recall trying to go out in a long-sleeved technical shirt, my “warm gear,” and nearly freezing to death. I had to buy all new running clothes to fortify myself against the harshness of bitter, bitter cold. My water froze once on a long run. It was miserable.
Between cold weather and actual colds, I missed several training runs. Cameron and our dog supported me through the longest runs by meeting me with water, energy gels, and face-licks every three miles. Those support stops kept me motivated, but in the end my longest run pre-race was only 18 miles.
The day of the race I was nervous. I had trouble pooping before the start. I told myself to walk as much as I needed to. Time didn’t matter. Poops didn’t matter. Finishing was everything. With that in mind, I made my way to the start area.
My cousin, Jenna, had flown in from CA to run too. She’s much faster and more experienced, so we didn’t plan to run in tandem. But we lined up next to each other for the national anthem pre-race with all the other runners before the gun sounded the start. Cameron was nearby just past the runner/spectator divider. Jenna and I hugged after the anthem then she moved forward to a faster pace group. Cameron smiled and gave me thumbs up for encouragement. I just kept telling myself to walk as much as needed and I’d be ok.
The gun sounded and I was off. Cameron promised to be there to check on me at miles 7 and 19. I was glad to know there would be a friendly face in the crowd.
The first 7 miles were fairly easy. I kept my pace slow and walked the water stops. When I saw Cameron I gave him a kiss and high five then shuffled on. I was doing it. I could do it.
I started breaking down around mile 14. I had walked a little before 14, but by this point I was walking several minutes at the start of each mile marker, then trudging along to the finish of that mile. By mile 17 all I could think about was Cameron and the car at mile 19.
“Just get to 19” I thought. “Then you can quit. Maybe fake an asthma attack. Nobody would blame you then.” I wasn’t thinking clearly anymore. I couldn’t think at all really. All of my energy was focused on getting to Cameron so I could go home.
A little past mile 19 I saw a bright pink “GO JULIE!” sign. Cameron. Car. Done. I got to my husband, wrapped my sweaty arms around him and cried in agony.
“It hurts!” I cried.
“What hurts?” He asked, clearly concerned.
“Everything!” I responded. I had hit the wall. My whole body throbbed. I thought my options were quitting or death.
Cam put an arm around me to support a bit of weight and started walking me forward. I tried to sit a few times in the road and he peeled me off the ground.
He walked with me for over a mile. Each step he made me repeat: “I can do it.” I couldn’t, but I said it over and over. Around mile 20 a small patch of fence arose to the right with no apparent purpose. I sat on it and sobbed. Cameron knelt before me and said the car was farther from me than the finish. The finish was the only way forward. It was a lie, but I believed. I took an energy gel. Cam helped me to stand. I needed to run again. We embraced then I slowly trudged off.
For the next 6.2 miles I jogged 5 minutes then walked 5. It was slow going, but I hit my groove. I was one of the last people to cross the line, but I finished, and Cameron was there with tears in his eyes. Jenna had finished an hour before me. We all hugged.
“You did it!” Jenna exclaimed. I didn’t do it. We did it. Cameron was as much to blame for my step over the finish line as I was.
I wish I could say the marathon was just a mental barrier I had to scale. It wasn’t. It was just as much, if not more physical than it was mental. It took all of my strength, and some of Cameron’s to get me to the end. But I crossed that finish and for over a week I kept the finisher medal in my purse as a reminder of just how much my body and mind can do.
I’m not afraid of many things anymore. Whenever I question my abilities to face something new I remind myself: “I’m a fucking marathoner!” If I can do that, as long as Cameron is with me, I can do anything.