The Country Music Marathon was hands down the hardest race I have ever run. I worked incredibly hard during the training for the race, and I had high expectations. This race taught me that sometimes, you just have to throw your expectations out the window, and just finish what you started.
Let’s just start with the beginning. We stayed close to the start with our friends Chris and Allison, so that we could just wake up and walk up there. The weather was perfect on our walk, hovering in the upper 50′s. It didn’t last long. The temps started rising as soon as the sun peaked through the clouds, and we knew we were in for a very warm day.
I was given a Brooks Porta Potty Pass from my friend Sarah Beth that lives here in Nashville. She bought $100 of Brooks merchandise, and was given the pass. It was pretty awesome!
The bathrooms were all climate controlled, and even gender specific. The staff was ready for all the runners, and had mints, peppermint patties, and a few Clif Shots to fuel the VIP runners. Way to go Brooks – such an awesome concept!
After our Brooks bathroom stop, Marcus and I headed over to the starting line and got in our corral. We were lucky enough to get into Corral 2, with our projected finish time of 3:30. Marcus knew from the beginning that he would only be running the half marathon, as he hurt his back a few weeks before. As we looked behind us, there were people as far as the eye could see. There were tens of thousands of people, littering the streets in all 35 corrals.
Just standing in line for the start, I could already feel the heat rising. It was significantly warmer than the temps we experienced on our leisurely walk up to the race. I knew at this point that I had to start fueling far earlier than I normally do.The national anthem was sung, and I was off. The first mile or so was completely downhill, which was easily detectable by my 7:10 split for mile 1. That was way, way too fast if I was expecting a good end result, so I quickly backed up a bit and let off the gas. Miles 2 & 3 were a much slower 7:40 pace. It was still a bit quick, but I figured the extra few seconds would help me later in the race when I was getting tired.
Then the hills came. By looking at the elevation map, I was expecting hills from miles 2 to 5. They were significantly steeper than I was expecting, and lasted for much longer than the elevation chart lead me to believe. I can honestly say that from around mile 2 to mile 10, there were rolling hills the entire time. Not to mention by this time, the heat was incredibly intense, even though it was only around 8:20 am.
We said goodbye to the half marathon runners at mile 11, and had a grueling 15 more miles ahead of us until we were able to see the finish line we longing dreamt about. For me, miles 11 through 17 were a bit of a blur. My pace was on track, and there was not a whole lot to look at – I just churned through the mileage. The citizens of Nashville were all out in full force, many with their hoses spraying full force in the street, knowing that we were in desperate need of cooling off. I ran through almost every one that I saw, along with grabbing water and/or Gatorade at each and every stop. At mile 17, we came up and ran right by the half marathon runners. It is always hard to see other runners finishing when you still have a solid 9 more miles to go. This time was no different.
The heat became incredibly intense at this point, and I started getting goose bumps – not a good sign in 80+ degree weather. If there is one thing I have learned in my running journey thus far is to listen to my body. I knew I needed more fluids, so I stopped at the next medical tent. At the tent, I got a quick cup of Gatorade, along with a large handful of ice that I stuffed down my sports bra. It was the perfect trick to cool me off in a hurry, and I was back on my way with a solid 2.5 minutes tacked on to my time, which was just enough time to put me right back to the 8 minute pace I was looking to follow.
That moment was where things went downhill. I started back up from that quick stop, and my legs felt heavy. The crowds thinned out enormously, and my music stopped. Remember all those hoses I ran through? Well, iPods do not like hoses, point taken. Lucky for me, I saw Marcus about a half a mile later, around mile 19.5. He could see it in my face. I was not doing well. He gave me the encouragement I needed, and told me to just stay strong and finish this race, no matter what time my watch said. The heat was playing a factor in everyone’s race today, and I was no exception. He was awesome and grabbed a banana and Gatorade, fueled me up, and then sent me on my way.
Miles 20-26 were the toughest miles of my life. I felt like I couldn’t run. My chest was tightening up, and my legs were heavy. I stopped at another aid station, this time for more ice and a salt tablet. Note to RNR, use tablets and not salt packets. Sucking on a salt packet is less than desirable when you already feel as if no amount of water is enough to quench your thirst.
This part of the course was the only part that I really had complaints about. The race took us out to a golf course, which on most days would be a great run – not on marathon day though. A golf course means no access for support. I think I could count the number of people I saw out there, and it was incredibly minimal. When I was at mile 21, I could literally see the mile marker for mile 24. I knew that meant that for the next 3 miles, I would be running an out and back course – not prime for the end of a race.
This is where I walked. Mentally, I was crushed. Physically, I was exhausted and in true concern for my well-being. Sounds dramatic? Yes. True at the time? Absolutely. At mile 21, I would run for a half mile, and then walk for .10. I did this until I hit mile 25. It was the only way I was able to get through the race. It slowed my pace down to 11 minute miles, far from the 8 minute pace I needed to hold. I knew that I would not be hitting a 3:30 marathon, let alone a PR.
The best part of this moment, was that I didn’t even care. I just wanted to finish. Out of all the training I did for this race, and amount I was prepared for it, my goal flew out the window. I was going to finish this race as strong as I possibly could, even if I had to walk. My safety was all that mattered to me at this point. If I had continued on with no concern for my health, I could have easily ended up not making it to the finish. I was determined to get that medal, and was going to do everything in my power to do so.
I dug down, and pounded out the next few miles. I knew I would see Marcus at mile 25, and that was all I could think about. When I saw him, I immediately perked up, and knew I was so close to the finish. He stepped out on the course, and joined me for the last mile. I could not have been more thrilled. I needed his amazing attitude at this point, and his face was all I wanted to see. He lifted me up the last mile, then dropped off right when the crowd barricades started. This was my time to finish.
The crowd was incredibly loud, and all I could feel was the extreme excitement of knowing I was about to complete my 6th marathon. I turned a corner, and there it was – a sight I have had my eyes on for 18 weeks, the finish line. Out of all the races I have run, this was the first time I completed a race and teared up. Not because I didn’t hit my goal, or that I was unhappy with myself. I had never been more proud of my effort, ever. I fought through that entire race. I earned my finish time. I listened to my body, and didn’t put myself in danger.
I still believe my training was better for the Country Music Marathon than any other race I have completed in the past. I went into the race injury free, and completed it in the same way. For me, this is a huge deal. As soon as I finished up, all I could think of was the 2 weeks of rest I am going to take, and October 7th, the Chicago Marathon. I still believe I have it in me to PR and get that 3:30. I know I do. One race will not get me down. It’s just a race. Not an indicator of my capabilities, not something to obsess over what did or didn’t go wrong – but a race.
I can make up excuses of why I didn’t PR on Saturday at the Country Music Marathon. But that would be silly. I didn’t PR because I didn’t PR. Not because I am a bad runner, or because the conditions were not good. Saturday was not my day to reach that 3:30. I don’t know why – it just wasn’t. But I know some day soon will be.
There is no difference between the person that reached that 3:30 time, myself, or someone who ran a 6 hour marathon. At the end of the day, we all are marathon finishers. We all covered the same distance, and we all deserved getting that medal hung around our necks. Congratulations to everyone that finished the marathon this weekend – it was not an easy endeavor!
A big, HUGE congrats to 2 of my best friends, Chris and Allison for conquering their first 26.2! This was a beyond big accomplishment for both of you, and I am so proud of you both. Your hard work definitely paid off! Chris’ parents, Bob and Denise also came to the race to cheer us all on. We had quite the crew in Nashville
Thanks so much to Gabe and Sarah Beth, our hosts for the weekend. They toted us around to the expo, the race, and everywhere in between. It is so much fun to have friends at races, and share with them something that you put so much of your life into. Thanks for everything!!!
And thanks to all of my readers, supporters, and Twitter followers. I loved getting all the notifications of your well wishes throughout training, before, and after the marathon! Your words of encouragement mean so much to me, and I appreciate each and every one of you!!
159 days until Chicago, but hey, who’s counting?