We woke early the next morning. I had slept fitfully, as I do when I'm in new places or slightly anxious (or both), so I got out of bed when the alarm chimed and began to prepare myself for the race. Clothes, muffins (vegan almond quinoa!), a tiny bit of coffee, and then...some waiting. We were a mere 10 minute walk from the race location, so we were able to dodge the porta-potties by walking down shortly before the race started. It was a chilly start, and we were all in our tank tops, so we huddled together for warmth and moved around a bit to loosen our muscles up for the task ahead.
The Prairie Fire Marathon was smallish--there were around 700 marathoners that day, but over 2,000 half-marathon runners--so the start was all at once. After the first mile or so of dodging large crowds of people, the field thinned a bit, and we were able to set into a good pace. K took off (we would not see her again until mile 17--she was flying!), but A and I stuck together for most of the race.
I had thought I would have a similar experience as the Little Rock Marathon, but this was a lot different. For one, the first six miles didn't feel great. I had some mysterious soreness in my hips, and my legs felt a little stiff and heavy. I wasn't happy. But sometime after mile six, I started feeling great. I was running a good pace, the weather was lovely, and A and I were running side-by-side, making jokes and cheering each other up. I started shouting "wooooo!" at the spectators, to be delightfully rewarded by enthusiastic cheers in return. The middle part of the race breezed by as we picked up our pace.
Around mile 18, A began to pick up her pace, but I couldn't quite keep up. At this point, I hit a bit of a wall. I was tired, sore, a little nauseated. I couldn't eat any more gels; I drank the gatorade/water, but my stomach didn't really want it. It was grueling and miserable, and at that moment, I swore I would never run another marathon.
The last half mile, something magical happened. I slowed (again) to a slight walk, but then I heard "You can do it!" from a fellow runner. It was someone I had been running with the last chunk of the race, and her encouragement bolstered me--I began running again at a good clip, pulling on the strength I had. I crossed the finish line in 3:55:56, sobbing slightly from pain, relief, and joy.
Of course, I am going to run another marathon. The reason these events are so wonderful is the delight of being surrounded by all these people who are striving to accomplish the same goal. While we run individually, we also run together, and we encourage and hold each other up. I wish I had thought to thank that woman who encouraged me to keep going--she knew I just needed one more boost to make it that last half mile, and she gave it to me. I'm lucky that I'm able to be a part of something so amazing and rewarding.
Running a marathon is a little crazy. And while it hurt a lot at the time, the knowledge that I was able to train for and finish such an endeavor makes me feel like I can do anything. Not only that, but I also have an incredibly supportive group of friends (runners and non-runners alike) who encourage me and cheer me on. While I was the one who had to run those 26.2 miles, it's those friends who support me along the way and give me the confidence to tackle any challenge, no matter how crazy.