I have never walked during a marathon. I’ve always been in the “just keep running, even if it’s barely a jog”-camp. During the Anchorage Marathon, I walked five times—that I remember!
It wasn’t my prettiest race, but it was the prettiest marathon I’ve done.
For someone who was debating whether or not to even do the full marathon or drop down to the half marathon due to my IT band/knee injury two weeks ago, I’m proud with how it turned out: that I finished.
The Beginning: Running Together
In my head, the game plan was to stick with Joanna until the half-way point. Before my knee injury fiasco (now about a month ago,) our goal had always been to run a sub-4 hour time together. This would mean our pace would be at about 9 minute/mile. We’ve trained and have completed three marathons together in the past. This would be no different, except this time we would reach that time goal.
I knew running 9’s the entire race would be pushing it for my poor left knee. That’s why my personal goal was to stick with Joanna until the half and just see how I feel from there on out.
However, that’s not what happened.
It was perfect race weather at the start. Sunny, but not too hot. We were running in the Last Frontier, surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges! We saw Bryce, his mom, and Joanna’s boyfriend Dan at about the 4-mile mark. I was feeling good. My knee didn’t hurt, except for a “funny feeling” behind the knee. (To note, I had never experienced any sort of feeling behind the knee before. It felt stiff).
Joanna and I waved at our fans, going stride for stride together. After we passed them, we took on a short hill on a road that we were running.
Eventually we met up with a gravel trail. It was mile 6 and this is when Joanna mentioned she didn’t feel “quite right.” I asked her if it was her stomach but she said it was more like she just felt like she didn’t have any energy. We kept on running together but our 9 minute pace dropped to 9:30, then 10.
This isn’t good, I thought to myself. I told Joanna that at the next aid station, she should take the energy drink (despite it tasting like medicine when we took a swig of it at a prior aid station).
At the mile 9 (I think) aid station, Joanna took a cup of energy drink and stopped to walk and drink. I stopped to take a rock out of my shoe.
If we aren’t going to PR together, we may as well run slowly together.
But then Joanna decided that she actually needed to take a walking break.
“You go on ahead,” she said.
I asked her if she was sure and that it didn’t really matter because it wasn’t like I was going to PR in this state. She insisted. She said it would make her feel worse if I stayed back with her.
“Ok, see you at the finish,” I said as we high-fived each other.
The Middle: Running Worried
After I went off on my own, I picked up the pace. I got back down to 9’s and kept at that pace. My knee didn’t hurt but felt tender. Even though my physical therapist told me this wasn’t going to be a PR race, it didn’t mean I couldn’t give it my all, right? (I hope she’s not reading this!)
Two Team In Training coaches found me a little after mile 9 and mile 10. The first coach ran with me just for what felt like a few seconds but I didn’t mind because I felt “relatively good.” I told her I was more worried about my friend and teammate, Joanna, and if she could keep a look out for her. The second coach I came across ran with me for a bit longer. We chatted a bit and I also told him to look out for Joanna. He assured me that he would.
I was still running on the gravel trail and there were some rolling hills. Nothing too horrible. The sun felt a little stronger but I kept going on. I wasn’t sure where I would see my cheer squad next but it was around mile 13 and I was so happy to see them.
I’m not one to stop during a race when I see my friends/family cheering for me but I did this time. Bryce told me to keep walking so I walked with him as I told him what happened to Joanna. I wanted to stop and hang with them longer, I wasn’t tired but felt bummed to be running by myself when Joanna was struggling.
I didn’t know this because I wasn’t paying too much attention to my Garmin, but Bryce says I was still on pace to sub-4 at the half-way point.
The Second Half: The Ugly Miles
It’s getting kind of hard for me to remember everything.
The course took us from the gravel trail to actual mountain dirt trails. As I slowly jogged up a hill, I cursed under my breath that this wasn’t supposed to be a trail race, despite looking and feeling like one. I took a pit stop at a porta-potty around mile 14 or 15.
At mile 16, I started experiencing actual IT band pain. I pushed through.
Then at mile 18 it started hurting significantly more, although the pain shifted from the IT band (so outer side of my knee) to the knee cap.
I saw my cheer squad for the final time at mile 18. The course was now along a major road. I stopped running while they cheered and took photos and encouraged me.
“Can I just wait here for Joanna?” I pleaded to them. “I’ll just wait here so I can run with Joanna.”
Bryce and Dan told me to keep on going, that Joanna was at least 10 minutes behind me. (Little did we know that she was more like 30 minutes or more behind me). Bryce told me that the first Team In Training marathoner was just “a ways” in front of me. He told me I could still catch him if I tried. Then I could be the first Team In Training finisher, he exclaimed.
“Do it for Jo!” Dan added.
Bryce filled up my water bottle and I went on my way. I wasn’t really that serious on catching the guy since he was no where in sight, but I guess I could keep running.
However, from mile 19 on, I was in a lot of pain. Not only did my knee hurt, my legs were shot. I suppose the last four weeks of limited running due to my injury had caught up to me. I felt out of shape.
Everyone around me appeared to be in pain as well. It felt like a zombie death march to the finish. We were now away from the road and on a concrete bike path. I tried to stay on the side of the path where the surface was softer. Maybe it would alleviate the pain in my knee. It didn’t.
There was an aid station at mile 21.95 but prior to it there was a small incline. This was the first time I walked. I walked 10 steps. I know this because I counted. Then when I arrived at the aid station, I stopped and walked to the porta-potty. I didn’t really have to pee but I wanted an excuse to rest.
Another Team coach was waiting for me. She asked me how I was doing. I told her I hurt. I forget what she said back to me. She gave me a salt tablet. I continued on.
Mile 21.95 to 26 were lonely and slow. They made me question why I decided to do the full. But, they also gave me time to reflect on all the people who helped me get to this point. I thought about all my fellow teammates who were also running or had finished their races in Seattle that same day. Thinking about all these people made me feel better, but I was still in a lot of pain.
The Finish: The Cruel, Cruel Finish
I knew going into this race that there was a hill “right before the finish.” What I didn’t know was that there would be THREE hills right before the finish. I’m talking less than a mile before the finish and that last hill is literally RIGHT BEFORE THE CHUTE.
If I had cried during any point of the race, it would have been at this point. But, I was too tired. I decided to take the trail runner’s racing mentality and walked up the first hill, and then second hill and even that last hill. No one around me was running up these beasts.
As soon as I walked to the top of the third and final hill, I could see the finish. The cheering became louder and my infamous kick came through. I sprinted through the finish chute and somehow managed to smile. I smiled because I was doing it. I was about to finish my race. I smiled because my coaches told us all to smile at the finish and I try my best to be obedient!
I sprinted past a few people right at the end. It was finally over.
I walked through the rest of the chute and came up to a table and immediately took three dixie cups of water. It was like taking shots, but of water. I received my medal and my finisher’s shirt.
My friends Alex and Liz found me right away. Liz had done the half marathon. And my Team In Training mentor, Marie, also came up and congratulated me. I immediately started unloading all of my stuff (water bottle, medal, etc.) to my friends. I took off my race bib to hand off to someone.
As eager as I was to finish that race, I was to go back into it. I had to go back out to run Joanna back into the finish. We could still finish together.
But then the worst part of the race occurred. Alex or someone else told me Joanna wasn’t going to finish. She had dropped out.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
My heart sank and felt heavy. I was tired and felt even more defeated.
We went back to the mile 19 mark, where Joanna’s race ended, to pick her up. She had been throwing up on the course and eventually had to stop. A stomach bug she had the week before was apparently still with her.
This race just wasn’t meant to be. If my knee had been fully functioning, it wouldn’t have felt like a victory if I reached my goal time but Joanna didn’t even finish. And, I can’t imagine she would have felt good racing a PR if I came in with my slowest marathon time ever. (Yes, that’s what happened in Anchorage, I clocked in at 4:27:53, which is my slowest time out of 8 marathons completed).
I have more races left in me. I’m not going anywhere. Joanna and I have many more miles to train and race together.
Also, everyone told me going into this race how Anchorage is a net downhill race. It did not feel like that! Even if I had been healthy, this would have been a darn hard course to PR.
But, this race was never about PR’ing, even though sub-4 is a goal I have had for a few years now. This race wasn’t even about finishing.
Joanna and I raised ~$7,000* together with the help of friends, family, teammates, colleagues and strangers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This is money that will go directly to blood cancer patients and research. We had a pretty solid marathon training cycle (minus my injury at the end).
I’m proud that we did all that and showed up to the race.
This one’s for you, Natalie.
*The ~ is because money is still coming in through some company matches. Thank you to all who donated and supported us!