Route 66 Marathon: Race Day

After an expected restless night on Saturday, come 6am it was finally time to run a marathon. There is no doubt in my mind that most of my nerves were due to the fact that I was entering completely uncharted territory, I can do half marathons; I only need one (if any) gels and can be done running in a couple of hours. I was about to set off on a 5-ish hour journey. Would I need to stop and go to the bathroom? Will I stay warm? Will I collapse in the middle of the race? What will it feel like? Will I regret this?

I can’t even lie about the fact that I was scared. Marathon morning I stumbled down to the lobby to step outside and see what the weather was like, and I needed just a couple of minutes alone to walk around and try to calm myself. The feel of the marathon was definitely in the air; other runners already downstairs doing the same as I, getting a feel for the temperature, walking around, getting coffee.

The weather was exactly what I had prayed for, about 32 degrees and overcast. This is proof that prayers work because the day before it was sunny and in the mid-70’s as it had been most of the week. Sorry everyone that wanted nice weather, my prayers trumped all. My pre-race breakfast was blueberry Kashi cereal straight outta compton the box, enjoyed in bed while listening to “Sexy and I Know It,” pretty methodical pre-race ritual if you ask me. Just kidding. Eventually I clothed myself in my favorite running gear:

She Runs LA tank, Adidas running skirt, Nike arm warmers and Zensah compression sleeves. I was ready to run like a girl. Before we left the hotel room, we had a mandatory prayer time and I’m 100% sure that’s why I survived. But still, it hadn’t sank in, I am running  a marathon?

We waited in the lobby of the hotel to kill time and stay warm for as long as we could

This hot ensemble of mine is what I refer to as ‘throw away clothes.’ Usually runners will wear an extra layer of old sweats to colder races to stay warm while waiting around the start area, to toss to the side right before the race starts. Volunteers then collect these clothes and they are normally donated to charity.

We waited until as long as we could until we walked about the half mile from the hotel to the start area…this was really happening.

The race was incredibly well organized. There were four different starting corrals based on estimated finish time, fast people in the front, slow people me in the corrals behind them.

I wasn’t freaking out or anything, but just in complete awe that this was happening. Eventually it was time for me to hop into my corral and stand around freezing. I should have kept my ‘stay warm’ clothes on longer.

We stood around for too long. I guess that’s what happens when you can’t run a sub 3-hour marathon. You are punished. I was surrounded by people running the half marathon and I couldn’t help but think, “You guys have FUN because I’m pretty sure at some point in the next five hours I will be wishing I was you.”

I also met a lady who was running her first half marathon and it felt good to get to encourage her, I hope she caught the running bug like I did after my first half.

Where’s Kelsey?

The first couple of corrals had been started off and then it was my corral’s turn, see? We are moving soooo fast…

It was happening. I really liked that they started off each corral separately, even though my corral didn’t get to the start line until about 13 minutes after the first corral had gone. The emcee announced each corral, we got an official countdown, music and streamers blowing at the starting line. It was pretty cool, and not to mention I’m pretty sure they stole my iPod workout playlist because “Super Bass” and “Moves Like Jagger” were blaring from the speakers. Could this be any more perfect??

Before I knew it, I had crossed the start line and began running a marathon. I had comfortably situated myself behind the 5:00 pacers, because although I didn’t have a real time goal, I knew if I stayed behind him I wouldn’t start off too fast. Tulsa isn’t a town I am overly familiar with, so I was just enjoying the first couple of miles looking around and in my own little world.

After the second mile I was wondering if I was ever going to warm up and get in my groove,  which is something I think of at the beginning of nearly every run. It happened eventually a little after mile three, and at mile four it was time to take my first gel. This is pretty silly but I started to measure how far I had left to go by how many gels I had left to take. I had planned 5 gels and one pack of Stinger energy chews; supplementing my energy at miles 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 and 24.

While looking around and enjoying the run, I noticed a guy passing me who had a sign pinned to his back that said, “In Loving Memory of…” and I recognized the names of the people he was running in memory of. It was a mom and daughter who died in a car accident near my hometown the week prior to the race. I came up next to him and asked how he knew them, and with grief in his eyes, he explained to me that the ones killed in the accident were his sister and niece. We both started crying. “Today has a lot more meaning to me than I intended it to,” he expressed, and all I could muster up was, “I know they are here with you today and they are proud of you. Have a good race,” and fell back into my pace as he pulled ahead.

One goal I had for this race was to meet people I was running with, and that is a prime example of why.

I had planned to meet with my cheering section at mile 7 and I was so happy to see them!

For some odd reason, I started to feel minor fatigue in my legs around mile 8 and basically had to talk myself out of any pain I was feeling. I still had a lot of miles left to go and there was no way I could start giving up. Right after mile 8, some loud boisterous men came up behind me and I witnessed something I have never seen before, a man drinking a 40oz of Guinness (yes, the beer my friends) while running. He polished it off and tossed it to the side of the road. All I could think was “HAHA Are you kidding me?!” But no, he was certainly not kidding.

While running races, I love reading people’s shirts. One girl ahead of me was in a neon yellow shirt with Isaiah 61:1 on the back, which is a long verse to read when you’re trying to run. The point of her shirt was, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me…” which was encouraging. She and I had played cat and mouse for a couple of miles, but we settled in pace with one another and started chatting. I began by telling her that her shirt is so encouraging, to more people than she knows. Her name is Selby, she is newly sixteen years old, and Route 66 was her second marathon. We talked about everything, our families, our faith, why we run, what we are doing with our lives, we covered it all. She goes to a school which her parents started when she was four, and since no athletics are in place, she chose to start running. Selby and one of her friends started a charity and people pledge money to the girls for each marathon and half marathon they do and the girls in turn donate to a missionary foundation.

One of my friends told me that my life was going to change after running a marathon, and I didn’t understand how or why, but after meeting Selby it made perfect sense. This girl inspired me, motivated me and stirred up my own dreams. We stayed together for the majority of miles 8-16 and it was perfect.

Here’s me coming up on mile 12

and I was begging for my gloves back STAT! I couldn’t move my hands because they were so cold

Woah, hey mile 12…this means we’re almost halfway through. Whattttt? Yes. Almost halfway. When it was time for a gel at mile 12, my hands were so cold that I couldn’t get my gel un-safety pinned from my skirt, so I had to pull a spare one out of my bra. Then I had to ask a volunteer at the aid station to open it for me because my hands were completely useless. THEN as I’m departing from the aid station I notice that one of the gels I had tried to unpin was MIA…it fell off about 100 yards ago, sucker. Something wasn’t as planned, crap. I wasn’t going to let myself freak out and knew there had to be GU at other aid stations, so I went along my merry way.

I caught up with Selby again after that minor incident and we were preparing to bid farewell to the half marathoners as the course split and they went to the finish line. For the first time in my life I was taking the ‘Marathon splits here…’ route and not the ‘half marathon is almost done…’ route. I had always wondered what that was like, and thus furthered my venture into unchartered territory.

Not long after passing our halfway point, Selby trailed back and I kept on trucking along. Suddenly, for the first time in the race I was totally alone. It was crazy how many people split to the half marathon and there I was…mile 14 with just a few people scattered around, no one especially close. It was a familiar feeling though, which I appreciated. I completed most of my long training runs alone so being alone for part of the race made me feel like I was just on another run. The solitude was interrupted by Guinness man from earlier. Except this time he was sipping on a bottle of Pale Ale. What was this guy doing?! Needless to say I thought it was quite hilarious that this man’s ‘hydration’ pack was full of beer.

Based on the research I did prior to the race, I was lead to believe that the course had some rolling hills but was mostly flat. Wrongggg wrong wrong. There was a beast of a hill before mile 15 and I don’t know why I kept running up it, but I did. I’m pretty sure that I was more afraid of what would happen if I stopped running than I was of the pain my muscles were experiencing.

This race also had a couple of groups, the Marathon Maniacs and 50 States Club. The 50 staters have goals of running marathons in every state, and at this point in the race I met a nice old man who was running marathon number 41. I was awestruck. This guy was probably old enough to be my dad, and we encouraged each other for the short time we ran together. Personally, it doesn’t take much for me to get inspired. Hint. Hint?

I was alone again. More hills, just alone. Me and the hills and downtown Tulsa. I knew I was soon approaching the detour though. This race gave the option for completing the Detour to the Center of the Universe, which is a landmark in Tulsa. You stand in a designated spot and when you talk you can hear your echo, but no one else can. The detour was sponsored by Michelob Ultra with the theme of, “Living life to the Ultra,” there was a band, photographers, you got an additional medal for taking the detour and you ran an extra .3 miles, making this race the shortest ultramarathon ever.  I’m not counting it as an Ultra, because really an ultra should be 50k+, but the detour was fun.

The detour rejuvenated me and I was thinking positively, I exclaimed to a random person running behind me, “We only have miles in the single digits until we’re done! We’re running a marathon!” and dude probably thought I was crazy. After mile 18 I was kind of like, “Ok this is where it starts to hurt a little bit..” and for some reason I was starving? Thankfully the next aid station had bananas, unfortunately only one bite of which made it into my mouth before I dropped the rest of it on the ground, but it would be time for another gel soon anyways. Note to self: work on perfecting the art of eating and running.

Look! It’s the bright pink thing!

One thing that kept me motivated was knowing that I was going to see my cheering section again at mile 19, it really helped pull me through!

Jen ran with me for maybe half of a mile and it was nice getting to talk with her. She asked me how I was feeling and though I was trying to remain positive, I had to be honest. I hurt. My legs hurt, my sides hurt, my back hurt, my feet hurt…apparently running a marathon isn’t supposed to feel good. She told me that I was looking really strong, especially compared to some other runners who were looking pretty haggard, though I felt like there was no way I could be looking good after running for three and a half hours.

Jen gave me my next back of Stingers and I told her I would see her at the finish line! Upon reaching mile 20, I had never been happier to know I only had two 5k’s left to run…anything to keep it in perspective. I have to admit that frequently seeing the hot police officers blocking off traffic for us definitely helped me stay motivated.

Some lying spectators also said that shortly after mile 20 it was all downhill for the rest of the race. Never believe spectators. If by downhill they meant ‘flat with three huge a (star star) hills between miles 22-25, then yes, it was a very downhill final 6 miles. Rude spectators, rude. Also, never tell a runner they are ‘almost finished!’ when they still have six miles left to run. Six miles is not close to being done. it only means you are barely 3/4ths of the way finished, not almost finished.

I felt good crossing mile 20 because my longest run was over 27 miles, so this wasn’t a distance that was completely foreign to me. Many other runners I met had only run 18-20 miles and I couldn’t help but think, “Have fun with those last 6…” I also never really hit a ‘wall,’ and I believe that part of that was because I wasn’t even thinking about hitting a wall. I must admit that around mile 21, I was mentally getting a little worn out. This had become more than a physically taxing event and I needed my mind to stay strong to get me through the rest. I snapped out of that moment of doubt and kept on.

At 22 things really came into perspective, the idea of crossing the finish line was no longer a far fetched fantasy, it was something I could begin to visualize and feel. To my comedic relief, there was an unofficial aid station set up of a guy handing out beer, pretzels and Jolly Ranchers. As I passed by I told him I thought he was pretty funny…but I’m pretty sure that there was more beer at this race than there was Gatorade.

Then came a hell hill. Mile 23, there was hill. To keep from mentally breaking down, I walked the dang hill. I wanted to cross the finish line on my own two feet and knew I needed to take a walking break if that was going to happen. At this point I also experienced the same mental weakness I had at 21, but I tossed up a couple of prayers, said some mantras and sang to myself a little and eventually was able to get my legs in the running motion again. At mile 24 there was another hill but that was the last one. I made the volunteers promise me that was the last one otherwise after I finished, I was going to drive back and berate them.

Coming up on mile 25, a guy and I had been cat and mousing again, like an unspoken runner’s code. I love stuff like this. He would start to walk, and I was pass him, then he would run up to pass me, but then start walking again, so naturally I would pull up and pass him, etc. We continued this through the end of the race, and I’m happy to say he finished ahead of me.

Now it was more real than ever, I was going to finish a marathon. Expecting to see the mile 26 marker, the next marker had the number 25 on it. I was so confused! I said out loud, “Does that really say 25??” But as I got closer, I realized it said 25.9…it was the end of the 26.2 for those of us who took the Detour, and I crossed the mat for my official time, but still had .3 to the real finish line.

This was really happening! I pumped every last bit of energy my legs had in them to get across that finish line. All I remember from that exact moment was smiling, I will never forget what it felt like to step across that finishing mat. I can say I fully enjoyed that single moment more than I ever thought possible.

Then it was kind of a blur. I was greeted by volunteers handing me a mylar blanket which I was incredibly thankful for, and was directed to where to get my medal. I started looking around and just wanted to find my mom. I heard my name and cheering and looked over, my mom standing right outside the secure finish line barricades and I fell into her embrace and we both cried.

“You did it, you did it…I’m so proud of you…you did it!” I’m not sure either of us could believe it. This was undoubtedly one of the best feelings in the world. Another one that I will never forget.

I think this picture accurately portrays my feelings upon finishing and coming back down to earth: spent, exhausted, and gave that marathon all that I had.

I never imagined that a race would change my life, but it did. I worked hard and made sacrifices, I poured all that I could into training for this marathon with a goal to simply enjoy and finish the race. But I got so much more out of that. Over the past four months I have learned so much about myself, and knew that this would change me, but never thought that the change would be as drastic as it was. I have a completely newfound sense of motivation, determination, appreciation, and faith, both in my Creator and the faith He has in me.

I’ve said it many times, but if you had told me even a year ago that I would have ran a marathon in 2011 I would have laughed at you. But like I’ve heard, “If people don’t laugh at your dreams then you’re not dreaming big enough.”

Don’t ever limit yourself, for you can do so much more than you even imagine you’re capable of. We are called to exceed and surpass what is commonplace. To the first of many marathons…


8 thoughts on “Route 66 Marathon: Race Day

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  3. Congratulations Kelsey and thanks for sharing your experience. I loved reading this tonight. Our social media team is going to post a link tomorrow so your story can inspire others.

    Thanks again and we hope to see you again in 2012.

    Chris Lieberman
    Executive Director
    Tulsa Route 66 Marathon, Inc.

  4. Fantastic account. Thanks. That was my first marathon, too, and I was with you every step of the way reading this (except for the Guinness guy).

    You left out the stiff headwinds at mile 12 — the whole river stretch, in fact. I suddenly wanted the jacket back that I tossed off when the sun showed up briefly at mile 8.

    Matt Judge

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