On Sunday, I completed the Atlantic City marathon. This was my second marathon. I ran my first back in 2013, in Hartford, Connecticut. I finished in 4 hours and 20 minutes, which I was happy about. My main goal had been beating 4 1/2 hours, so I succeeded.
Since then, I have been running other races (half marathons, a 10k, Spartan races, and a Tough Mudder), never wanting to put the time into training for a full marathon. But I also always wanted to see if I could beat my original time.
This summer, I ran the River to Sea Relay across the state of New Jersey. I ran 3 legs of the race, for a total of 16.5 miles. It was that race that convinced me to try another full marathon, since I was already pretty far along in the training anyway.
However, over the past 3-4 weeks, I have been experiencing pain in my achilles tendon while running. I took one week off because I was sick. Then I ran 6 days the next week, but I had to take another full week off because of my achilles. But after that week-long break, I set a PR (personal record) at my 4th half marathon, in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
I was determined to get to the Atlantic City marathon. Some people suggested I defer since I wasn’t completely healthy in terms of my achilles, but I had been training all summer. I was going to that race.
Saturday I went to Atlantic City so that I wouldn’t have to drive there super early in the morning for the Sunday morning race. I felt fine, but after a little too much walking on the boardwalk and through the casino, my achilles was feeling sore.
I was really nervous. I didn’t admit to my mom how much it was hurting or how scared I was, but I was just hoping that I would be able to finish the next day’s race.
On race morning, I felt great. I ate my banana, a tiny bit of chicken, and 2 lemon Oreos. But I was feeling really full, so I actually only ate half of each Oreo. That was strange for me. Maybe it was just the nerves, but later on in the race I kept having that same full feeling even though I knew that I wasn’t actually full.
I was so excited to start the race. I warmed up a little with some dynamic stretches. I tossed my sweats and long sleeve shirt to my mom, and crossed the starting line. Here was the breakdown in miles for me:
Miles 1-4: Feeling great. Maintaining a pace around 8:45. My achilles was sore, but not changing my stride. I started to pray for people, offering up my race for the souls of my uncle Lowell who recently passed away, and my Brazilian grandma who had passed away just a few days after him.
Mile 5: It was pretty windy, so I was running a little slower. Mile 5 was a 9:04 pace. I downed a GU gel and kept going.
Miles 5-9: Still feeling pretty good. Maintaining a pace around 8:58. (I knew that in order to finish in under 4 hours, I couldn’t let my average pace get above 9:09). The wind was pretty brutal at times, but it didn’t slow my pace too much. I prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet, though, because I was nervous that my achilles pain was going to get worse.
Mile 10-12: Feeling great, maintaining a 9:10 pace. Still in line to break the 4-hour marathon mark. I was ahead of the 3:55 pacer. Around 10.5 miles, I saw my mom and my friend Adam cheering me on, so that always gives me an extra energy boost. I took at GU gel at mile 11, hoping for a little boost.
Mile 13: Half marathon crossed at 1:58. I was starting to run slower than before, but not by a significant amount. My pace was 9:26 at mile 13. I knew that I would have to get faster, but I was starting to feel more and more achilles pain on my right leg and knee pain knee my left leg (probably for compensating for my achilles on the other side.)
The 3:55 pacer crossed me. I decided I would just try to not let the 4:00 pacer pass me.
Miles 14-15: Tons of pain. Doubting my chances of finishing under 4 hours. Now just trying to beat my marathon time from my 1st marathon (4:20). Mile 14 was a 9:46 pace and also my last mile that I was able to finish in under 10 minutes (which I didn’t know at the time).
The 4:00 pacer approached. I was determined to stay with him and his group. But no matter how much my mind wanted it, my legs just wouldn’t go any faster. No willpower was enough to get them to move more quickly. They felt so heavy, but I wasn’t even close to the dreaded wall that marathoners fear, which usually happens between miles 18-20. I knew that finishing this race was going to be excruciating, if not impossible.
Mile 18: This was the worst. I suddenly dropped from a 10:30 pace to an 11:30 pace. I don’t think I’ve ever run that slowly before. I don’t even know if it can be called running. It was more like a wobbly jog. I was feeling so much pain that I was getting a little dizzy. At one point, my eyes even seemed a little blurry. I took a 3rd GU Gel and drank some Gatorade, hoping that the extra sugar would decrease my overall fatigue.
While running, my legs felt like lead. Every step was painful. But any time I walked, I had a severe limp. My right achilles was incredibly sore and bending my ankle hurt quite a bit. And my left knee felt like someone was stabbing a knife into it. So I would walk long enough to stop limping and then I would continue running.
Mile 19-21: I got a little bit of a second wind at mile 19. Maybe more like a second breeze, really. I was still running slowly, but I was able to run continuously without walking, at a 10:10 pace. Since I had been so fast in the first half, at mile 20 I was still at a 9:30 average pace. Still fast enough to beat my original marathon time. Miles 19-21 were all a 10:30 pace. Not a pace I’m proud of, but still running.
Mile 22: By now, the pain was there to stay. 11:08 pace for mile 22. I saw the 4:15 pacer and I was determined to stay with her. I could still beat my original time.
But eventually, even she passed me. That was a huge blow to my morale, but I still thought that if I kept her in my sight, I might be able to at least break even with my original time.
Mile 23: By now, I was heading back to the boardwalk. It was the last 5k, just a straight shot to the finish. Only 3 more miles. Usually 3 miles sounds like nothing for me. But I had to take 3 more walk breaks because the pain was so terrible, resulting in a 13:39 pace. I knew I wouldn’t beat my original time at this point, so I decided to make good choices so as not to cause myself a major injury like a ruptured achilles tendon.
I am extremely competitive, so accepting the fact that I would finish after 4:20 was really difficult. At one point on a walk break, I was limping pretty badly from my simultaneous left knee and right achilles pain. A guy passed me, asking if I was okay. I couldn’t even speak. I just nodded and then some tears started running down my cheeks after he passed. The tears were mainly a result of the pain, but also feeling let down that I wouldn’t accomplish my goal.
I stopped even looking at my GPS watch when it buzzed after each mile to tell me the average time. I didn’t even want to know. I only know now that I uploaded the data onto Garmin Connect.
The pain was so severe that I kept noticing that my hands were balled into tight fists.
Miles 24-25: I was so over it. I just wanted to be done, not even caring about my time. The only thing that kept me running was the fact that even running a slow 11:00 mile would be faster than walking. I did not want to be out there any longer.
Mile 25: I ran/ walked/limped an incredibly slow pace of 13:53. I was so close, but I just couldn’t force my body to be any faster.
Mile 26: Passing the mile 26 mile marker was exciting. Then a man next to me tripped on the boardwalk. I could tell he was struggling even before that. I reached out my arm (though he was a big guy…if he fell, I couldn’t have stopped it from happening) toward him, but luckily he didn’t fall all the way. He let out a loud groan, though, since I’m sure stubbing his toe was the last thing he needed.
I could see the finisher banner, so I kept trying to motivate him. “We’re almost there. Look, you can see the end!” Motivating him actually helped me to feel a little better also.
Then the corral got closer. Once I was close to the finish, I somehow had one last burst of energy. I think it was actually more anger. I sprinted to the finish, thinking ,”I hate this, I just want to be done.” But then I crossed the line and I suddenly couldn’t breathe.
Sprinting at the end after feeling that much pain was probably not the best idea. That’s probably how marathoners drop dead from heart attacks at the end of a race.
I just felt my “beast mode” click on. The anger and pain and desire to be done just took over and I could no longer feel my aching ankle and knee.
I finished. I got my medal. I grabbed a water and gatorade and then the tears just started pouring down my cheeks. My mom came to congratulate me for finishing. I know she had been nervous about this race because of my recent achilles issues. She asked why I was crying, thinking that it was because I was relieved to be done. Or she thought it may have been sadness for missing my goal.
Actually, it was just tears from the amount of pain I was in. I’m not sure if I’ve ever cried as a result of pain before. I’ve suffered though pretty decent pain without crying. I got a tattoo that took 3 1/2 hours. I’ve experienced 9 years of Lyme-disease-related aches and pains. Although Lyme has definitely brought me to tears, it was usually more of the emotional pain that was difficult for me — not tears as a result of my physical back or joint pain.
Obviously, I was sad about missing my goal. I told my mom that I had failed. But the tears were just from the sheer pain that I was feeling.
So it makes me think, why do we pay to compete in marathons? I love the half marathon distance because it’s difficult and competitive, but it doesn’t stress my body so badly. But full marathons? Pain is inevitable. We pay hundreds of dollars to experience what I felt over the course of those 26.2 miles.
The Atlantic City marathon was $112. The New York City marathon is over $400. Lots of people travel far to get to their marathons. They pay for flights and hotel rooms. People are spending hundreds (and even thousands) of dollars for this pain.
Yesterday I wasn’t sure if I’d ever run another marathon again. I thought maybe I’d just stick to halves. But part of me is still so determined to beat a 4:20 marathon because I am absolutely positive that I can do it if I am uninjured and if I start slowly.
I think for me what makes the full marathon more meaningful than a half marathon is the sheer level of difficulty. It takes such mental strength to push through that pain. I could have tapped out at any moment after mile 13. I could have sat down and given up. But I didn’t.
Although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the race, I’m still proud of myself. I still finished, in a time that many people would love to have. 4:29 isn’t a bad race. It was a 10:15 pace. (My recent half marathon pace was 8:45, just so you have an idea of how slow 10:15 is for me.) The average finishing pace for females was 10:51 and for males it was 9:58. I did fine. I’m just super competitive, so fine isn’t really enough.
I’m only 28. I don’t think I could already say that I would never do another marathon because I’m pretty sure that at some point I will want to try it again.
I feel accomplished in knowing that I have the ability to push my body to run 26.2 miles. 13.1 miles is tough, but most people could work up to that type of race with minimal training. A full marathon requires so much more training and mental fortitude. To me, that’s what I love so much about it. It’s just as much mental as physical. I could have tapped out. But my mind did not allow that.
What was really interesting to me was what happened when I went to church after the race. The second reading was from the book of Timothy. It was the one about competing well and finishing the race. 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
Then the last song had the line, “we will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength.” How fitting. I love how God has such perfect timing.
So that was my experience with my second marathon. I am really proud of all that I have been able to do since getting Lyme disease. 2 full marathons, 4 half marathons, 4 Spartan races 1 Tough Mudder, 1 10K, 1 five-miler, and 2 color run 5Ks. I really shouldn’t beat myself up over one race that wasn’t ideal.
I finished. I am proud of myself. I am a marathoner.