April showers bring May flowers. Sure…but in Oklahoma, April also brings a wide array of unpredictable weather conditions that are not always suitable for running a marathon. The last time I ran the full marathon at OKC Memorial Marathon was in 2011. That year, the race was delayed an hour as freezing rain and hail pelted the course. Last year, the race was delayed for over 2 hours as 26,000 runners took cover from severe weather (i.e.: tornados). This year, I could not have asked for more perfect weather. Temperatures hovered in the 50s with cloud cover and a cool breeze. It was a perfect day to run a marathon.
The goal for this race was to support a friend as he was running his first marathon ever. This would be a first for me as I have only ever run marathons alone. We discussed our race plan a few days before the race so that there would be no unspoken expectations of each other. The plan was that if I fell off pace, he would go ahead without me since this was HIS race. I have run marathons before and would be fine on my own. Otherwise, I would stay with him the entire way no matter what the outcome. We felt confident that a 4:00 goal time was realistic for us and so lined up with the 3:55 pace group.
The first few miles of the race were very crowded, which actually worked in our favor because we could not run faster than 9:30 per mile even if we tried. There’s a steep overpass at mile 2 that I knew we’d have to go easy and not let the crowd carry us up it too fast. At mile 3, I took my first Honey Stinger gel pack. I had eaten breakfast 2 1/2 hours prior to this and was wanted to make sure I didn’t burn through my glycogen stores too quickly. A RunHers Support crew was waiting for us at mile 6. We took a quick break as we each took about 15 EnergyBITS with coconut water. After a quick hug, high-five and photo-op, we settled into our groove again quickly.
The next 8 miles seemed to fly by. I took another gel at mile 10 and another handful of EnergyBITS at mile 14. I was feeling great and my friend was looking strong. We were cruising comfortably with the 3:55 pace group through the half-way mark. We were greeted with another steep overpass hill at mile 17. I knew that this was our last “major” hill and then all we had to do was maintain our pace. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the wall for my friend. I could tell he was not going to be able to maintain the pace but I didn’t want to discourage him from running his own race. As I took inventory of my own body, I was pleasantly surprised to assess that I felt great. I had no stomach issues and my legs felt strong. With less than 9 miles to go, I had a lot left in my tank.
After a quick bathroom stop, we fueled again through the mile 20 water stop. We each took our EnergyBITS and washed them down with some Powerade. At this point, I knew we were not going to be able to catch up with the 3:55 group. The sun was starting to peak through the clouds and I knew things get dicey once the sun starts beating down on runners. Although we kept a 9:00 per mile pace while running, we walked through the water stops in order to regroup and refuel. At mile 24, my friend had his first experience with acute cramping in his legs, so we stopped for a bit as he stretched a bit on the side of the road. He was in the throes of his marathon battle and I did my best to encourage him while also joining him in cursing the day we signed up for this race. With less than 2 miles to go, we pulled it together and finished the race in 4:13:30.
Finishing this race was exulting! I had never felt this good at the finish of a marathon! My parents and husband were waiting for us at the finish line. They have all shared the load of peeling me off the ground of a finish line after I pushed too hard or got too dehydrated. Many a time, one of them has watched me be dragged to the medic tent or hooked up to an IV. Their worry for my health is completely justified, and I wanted to prove to them that I could take care of myself enough to run marathons safely. So for me, the look of shock at how much energy and color there was in my face was priceless…better than any time I could have run that day! I had taken such good care of myself during the race so I could stay with my friend that I could FINALLY enjoy the finish line more than I even had before! THIS was a PR for sure.
It was such a privilege to be a part a first time marathoner’s journey. I got to see the journey through his eyes and remember why I started running marathons in the first place. I used to think it was about the pride of accomplishing such a feat…and it is! But it’s also about the arduous journey of 26.2 miles (for which you can never completely be prepared) and celebrating the finish with family and friends. No matter how fast I want to go for my next marathon, I don’t want to ever forget the feeling I had at the finish of this one.