Seeing the first marathon blanket somewhere around mile 25 was the first time I knew for sure that I would finish the race. It had been a long, painful journey up to that point. Walking to the start Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but think back on all the work it took to get this far. All of the sacrifices I made and hours spent on the road, came down to that day, that morning. As I joined the thousands at the line, the excitement, anxiety, and nerves filled the air.
The gun went off, the crowd began to yell, and it all began. The first few miles blew by. I kept thinking to myself, “I sure hope the whole thing is this easy!” Then, somewhere around mile 4, when everyone started feeling out their rhythms, Cheer Team Hay (CTH – comprised of Sister, Mother, Spud and Fam + a few others…that’s right, I had the biggest cheering section in the marathon) made their first appearance. They were loud, with 8, yes 8 cowbells, and signs to boot. The racers fed off their enthusiasm, and I quickly realized I might be the luckiest runner out there.
Things went pretty smoothly for the first half marathon. I quickly found my rhythm and cruised along without trouble. I crossed the half way point a few minutes under 2:00 feeling great. When I passed CTH around mile 14 I remember Sister saying, “you look great!” and I replied “I feel great!” Because I did…for about another 3 miles.
Miles 16-20 were uphill. I don’t know who the hell designed this course, but they clearly never ran it. The hills caused me to lose stride, slowing me way down. By the time I reached the top of the climb, I had hit the wall, with little left to recover. Mile 20-21 might have been the longest. It circled a lake, so I could see the other end. With every step, the end grew increasingly far way.
By this time the half marathoners had thinned out the marathoners, making it feel more and more lonely. As they zoomed by with fresh legs, the only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that they may cross the finish line first, but I will have run twice as far.
A buddy from college told me the other day, “Remember, the last 6 is what you trained for.” He was totally right. The first 20 was tough, but NOTHING compared to the end. The fun was over, the excitement gone, and for miles 20-25, every stride was a challenge.
Then finally, the first sighting. That sighting of the first marathon blanket was more brilliant than any view of the inner harbor. It brought hope, energy, and drive back into my step. I could finally taste the finish, and it tasted sweet.
The last mile grew louder, as the spectators grew in numbers. Running through the gates of Camden Yards, it felt like I was flying, with the clank of the cowbells from CTH carrying me the last few tenths of a mile.
As I crossed the line, emotion took the best of me. The pain, exhaustion, excitement, accomplishment, and relief came pouring out in the form of dry tears. A feeling I never want to forget.
I’m proud to report, I accomplished both my goals for the weekend!