After I was unable to run the Rock’n’Roll in April, I began looking for my first marathon, using the reviews posted on marathonguide.com. I knew I wanted to find a small race with a flat course, and the Towpath Marathon fit the bill with about 300 runners every year and noted as a great course for a PR. As an added bonus, I could visit Nasly nearby. I signed up, requested my bib mailed to me, and began training using Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan.
I had been warned that summer training in DC could be tough with the heat, and 2012 was no exception. I woke up at 5:30 AM (sometimes earlier to eat before going out) on Wednesdays and Saturdays for my mid-week long and weekend long runs and did my shorter runs on the treadmill. Even so, I would leave the house with frozen water bottles and they’d be melted by mile 5. After I passed the 12 mile run, I realized my Nathan 2 bottle belt wasn’t holding enough fluid anymore and I added a handheld 22 oz flask. Fatigue on my 14 mile run forced me to look up new ways of training, and after reading about the Galloway method I began incorporating a 1 min walk at the end of each mile. At my boss’s suggestion, I began taking my Gu gels regularly at 4 mile intervals, even if I didn’t feel hungry or fatigued. After that, keeping my 10:30 pace became easy.
October quickly rolled around, and I made plans to stay with my friend and she volunteered to drive me to the race at 6 AM (roads closed at 7) and cheer me on like the angel she is. I enjoyed the beautiful cool weather and changing trees in Akron, and had the best pineapple fried rice at a Thai restaurant the night before the race. We went to sleep early after I laid out my clothing for the next day.
The day of the race was chilly, probably in the low 40s or high 30s. I was glad to have the large sweatpants and jacket I bought at Goodwill to pull on over my long sleeve shirt and favorite Adidas running shorts. I chose to run without bottles in my belt, drinking at the aid stations instead and pinning gels on my shirt. The excitement in the air was palpable, and I met some of Nasly’s friends running the half marathon. Three hundred or so of us lined up near the start line, and in no time at all, we were running and cheering.
The first twenty miles went perfectly. The course was beautiful, winding through the woods on a wide limestone path. While the water/gatorade stations were well stocked, it was a quiet race with few onlookers, which was understandable given the size of the race. We ran over wooden bridges cross the marshes and through the trees clothed in the beauty of autumn leaves. Around mile twenty, my energy began to flag and I wished I had maybe eaten the bananas or sweet potatoes proferred by volunteers a few miles back. A mile or two later, two things happened. It began to rain and my right foot began to ache so badly that I thought I couldn’t take another step. I had hit the wall. At this point, it was completely my brain overriding my body’s protests that kept me going – “you’ve trained too hard for this to give up”, “you want that medal around your neck”, “DH is tracking you on the phone”, “you told HOW many friends and family you were running this marathon, can you bear to tell them you didn’t finish?”.
Thankfully, Nasly found me at mile 22 and ran beside me and coached me. With her help, I got to mile 26. At that point, the volunteers were lined up and shouting that the finish line was just ahead, number 20 you can do it. I can’t even describe the change that came over me hearing those words! As the finish line arch came into view, I began to sprint, injured foot and all. That feeling of crossing the finish line – I’m not exaggerating to say it was a spiritual moment. And I was thanking God for getting me there, and I kept thinking about how amazing heaven must be, to have millions lined up cheering your life-long race and congratulating you.
However, about 2 minutes afterwards, all these thoughts were gone as the soreness kicked in and I found I could barely walk to the bag check to get my bag. I changed into dry clothing, and got the most painful massage of my life. Next time, I’m getting into the hot tub, germs and all. We enjoyed hot chocolate at the little shop across the road, and I hobbled home to the car with Nasly, the medal feeling very comfortable around my neck :) I couldn’t wait till the next race.
Crossing the finish line!
Pictures with friends. Note the medals and tired demeanors :)
What I ran with: Adidas adizero cap, random New Balance shirt, Adidas shorts. Garmin Forerunner 210 to track my pace and Brooks Glycerin 10. As mentioned above, I ate Gu energy gels (my favorite flavor is Chocolate Outrage) throughout the race.
Race Pros: The race was small, so no weaving necessary! Plenty of water and Gatorade. The path was flat and easy to run on (dirt/ limestone most of the time), although I imagine the wood bridges might get slippery when wet. I liked the festival afterwards as well, with plenty of food (sandwiches and bananas), a massage area, and a small hot tub.
Race Cons: The biggest con is that since the race was so small, there weren’t many spectators. The only people there to cheer us on were friends at the start/ finish line and volunteers at water stations.