Tobacco Road Marathon

Let's get off the subject of photography for a second and talk about another one of my favorite things, running. Two and a half years ago in October of 2012, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, my first marathon. Right after that race my family asked me if I would do another one. My immediate response? No way. Well, things change. A few years later and I found myself signing up for another marathon. I had every intention of doing the City of Oaks Marathon in November of 2014 and even made it to my 20 mile long run in training...and that's when my foot started hurting. That set me back and I ended up only able to do the half. I was definitely bummed! Since I still had that marathon fever (this is a thing, right? no? just me? ok cool), I decided to sign up for the Tobacco Road Marathon in March. Two weekends ago was the marathon (although it feels like yesterday!) and holy cow, I'm so glad I signed up for this race. Everything about it was AMAZING! 

I went into the race feeling more or less prepared, and not at all as nervous as I was for the first one. I knew I had trained well and part of me knew what to expect from doing the marathon a few years ago. Although as the race got closer I started to grasp what I was actually doing and the memories of the pain from the last time came flooding back. Why did I want to do this again?! Oh right, because I'm insane. 

My goal going into this race was different from the last. I was pretty confident that I would at least finish, so this time I wanted to set a PR (personal record). The last (and first) marathon I did I finished in 5 hours, and I was just pleased to finish! This time I wanted to do it in 4 hours and 30 minutes. I knew I could do that time based on how a lot of my training runs had gone, but I was also a little doubtful. Everything changes when you’re out there running that distance and I was skeptical that I could actually shave off 30 minutes from my last time. That's a lot!

The race morning comes and I’m awake at the insane hour of 4am and heading to the start. I decided that I would try and run with the 4:30 pace group to help me stick with my goal so I got all lined up at the start with them. One of the things I LOVED about this race was how small it was. There were about 4,000 half marathoners and only about 1,000 full marathoners. Amaaaazing. They really couldn't have had many more based on the size of the course though. Just about the whole thing is on the tobacco road, which is a partly dirt partly paved greenway throughout Cary and Durham. The first 2 and a half miles were on backroads that took us from the start (the USA Baseball Complex) to the entrance of the greenway. Once we got to the greenway the marathoners and half marathoners split. And it was the best. One of the things that threw me off in the Marine Corps Marathon was the size of it. Don't get me wrong, it was definitely exciting and full of lots of energy, but there were over 30,000 people, that's insane! In that race it was hard for me to really get in my groove and find my "happy pace" - but this one was so different. I fell into my rhythm so quickly. There were times during the race where there was no one around me. It was just the type of marathon I wanted. Perfect to take it all in and just relax. Weird to say that a marathon is relaxing, right? Running through pine trees in the early hours of the morning tends to be pretty peaceful though. :) 

After about 5 miles I ended up having to break with my beloved pace group for a much needed bathroom break, which ended up taking way longer than I wanted! Waiting in lines is no fun. After that I kicked it into gear to try and catch up with them. I surprisingly felt good though and didn't mind running a bit faster. Around maybe mile 8 or so, I finally caught up with them and settled into the back of the small pack of runners aiming for my same time. It was nice, even being in a pace group, because it still didn't feel crowded. I could hang back and run on my own for a bit or I could join in the conversation with the other runners. It was perfect having that mix of both. There's not much to say about all of these miles in between, just lots of trees, people watching (the course was an out and back, so we passed the other marathoners ahead of us which was fun!), and I saw my adoring fans (parents) a few times!

The fun really started around mile 18 or so. Our small team aiming to finish in 4:30 had dwindled down to just 4. Two pacers, myself, and one other guy. We were determined! My legs started to hurt by this point, and more specifically my right foot was really bugging me. I think because I had more things in my running belt on the right side of my body that it really made that leg and foot hurt much more than the other. Maybe I should think of another way to carry all of my fuel. At this point in the race I started talking to the pacers more and it was so helpful to have someone to talk to. Also, their running stories are insane! So many ultras. I don't know how they do those. It was one of the pacers first times pacing and he was doing it to practice for the next weekend when he had planned to be a pacer for another 4:30 marathon, but run a 50 miler on the day before. I don’t understand how that’s possible! My body is dead after 26.2, it’s hard to even walk after running that let alone run twice that distance.

By the time we got to around mile 20 it was just down to 2 of us. One of the pacers fell back a bit due to some bad cramping, and the other guy that was running with us also fell back. So it was me and the ultra-marathon fanatic. And he was awesome. It was kind of like I had my own pacer and he was SO encouraging. He cheered for everyone we passed, telling them how great they were doing and motivated them to keep going. That in itself helped me to keep moving and cheer right along with him. I was determined not to fall back, he was just the extra boost that I needed for those last few miles. Sometime between miles 20 and 22 we met up with another guy who slowly fell into our pace and stayed with us until close to the end. As we came up to mile 24 (where we exited the greenway), our pacer was doing all he could to get us pumped. We envisioned the finish line and FLYING through that last 1.2 miles to get there! He told us we could do this, that we would finish strong, and that those last few miles would be a breeze. Just a training run, no biggie, right? One of the biggest things in the marathon is overcoming the mental barriers. I knew that physically my body could do it, but the hardest part is all mental, and having a pacer helped with that SO much! By the time we were running the last few miles I was feeling so great! I was in an amazing mood and wasn't feeling discouraged by the slight hills that were in the last bit. I mean seriously, what, how is that possible?! I didn’t even hit the dreaded wall; it was such a 180 from the last marathon.

By the time we made it to mile 26 I was trucking right along feeling great (ok great mentally, physically my body was soooore) and I was so determined to finish strong and fast. At this point there were a few other runners around us and our pacer was yelling (motivating) everyone to "run fast!! finish the last .2 miles strong!! don’t let 4:30 pass you!!" so naturally, I flew ahead encouraged by him pushing us. I was feeling great and his cheering helped so much. I pushed myself ahead of him/the 4:30 mark in those last .2 miles and ran my heart out. It was also during this time that I ran by someone who was doing her first marathon. She was so excited and crying happy tears and of course this got me going too! I remembered how I felt in those moments of my first marathon. How amazing and accomplished I felt. And how amazing it still felt the 2nd time around. It was also at this time that I saw my family and my friends cheering so loudly for me on the sidelines as I was about to cross the finish line. And I lost it. I think I felt more joy and was more overcome with emotion as I crossed this finish line than I did in the first marathon. I couldn't believe the amount of supporters that I had and the amount of energy they had as they cheered me on to finish. And on top of that, I crossed that baby in 4 hours and 28 minutes! 2 minutes faster than I wanted, and a whole 32 minutes faster than before! I was stunned. And sooooo happy. After collecting my medal and that fancy space jacket, I ran to find my friends and family and cried like a big ole baby. Big, fat tears, I was so happy. I don't think I've ever felt so loved or so accomplished in that moment, and to be able to share it with my family and some of my closest friends was perfect. 

I know people think I’m crazy for training and running a marathon. A majority of my friends and family don’t understand why I would choose to subject myself to something like this. And maybe it makes no sense. But to be part of this running community is incredible. I’ve met and developed great relationships with people all thanks to running. I’ve become closer with family and friends, some who don’t even run, because of this sport. And I’ve learned how to push myself, both mentally and physically. I learned that even if something seems impossible, and hard, it’s still not out of reach.

Time to sign up for another!