2014 was the 43rd running of the Space Coast Marathon and Half Marathon in lovely Cocoa Village, Florida. It was also my very first full marathon attempt, and I was more than just a bit nervous about the whole affair. Everyone kept telling me that “the hay was in the barn,” and I knew that to be true, but the farthest I had run before Sunday, November 30th, was 20 miles – and if the Battle of the Bridges Triathlon taught me nothing else, I learned that a 10K is a long damned way to run on fried legs!
Being the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my holiday feast was a little more restrained than usual. I enjoyed a cinnamon bun with the Macy’s parade, and then carb-loaded with some mashed potatoes and stuffing at dinner, but that’s about the extent of it. We crammed our normal 2 days of Christmas decorating into a day and a half and Deb and I headed for Cocoa Beach around mid-day on Saturday.
First stop was the Expo and packet pickup. I got my bib and timing chip and my race shirt (my first long-sleeved tech shirt – I feel like a REAL runner now). I poked around the expo for a few minutes, but really, how many running skirts and t-shirts can you look at. I wanted to go check out the race start location in Cocoa Village. One look at the narrow, one-way streets in the cute little village made me understand very clearly that I wanted NOTHING to do with driving to the race start the next morning, so Deb and I decided that she would drop me off at one of the satellite shuttle areas (a local mall) and then come down to the race venue when things were well underway. It was a good plan!
Then we went out for dinner and I didn’t worry about how many carbs I ate for once. Back to the hotel for some last minute organizing and stressing out and I was ready for sleep. You know, I kept feeling like I was forgetting something – lots of somethings – and then I realized that packing for a running race and packing for a triathlon are completely different animals: shirt, bra, shorts, socks, shoes, visor, sunglasses, Garmin, waterbottle, bars, bib, chip… DONE!
The alarm went off WAY too early at 3:45 so that I could get to the shuttle by 5am. I think I actually could have slept an extra 20-30 minutes, but I’d rather be early than late. The bus carried us across the Indian River from Merritt Island and dropped us off at Taylor Park. I quickly joined the line at the port-o-potties – just in case – and headed over to Delannoy Avenue to the marathon staging area. The half marathon was off at 6:00am one block over. Once they were off, we walked up to Brevard Avenue and lined up in our pace groups. Coach Pam told me to line up with the 9:00/mile group because it would thin out quickly and I would have space to run – she is very wise.
At 6:30am sharp, the jumbotron showed the video of a space shuttle blasting off and we were off on our 26.2 mile adventure. I had programmed 109 2 minute run/30 sec walk intervals into my Garmin, guessing that would be about right for what I hoped to be a 4:20 marathon. The marathon course is a double out and back. The half marathon ran the south loop and the marathon ran a north loop first and then continued on the half marathon course. I saw many people I knew from the local running scene – Ironman, Kelly Cory, passed by twice (going the other way very speedily) during the day, I saw Jennifer Florida pacing the 4:00 group, Fellow RWB teammate, Steve Parnell, blew by me at about mile 20, and I saw my favorite Race DJ-ette, Alice Neal out there too.
But my favorite person on the course was my tri-buddy, Megan White. Megan has the most bubbly effusive personality and seeing her on the side of the road cheering at about the 13 mile mark was so great! It gave me a real boost going into the second half of the marathon. My half marathon time was 2:07 – I really did hold back and stick to the plan that Pam had laid out for me. She said to run the first half in 2:05-2:10, no faster. So, I did – even though I felt like I could have easily run a sub-2 hour half that day. I drank water at the water stops and I ate a Shaklee peanut butter snack bar every hour. I had a bottle of Performance for the last 10K (and boy did I need it).
By Mile 16 I was tired and drenched with sweat and hot, but nothing really HURT yet – that was about to change. At Mile 20 I experienced what my friend, Carrie, describes as “leg death.” Both calves seized up in knotted charlie horses. I tried to run through them, but nothing doing – it was like my legs were misfiring. There were these electrical shock spasm-y things happening that made me think for split seconds that I was going to fall on my face. Sometimes it felt like my knees were going to buckle backwards. It really sucked!!
I would run an interval and then walk 2, run 2 and walk 2 – whatever it took to “just keep moving forward.” I was listening to my running playlist really loud – like the volume might help propel me down the road or something – and at Mile 22 all of a sudden I hear “ANNNNGIE!! ANNNNN…GIEEEEEE!” and see this little bit of a person bouncing up and down on the side of the road like a spring and it’s MEGAN again!! How awesome to see her on the course twice and how desperately needed both times.
I was able to run/hobble/walk/shuffle until I saw the Mile 25 marker and suddenly I was reborn. I ran the last mile solid – not terribly fast, but I ran it all. Coming back into the village the streets were lines with spectators who cheered encouragement, and all of a sudden I got really emotional and felt like I was going to burst into tears – weird, right? Once around Taylor Park and I was at the finish line. I did it! I ran a marathon. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty and there certainly wasn’t anything negative split about it, but I finished it!
Deb was right there at the finish line – somehow she managed her way inside the ropes. As I crossed the finish I felt so many things – pain, relief, exhilaration, and profound gratitude for a body that can accomplish such a punishing feat and walk away (mostly) in tact. I got my medal – which is probably THE most awesome medal of all time – and again I was overcome with the emotion of it all. I worked hard for something for months and months. I trained while others slept. I pushed myself harder and farther each week. I trusted my coach without question or reservation. And I accomplished something that only 1% of the people on Planet Earth can claim. I am a Marathoner!
Now, I look to December, which will be my “off season,” and enjoying some unstructured weeks of exercise. I’m hitting Half-iron training hard on January 2nd in preparation for the Gulf Coast Triathlon on May 9th. I can’t wait!!
Thanks as always to my family – especially Deb and Josh – who support me in all my crazy adventures without complaint and are always there with a smile, an ice pack, an encouraging word, and even a kick in the pants when I need it. Thanks to my awesome coach, Pam Giese, for believing in me even when I don’t believe in myself, and for being a shining example of the kind of athlete I want to be. Special shout-outs to my Swim-Bike-Mom Ambassador Teammates and my Tri-Peeps on the Tri-Fecta FB Group for their encouragement and BTDT advice – you all ROCK!! And a special thanks to my favorite flamingo toting, cheerleading tri-peep, Megan, for boosting my spirits and lending some of her boundless energy when I needed it most on Sunday – you’re the BEST – and to Carrie Giordano for all your 1st time marathon advice – you were BRILLIANT!!!!! 🙂