Leading up to my first marathon, knowing my training had been completely pitiful, I ate some high protein and then high carbohydrate meals. I was trying any angle to help me since my training had fallen to the way side. I began running with a specific mileage schedule all planned out. I assume I jumped in miles too quickly resulting in killer shin splints. I constantly massaged them but then just stopped running to heal up. Soon after that, I was driving home with my teenage niece and saw a dog get hit by a truck and fly off the side of the road. When I looked over the dog was struggling to get up. I still can’t believe the total A*#HOLE in the truck didn’t stop. I jerked the jeep around and parked in a ditch to run and check on the dog. To make a long story short, I attempted to carry the large dog to no avail, so my niece and I put him on a blanket and carried him to the back of his house. As I went to stand up I felt a twinge in my back and knew I did something. I slept on a heating pad that night but could barely get out of bed the next morning. It took me a week to walk normally again, so needless to say, even more time with no miles in. He stood a fighting chance but to this day I am not sure if the dog survived.

Dad was registering me for the marathon and we continued looking at different ones. He told me about each race and the course and said to decide. Obviously the later the date the better, but so much was going on I thought I just needed to go ahead and get this over with. An additional week or so would not keep me from dying out there. Plus, the marathon I chose had a kid’s run and training log where my 4 year old could run 25.2 miles up to race day and then race one more mile to complete a marathon of her own.

CAR MAGNET FOR BRAYLEE

All that being said and after a lot of deep contemplation, I chose the Knoxville Marathon with it’s gentle rolling hills. (Feel free to laugh your ass off right here). That decision left me with about 10 days to prepare for the 26.2 miles. I had never run more than 20 miles before and even that seems like a million years ago.

My shin splints and back were much better but still not completely diminished. I ran slowly at times and walked others with my daughter to get in her 25.2 miles. She finished some long walks with Mommy. The trick here is to keep her talking throughout. When she grows tired and starts to whine you strike up an interesting conversation to distract her. Also, all her walking was to “help Mommy get ready for her race.” Mission accomplished.

Dad drove my mom, my daughter, and I to Knoxville for the races on Saturday. We checked into our hotel and headed over for the expo to pick up our race packets. It was cold and raining outside. We picked up our packets and shirts and listened to Bill Rodgers speak. I tried to keep Braylee (my daughter) form running around and playing too much since she was about to run her race soon. All races finished in Neyland Stadium so eventually we sent Mom ahead to meet us there. Dad, Braylee, and I went out the amphitheater to wait until the start. It was a staggered start dependent on grade levels. No one could tell us what time we actually started so we walked up and stood in the last group of kindergarten and younger division. I remember thinking it was cold and wet, but she seemed excited. We were off, and she was running along holding my hand. I told her she could run better if she didn’t hold my hand. She let go and ran up the street, turned left and began walking up the hill. I let her walk up the hill and tried encouraging her to run but it only grew worse from there. Her tights were ill fitting and falling down so she would not stop holding on to them from the waist in the back. She cried the entire mile for the most part. It was not until we could see the stadium that she finally smiles and started running so she could beat her Paw Paw. She had a great finish after her walk and received a medal at the end.

BRAYLEE FINISHING HER MILE RACE TO COMPLETE HER MARATHON

We met Mom and walked to meet Dad with the truck. It was still cold and wet and baby was still miserable, so I carried her a lot of the way. It was hurting my lower back and all I could think was how everything was NOT conducive to my marathon the following morning.

We went for dinner, and I had a large waffle with peanut butter and syrup and chocolate milk. The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the race to ensure a parking place. We sat in a parking garage where Dad instructed me to eat some sport beans with water. They tasted like jelly beans, so it wasn’t bad. At one point I told Braylee that I was going to run further than I ever have before and not sure if I would make it. She said, “I want you to race Mommy because you are the best!” That gave me some encouragement. I knew even if I was slower than an aging turtle I would complete the 26.2 miles without a finish to run into. The allotted time to complete the race was 7 hours. I registered with a hopeful 6:30ish time frame in mind but thinking closer to 7 or longer. I would simply run to Braylee. I was also having heart palpitations at this point and a growing need for the restroom. In all seriousness, what if I couldn’t do it?

Dad and I said bye to Mom and Braylee in the truck, so we could get to the start. Mom asked if we needed anything at the finish. I told her an ambulance would be nice. The start was insanely packed! So many people! It was a combined half-marathon, marathon, and relay start. We found a spot in the crowd and I departed for the port-a-potty. Ugh! The lines were too long. There was no way all these people would make it. I found a good spot and made my own line. One woman opened the door on a poor girl in front of me. Myself and the two ladies behind me were about to tackle her. Did she NOT see the lines here? Come on! Once I came out there were even more people and slim hope to find Dad again. I plunged into the crowd to search and heard him calling my name. He had moved over onto the sidewalk, so I could find him. Now we had to merge into the race crowd when it all started.

It was still cool but fortunately no rain. If only it were that way for Braylee’s race. We began running at a nice slow, steady pace. Dad had already told me to keep my strides really short. I did and paced myself off of him. Throughout the race Dad watched the time and instructed me when to consume more sport beans, Powerade or water, gel, or chia seeds. I had only tried gel once before and not while running. I knew it wasn’t good by any means but after so many miles, it is very difficult to even get down. I believe everything helped me tremendously though. There were several times I was hurting but thinking I miraculously have energy coming from who knows where and still going. There were port-a-pottys throughout the course which I stopped 2 or 3 times to use.

Anyone who describes that course with gentle, rolling hills is an idiot! Every hill hit me hard. A few short ones I was able to lean forward and trudge up them, feeling rather depleted at the top. At 4 miles I thought this is all we have done. (I know, sad right? It was still way too early for that). Mile 6-8 is when I started to think I was beginning to feel it, but no. Mile 10-11 I could feel it in my lower back where I was hurting from my dog rescue, then my left hamstring grew tighter into my glutes. This was still ok, but we hard far to go so who knows how it would all play out. The course had aid stations sprinkled throughout, people dressed up and cheering everyone on, and live music. It all helped but I would be perfectly fine to never hear the song “Rocky Top” for the rest of my life. People were dressed as a pair of feet, sunflowers, Minnie Mouse, dinosaurs, and so forth. One lady was running the race in a T-Rex costume. She was ahead of us for a while and between her, the Detour, and Pink Lady, I had to get ahead of them all. The Detour was a very large man with a bright orange shirt that we passed, and he passed us, and we passed again (the same with the Pink Lady) it was driving me crazy. Dad had said the man was so big it was like taking a detour to get around him. Very true. Eventually, we left them all behind somewhere.

Also, at various locations in the race were hilarious signs. I have to give someone credit. Signs reading, “He got plantar fasciitis…for a free banana,” “A marathon is like a mullet, the party is in the back,” (totally agree by the way), things about chafing and pain and the finish is near, then just kidding. In one neighborhood they had a complete finish line set up. I remember trying to figure out why. Did the half-marathon finish here? Have we gone 13.1 miles yet? No. What in the world? Then I see the just kidding signs. WTH? That is not funny! Who thinks that is funny? The signs and music all helped though and people cheering us on. Even certain runners would pass and give words of encouragement. That was good because I probably looked like death.

SIGNS TO ENTERTAIN ME THROUGHOUT THE MARATHON

People were now saying, “You are almost there, finish strong.” That is for half marathoners. I am stupidly running a full marathon. With 13.1 miles done, I was definitely feeling it now, thinking I am hurting already so I would have been good to just do a half-marathon here and incorporate more time and training for a full marathon. Why am I doing this again? Oh yeah, to be able to have that 26.2 magnet on my car. Another sign, “How can you tell if someone has run a marathon? Don’t worry, they will tell you.” True. I am telling everyone I did this. The entire world needs to be aware! I knew army training and experiences were difficult, and they were, but this is a voluntary slap in the face and punch in the gut, or maybe being run over by a truck.

I informed Dad that mile 21 would be the furthest I have run in my life. He said after mile 20 is when the marathon really hits you. He told me if I could keep going through mile 17 or 18, then I would have it. After that it won’t get any worse, not any better, but not any worse. I can do this! I was managing my race through 6 mile increments. Through mile 6 was easy enough. Through mile 12 was manageable. I was feeling it though but not hurting extremely bad or anything. At mile 18 I was praying. At this point I was relieved with every mile marker I saw. Around mile 20 I took ibuprofen. My right knee had started hurting somewhere back there and it was worse now. My hips were sore, and I could feel every time I lifted my legs. I am not sure how I began running again after walk breaks. Something willed me to go but, it was not easy.

We ran through a neighborhood from mile 21 to 23 or 24. It was nice neighborhood and I knew coming out of it would be the last couple miles to the finish in the stadium. Dad stopped at a port-a-potty and I walked through a phone call to Mom and Braylee to tell her where we were. She was telling me great job and asking if I was dead. Braylee said hi. That got me going again. Before Dad caught up I began running again. I tried to run ahead of him for as long as I could. He caught up and I was feeling pretty beaten down at that point. My right knee had locked up or something and I took a funny step or two into a walk but then told myself to run through it or I would only walk on forever. It can’t get any worse.

We kept seeing a pace group in front of us for a while. Before I wanted to catch them but eventually gave up on that. All of a sudden there they were again and walking. Dad said to catch up to them and walk with them. It was a difficult struggle, but we did. All I could imagine was as soon as we would get there and walk, they would probably start running and I would have to watch them go ahead. They still walked as we joined them, to my great fortune. The two pace women were great. They asked if it was my first marathon and told me I was doing great. It was the group’s first as well. She told them they were just under 6 hours and could go ahead whenever they wanted. They went ahead of us but eventually I passed them and moved on. I asked Dad a few times now if we could make it to beat 6 hours.

We were in downtown and Dad stopped to pick something up, so I was running alone again. I know my face was showing pain. I had to make sure I knew where I was going. There were people milling about everywhere, some aware of the race, others not so much. I saw the guy in front of me look back when he came to an intersection, questioning. I told him straight. I really didn’t know but said it anyway and hoped I was right. I was. He looked in pain as well. I probably shouldn’t have, but I felt good passing him. Dad caught up. I said I hoped this was the last hill. He said it probably is. We were both wrong. Dammit!

I looked up at some point and saw the stadium. HALLELUJAH! Wait, why are we turning right? WTH! I need to finish in the stadium. How much further now? Where is this course taking me? I asked Dad, “Where the hell are we going?” Needless to say, I was ready to finish. Finally, we are on the last stretch, the same route Braylee ran for her mile straight into the stadium. I got excited for a second but then looked up to see a hill. OH, MY GOODNESS, REALLY! Excitement gone. I thought there was no way I would beat 6 hours now. We kept running and walked up some of the hill. I knew we were close but not exactly sure where. I guess I looked like death because an angel came to me. She as a blond lady dressed in running gear with the bright yellow volunteer shirt on. She immediately approached my side and ran with me, or she may have been walking since I was going so slow, not sure. She asked if I knew how close I was. I made a gesture of some sort. She said, “Oh, you don’t.” She continued to point out a brick building and say that around that curve was the entrance into the stadium and I would hear the crowd cheering. I almost cried so I got choked up and had to walk a few steps to catch my breath again. I felt like I was not getting enough oxygen now and kept having to take an extra deep breath now and then. I got to the building and she asked if I could hear the people and told me congratulations and disappeared. I will never know who she is but at that moment in time I loved her! She gave me that last push I needed.

We ran into the stadium and I immediately saw Mom, but she was looking away. I wanted to yell her name, but it was impossible. I couldn’t yell if I could barely breathe. She turned around in time and suddenly Braylee was in front of her waving. OK, NOW LET’S DO THIS! I ran onto the grass of the field and tried my best attempt at striding out and increasing my pace for a strong finish. I was surprised but I guess it worked because I saw the time overhead. They announced my hometown and name, which I am sure no one there has heard of either and then Dad’s. We finished just under 6 hours. 5:55:22. I immediately received a finisher’s medal, hat, and towel/car seat cover. Good news…I could still walk and didn’t feel like complete death.

There were a couple of ladies that ran along with us for a lot of the latter part of the race. The first one had obviously run this before and was encouraging her friend and me. We saw her at the finish (she finished just a bit before me) and chatted. She took our picture and told us congrats and it was her friend’s first marathon too. Then her and Dad talked awhile. She was impressed and said she hoped to be running like him at his age. Of course, don’t we all?

DAD AND I JUST AFTER THE FINISH

We met up with Mom and Braylee and headed to the post marathon food room. I guzzled several little chocolate milks, grabbed an iced coffee and some pepperoni pizza but didn’t want either. It was a great feeling to be in that room with other marathoners. There is a sense of comradery that makes one understand why people seem to get it when talking to other marathoners. You may have nothing else in common in your lives but that grueling 26.2 miles but that is enough to exchange those knowing looks, head nods, and smiles. I laughed at one girl who tried to shake her butt to her friend. She looked at me and said, “yeah but did you notice how stiff I was?” I completely understood and told her, “yes but you can still do it!”

BRAYLEE AND I IN THE POST MARATHON FOOD ROOM FOR CHOCOLATE MILK AND PIZZA

BUMPER STICKERS AND CAR MAGNETS FOR BRAYLEE AND I

NOTE TO OTHERS: Do not mow the lawn 2 days post your very first marathon. Not the smartest idea!

ASIDE: Both my parents told me I did better than they thought I would which made me feel great. I surprised myself as well. Considering the training was non-existent I pretty much pulled a marathon out of my butt, ahemm, out of nowhere. Hmmmm, I wonder what else I can do?

~ Season Westbrook ~

 

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