According to Google search results, only .5% of the U.S. has run a full marathon. February 9, on a cool desert morning in Arizona, my running buddy Meagaan and I added ourselves to that list, finishing the Sprouts Mesa-PHX Marathon. Completing a marathon has been the number one item on my bucket list for years, and though I knew deep down I’d be able to do it, the task seemed daunting. Twenty-six is a whole lot of miles. And that extra .2?! Who even thought of that!
For the past three months we’ve been training, going on long runs and short, some with ease (like our fifteen miler in Phoenix), and some ending in utter defeat (like the time I got lost in LA and could only muster 16.3 out of my scheduled 17.5 miles.) I bundled up for the cold winter runs at home, trudged through snow and puddles for twenty miles. I researched routes on layovers and vacations and ran in the sunshine of Florida, Barbados, and Southern California. I sent photos to my running buddy-turned-coach, and I listened, reluctantly, when she pressed me to put on my sneakers and get out there, after the multitude of excuses I’d come up with not to.
And it paid off. We did it. It was an experience I’ll never forget and one I felt I had to document. So here it is: the story of our marathon.
Despite the hours, the miles, my love of running, I still felt underprepared to take on the challenge of a lifetime. What if I hadn’t trained hard enough? What if I couldn’t push through those last 6.2 miles? What if I got a blister—something I hadn’t dealt with in any of my training runs. What if I peed my pants? Tripped and fell? Stopped to walk and couldn’t start again?
As the race drew nearer, my anxieties—and excitement—swirled. I did my best not to give in to the worries, and instead to focus on the positive. I was about to do something I’ve always wanted to do. To accomplish a major goal. I told myself not to stress. Decided on race day to settle in for the long haul, relax, and enjoy the experience. I took deep breaths and repeated mantras to myself. “My body is strong. My body is resilient. I can do this.”
Meagaan was feeling a similar mix of worry and anticipation, so for the two days prior to race day, we talked each other up, carb-loaded, and discussed strategy.
My body is strong. My body is resilient. I can do this.
We would run together. Having stuck together in our last few races and on a 15-mile training run with success, we figured there was no better way to start off on marathon day. We both doubted our ability to run such a distance without music, but agreed to start out phone-free, just the two of us, jogging side by side, chit-chatting and taking in the dessert scenery. We would wear our “old faithfuls”—the outfits we’ve completed several races in together. We would drink. A lot, a lot. We would take ibuprofen before starting as a preemptive measure. We would NOT drink that beer we were craving at lunch the day before the race. We would lift each other up when one of us was tired. We would finish.
The morning of February 9, we woke to our alarms at 3am. We had to leave the house at 4:30, but wanted enough time for the caffeine to kick in and *ahem* digestion to take place. We changed, pinned our bibs, and ate a breakfast of English muffins and bananas.
At 5am it was 45 degrees in Mesa. Opting to wear only a tank top very quickly seemed like a mistake, and if it weren’t for the kind running bro, Elvis, who gave me his coat to wear in line I may not have made it to the race at all. By the time we finally loaded the bus that would take us thirty minutes away to Usery Mountain Regional Park, where the race would start, we were delighted to be sitting in the heated vehicle. Our delight was short lived, though, and we soon faced another problem even more dire than the cold.
The coffee kicked in and when I tell you we had to pee, I mean that we rocked our bodies and closed our eyes and gritted our teeth and I nearly cried trying to hold it in through the long, dark drive. Upon arrival to the starting area, the line for porta-potties was a mile long. And when faced with the choice of standing there in line, wriggling in pain from waiting too long, or braving the prospect of scorpions and rattle-snakes in the desert brush, the decision was easy. We found a dark spot behind a tree and prayed nothing slithered or stung. By this point the need to go was so extreme that the thought of a hundred strangers catching a glimpse of my full moon never even entered the decision-making process. Actually, it was so extreme that I went THREE times in the desert that morning before starting the race. And it’s a good thing! Having to stand in line at a porta-potty in the middle of a race is a terrible waste of time.
The starting point was equipped with dozens of porta potties, a water and Gatorade station, and the road was lined with heat lamps and fire pits for runners to keep warm. It was such a cool atmosphere being in the chilly air, giant saguaros in the background, fires dotting the landscape, lighting up brightly-colored sneakers and the eager faces of all different shades of runner. Fireworks went off when it was time to start. We took a deep breath, started our running trackers, and off we went.
The first five miles felt like they happened in five minutes. It was a beautiful morning. We watched the sun rise over the desert. Peeked over cacti and flowers and neighborhoods full of brick and brush and neutral hues. We talked. We ran near the 4:20 pacer, and chuckled when observers cheered “Yeah! 420!” as we passed by. I was feeling amazing, and maybe started getting a little ahead of myself. Meagaan reminded me (maybe more than I cared for) to pace, not to pick up speed. This served me well in the end. Thanks Meg!
Miles 10-15 were the hardest for me. This is when I started to feel a bit of fatigue and had to slow my pace. This is also when I started drinking a lot. Normally, in a half marathon, I don’t like to drink anything until mile 8 or 10. I try to hold off as long as I can because the logistical process of drinking while running is annoying. Trying not to choke, not to break my stride or slow my pace, I wait until I reallllly need the hydration. But this one was different. I knew for the marathon I’d need to hydrate more than ever before. I also happened to be starving by this point, so I started taking in Gatorade for the sugar boost as well.
At the 20 mile marker, a sense of wonder came over me. We were so close! We were doing it! My running buddy and I, still running side by side, talked about the things people had told us about marathons.
“Twenty miles is a lot. But that extra six is a real killer.”
“After twenty, people start dropping like flies.”
We kept our pace, we drank fluids, we ate half a banana and we repeated mantras to help us along the way.
“Our bodies are strong. Our bodies are resilient. We’ve got this.”
“The body will do what the mind tells it to.”
By mile 22 I felt better than I ever have. I was in beast mode. I had found the elusive “Runner’s high” that I’d heard of but never experienced. For the next 4.2 miles I coasted toward the finish line, feeling no pain. My legs didn’t hurt, my feet didn’t hurt, my lungs didn’t hurt. It felt like I was gliding across the pavement. Like I’d never been better. I cheered with bystanders and thanked them for their support. I listened to the sound of my feet thudding against the ground, basked in the bubble of euphoria in which I found myself. I was astounded at what was happening. And I kept thinking the same thing.
My body was made for this.
Most Embarassing Human Award goes to...
``Just keep swimming``
The stars aligned and my body and mind and the training and the pure joy of the experience came together that morning in the Arizona sun.
At mile 25, feeling confident in my ability to see this thing through, I picked up the pace . I felt my spirit soar as I allowed my legs to do the same. I passed by one runner, then another, and then another, each of them sending kind words my way. “Way to go!” “Great strong finish!”
I felt at home.
At 4:22:15, I crossed the finish line of my first marathon and the best race of my life, my spirit high and the biggest smile plastered across my face. A few minutes later I got to watch Meagaan cross the finish line. We collected our medals together, rang the bell for our respective PRs, and found our squad (my mom and Meagaan’s boyfriend, Nick) who had traveled all the way to Phoenix to watch us fulfill our dream.
I couldn’t have asked for a better marathon experience. A week later, I still am gobsmacked by my body’s resilience and badassery. I dreamt of running a marathon to check it off my bucket list. To say I did it once and put the challenge to bed. But after the incredible showing in Phoenix, I know there’s no way I can just leave it at that. There are many miles of running in my future, and certainly another marathon.
Like I said,
My body was made for this.
Shoutout to the best running buddy ever, who I really and truly could not have done this without.
Clowning around and basking in our glory.
Are you a marathoner? Got a great race location for our next run?
Get in touch with tips! We’ll take all the help we can get 🙂