Race Recap: Bayshore Marathon
After having a marathon on my bucket list for several years, I finally crossed that glorious finish line! It was perhaps one of the hardest things I have ever experienced, I think second only to my weight loss journey. Grab some wine and settle in, because this might get lengthy.
Backing up to Friday! The race was in Traverse City, about 2.5 hours north of Grand Rapids. After a relaxing morning at home, I hit the road around noon in hopes of missing the majority of the holiday weekend traffic. Mission accomplished! After a couple bathroom stops along the way (mission: hydration), I checked in to the hotel and headed downtown until Kayla, Andi, and their crews arrived. We grabbed pizza and beer for dinner at The Filling Station (so good!) before heading to packet pick-up!
It didn’t quite feel real until I had my bib in-hand. I was surprisingly calm about the whole thing the majority of the week. Suddenly it hit me that this was really happening! I tried to get some sleep, but it was tough as I tossed and turned for quite some time before finally falling into a restless sleep.
My alarm went off bright and early at 5:00am on Saturday morning. I almost immediately went down to the hotel lobby for some coffee and a bagel to enjoy while getting ready. The three of us all got ready in my room before heading out the door around 6:00am, which ultimately allowed us plenty of time to get to the race start. We hung out in the warm gym for a bit; it was about 38 degrees that morning, so we tried to stay inside as long as possible. I had a CLIF bar and some Nuun while we waited.
At 6:45am, we ventured outside for the Porta-Potties; we were in line for almost 30 minutes and made it to the start with seconds to spare! Nothing like cutting it that close to get your heart rate up before even crossing the starting line. We weren’t even able to truly line up, but just hopped in as the runners made their way to the start.
Kayla and I ran together up until the half marathon marker. The first couple of miles just flew by; I remember being so surprised when my Garmin beeped for the first mile marker! I tried really hard to stay around a 10:30 pace knowing I would otherwise get swept up in the excitement and burn out quickly. It was a comfortable, maintainable pace. I knew we were doing it right when I could carry on a conversation with relative ease. We chatted a good chunk of the time we ran together. I’m honestly not a huge fan of running with people, but it was exactly the thing I needed on race morning.
Just before the turnaround point, we saw Kayla’s husband and twin girls! I felt encouraged by the familiar faces, and the girls were so excited! I also saw a few friends on the course who were also running – Jessica and I leapfrogged for a mile or so, which was fun. It’s amazing what a boost that is, to see someone you know out there and have them rooting for you, or even experiencing it all themselves. When we saw Christopher, I took advantage of the opportunity to get rid of my arm warmers. There were a couple points in the next mile or two I regretted not having them, but ultimately it was the right call because it warmed up quickly and I was glad to not deal with them for the next few hours.
At the turnaround point, I took a walking break and Kayla kept running. At that point I needed to run my own race. I really hadn’t listed to my music much during the first half, just a couple of songs including “Fight Song.” I was much more dependent as the miles went by in the second half. I also listened to a ton of Taylor Swift, especially the 1989 tracks. “Shake It Off” took on a whole new meaning, as did the “and we RUN!” line from “I Know Places.”
I was fully aware that my last marathon attempt ended in mile 15, so just making it to mile 16 felt like an accomplishment. At that point, while I was starting to struggle, I knew I “only” had ten miles left. I know it’s still an incredibly long way to run, but knowing that the miles remaining countdown was in the single digits was a good mental boost. My pace slowed considerably with each passing mile, especially as I stopped more frequently to stretch. At a couple points, I just sat down so I could get a little deeper of a stretch and regroup mentally. I feared that if I sat down, I wouldn’t get back up, but I needed that few seconds.
You know how runners talk about hitting the wall during a marathon? I thought I knew what that felt like before this race. I didn’t. From about miles 18-21, I struggled more than I ever thought possible. Literally nothing about the experience felt enjoyable at that point. Physically, I was hurting and in desperate need of fuel beyond Gu, which is a good lesson for my next race. I had a stretch where I was feeling pretty weak and lightheaded, and in all honesty, knew that I wasn’t being smart to keep going, but I refused to give in. Mentally, I was struggling to keep my head in the game. Emotionally, I was a complete wreck. I cried a few times, but tried to pull it together quickly, not wanting to waste any precious energy on tears. Those could flow freely at the finish line (spoiler alert: they did!).
As the majority of the out-and-back course ran along the East Grand Traverse Bay, it could not have been more beautiful. When I did the 10k in 2011, it was a rainy and overcast day, so we couldn’t really see the water at all. I left that weekend not quite understanding why people raved about the course, but suddenly I got it. I was quite aware during the first half of the race, but the course thinned out considerably in the second half and without Kayla by my side, I had more opportunity to appreciate the beauty. It was a welcomed distraction from the struggle.
Seriously, though, this view! What even?! There were many times, particularly in that second half of the course, that I was really tempted to go dip my toes in the water, despite that it was all private beach access. It was toasty and that unbelievably clear blue water looked so inviting as the temperatures crept higher. I think it was in the mid-70s by the time I finished; a 40 or so degree jump takes its toll on the body.
Once I hit the 20-mile marker, I reminded myself that I had less than a 10k in front of me. I’ve run 6 miles so many times, I could finish it out today. At some point in that last stretch, I took some Advil from some amazing spectators who had a little marathon survival table. It’s the best idea to take NSAIDs while running, but I honestly didn’t care. Likewise a couple miles down the road when another group of spectators had beer! Yes, I had a swig of Miller Lite while running a marathon and it was awesome (as awesome as crappy beer can be to this craft beer lover). I almost didn’t, but reminded myself that my primary goal was just to have fun. I felt confident I could finish at that point in the race, so I just went for it.
For the last couple of miles, all I could think about was the fact this was actually going to happen. I was finally going to be a marathoner. That simple fact gave me such strength. Despite the fact that I was hurting and struggling, I couldn’t help but think that I can’t wait to do this again because I felt like such a badass. Plus, I know I can do better and I can’t wait to prove that to myself. With less than half a mile to go, I started running, wanting to finish strong.
The final stretch towards the finish line is a moment that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. By that point, only a few spectators remained, but I truly didn’t care. I MADE IT! Hearing my name over the loudspeaker, even pronounced incorrectly, brought tears to my eyes. I hit the timing mat and made a beeline for that finisher’s medal. Kayla had come back to the finish line and when she gave me a hug, I started sobbing.
I crossed the finish line in 5:51:10, which is a time I couldn’t be more proud of. It’s not going to break any records, but it’s an automatic PR. For the struggles I had this training cycle, causing me to sit out more of my long runs that I was truly comfortable with, just getting to the finish line felt extraordinarily monumental. This is something I have wanted for so long and I fought for it every single mile. I refused to stop until I reached the end.
After I regained my composure, I drank some water and made a beeline to the physical therapy tent. I did that after the 25k two weeks prior. I believe it dramatically improved my recovery. Kayla was a lifesaver and tracked down food while I waited! Once I was done with the physical therapists, Kayla and I sat in the grass near the finish line and waited for Andi while I stretched. Once Kayla spotted her rounding onto the track. As she got closer, the three of us crossed the finish line hand in hand. I don’t think I could cherish that moment more.
Back at the hotel, I soaked in the hot tub for a few minutes, which felt lovely. Later in the evening, we all went for a celebratory dinner at Mackinaw Brewing Company, and a cold beer has never tasted quite so amazing! Much, much better than the Miller Lite I had on the course.
What I didn’t really share with anyone prior to the race was exactly why running my first marathon this particular weekend meant so much to me. On Memorial Day 2014, I went out for a 3-4 mile run. I ultimately cut it short at 1.4 miles because I was in so much pain. I limped home and decided to take the next week off from running. A week turned into another week into another week, as the pain continued to get worse. I self-diagnosed IT band syndrome, which my doctor confirmed and referred me to physical therapy. I spent two mornings a week for all of July in PT before the all-clear to start running again at the beginning of August. It was a long, slow return as I had to rebuild my miles cautiously.
Fast forward almost one year to the day and I toed the starting line of my first marathon. I am so proud of how far I have come since that painful walk home last Memorial Day. Certainly, I had my issues this training cycle with my piriformis giving me issues. It was largely a result of overcompensating for my IT band and not wanting to aggravate that again. I had my moments of wondering if a marathon was just a pipe dream, but I knew it was a realistic goal. I wasn’t going to let it slip through my fingers again.
I’m still in a state of disbelief it all happened, but I could not be happier. I am deeply thankful for Kayla and Andi for being some of the best friends a girl could ask for. Our blogging brought us together and their friendship is a gift. I grateful to experience this journey with them by my side. And, for everyone who was so encouraging throughout this training cycle, particularly the day of the race, THANK YOU.