I am a marathoner.

How do I put this experience into words? Where do I even begin to describe this moment?

Jeff said I should title this blog post “I beat Superman.” Because I did, in fact, beat Superman at the Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday.

Superman runs Thunder Road

But I know it’s not about who I beat or who beat me. I was out there with more than a thousand other runners who were taking this journey with me, but in a way I was all alone. This race was about me, seeing if I could accomplish what I had set out to do.

What I had set out to do was run 26.2 miles.

And I did it.

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I guess the best way to do this would be to start at the beginning. I’ll try not to write too much, and I’ll throw in some pictures in case you don’t want to read all the words … bare with me …

Pre-race stuff

I gave lots of details about my pre-race preparation here. I’ll finish telling you that I had lunch on Friday of peanut butter and banana on a bagel. Checked in the hotel and picked up my race packet (tech tee, race number, chip.) Dinner was around 6 p.m. at Villa Francesca near the hotel, and I had Shrimp Scampi (only ate one piece of shrimp, and the noodles), and garlic bread with cheese.

Got back to the hotel and realized I’d forgotten my headphones. Chris picked some up on his way into town.

Went to bed at 8:45 and actually fell asleep. Woke up at 9:30 because the TV next door was way too loud – I could hear every word of the program they were watching.

Managed to fall back asleep.

Front desk called at 10, woke me up again to ask if Kevin had checked into his room and how he’d gotten the key – from the envelope left at the front desk or did they make him a new one? I don’t freakin’ know! I was not happy.

Now I was wide awake, and the neighbors’ TV was still really loud. I thought about complaining but I feared the walls were just thin and it wasn’t really their “fault.” Called Jeff and Chris’ room at 10:15 – was going to make them switch with me but Jeff told me they could hear the elevator dinging. I could hear it too, and their room was closer, so I figured it was probably just as bad as the TV noise. I turned on my TV until I heard next door’s turn off at 11 p.m., at which point I turned mine off and eventually fell asleep for real, after lots of tossing and turning.

Woke at 4:30 a.m., hit snooze until 5. Made a cup of icky hotel coffee and ate half a bagel with peanut butter. Hung out with Chris and Kevin for a bit. Took a shower and got dressed. Decided to wear the tech tee I had gotten at the race expo – it was long-sleeved and seemed warmer than the one I’d packed, and it was red so it would match my hair dye!

festive hair

Put on short-sleeved Believe-Achieve shirt on top, running skirt, knee brace, headphones and iPod, heart rate monitor and Garmin watch, Mizunos shoes with Yankz, fuel belt with my race number and 3 Hammer Energy Gels and a GU Energy Gels  in the pocket, and gloves that I was unattached to enough that I could throw them to the side if I decided I didn’t want them anymore. Peed in hotel bathroom. Headed down to the lobby with Kevin, Jenn, Jeff, Chris. Peed in hotel lobby bathroom. Walked to convention center. Peed at convention center bathroom. Started to worry maybe I had consumed too much water.

While standing in line for the bathroom at the convention center I realized it was 7:40 a.m. – 10 minutes away from the start gun. That was not good as there were about 10 people ahead of me. Two women let me go ahead of them – they were running the 5K, which started at 8:20. Still had to wait a long time. Finally got in there at 7:46. Was out of the bathroom by 7:47. Got outside and Kevin and Jenn had gone ahead. Jeff and Chris told me to hurry – and I ran to the start line. Warm-up run, whether I wanted one or not! I didn’t get to eat the GU chomps I had planned, nor take the last few sips of water I wanted.

Here we are. The race.

The start line was extremely crowded. There was no way I’d be able to find Kevin, but that was okay with me – I figured if I didn’t need to try to keep up with him, it might help me stay on pace. Found the 4:30 pace group and made sure to stand in that general area. However, I was on the sidewalk, far away from the actual course – it was so packed. There were actually some spectators in front of me and some other runners. I had time to get my Garmin ready and chat with a few people before the gun sounded.

Then we were off!

I crossed the start line about 3 minutes after the gun went off. The way that works, for those that don’t know: I got a chip in my race packet that attaches to my shoe. As I cross the start line, the chip registers my time. It also registers at certain points along the race to make sure I don’t cheat. Then it registers my finish time. So if I was 3 minutes behind the first runner who crossed the start line, I’m not at a disadvantage.

I felt great. I was glad to be running – it beat standing in the cold. I saw Jeff and Chris as I ran by and they snapped some photos (they saw Kevin first, he ran by about a minute before I did):

Kevin at the start

 

Me at the start

Everything felt great. My breathing felt great. Was I cold? Yes, but only at first, and then I mostly forgot about the cold. I met a girl and her dad, who were running their first half-marathon together. Ran with them for the first mile or two, then went ahead of them. Saw a girl drop her pants to use the bathroom in the bushes (not a good sign for her!) Saw my friend Ashley at mile 3 – her husband, John, was running the half. I got a huge burst of energy seeing her!

Saw an old man around mile 3, leaning against his car with a smirk on his face, holding a wooden paddle that said, “Smile if you need a spanking.” I cracked up laughing as did everyone else around me. Great comic relief right before we climbed the hill on Colville Road – which was much less steep and harsh than I’d remembered in practice!

I got water at all the water stops, whether I felt like I needed it or not. I did not walk or stop during those stops, I kept running and I would manage to get a sip or two before tossing the cup. Felt a slight pain in my knee around mile 5 or 6, thought, “Ew, that’s not going to be fun later,” but I kept going. Prayed if I actually got hurt it would be late enough in the race that I could drag myself across the finish line. Took a Hammer Gel around mile 6.

Crossed the 10K chip mat at 1:00:57. That’s faster than any 10K I’ve run, by about 4 minutes. Was happy about that!

Had a huge energy burst around mile 10 when I looked over and saw my big sister in my sorority, Joy, on the sidewalk cheering for me! I’d had no idea she was going to be there – her husband, Brian, was running the marathon, too. I literally almost jumped for joy (no pun intended) when I saw her. I gave her a big wave and called out a greeting, but I kept going.

Decided that if I did have to pee at all during the race I would try to hold it at least until after the half – there were lines at the port-a-potties so I figured that would clear out a little as the half-marathoners completed their run.

There was a bit of a mind game around mile 13ish, when the half-marathoners split off to their finish line and I kept going straight with all the marathoners. There were fewer of us than I expected. This was officially my longest race, at that point, and I knew I just needed to double what I had already done. Ok, here we go, I thought. I crossed the 13.1 mile mat at 2:10:43. 3 minutes faster than my half-marathon in Greenville! Took another Hammer Gel sometime around then.

I had my iPod and I enjoyed the music. I did not listen to any podcasts. I skipped past several of the songs that just didn’t feel “right” that day. But the real entertainment was going on all around me. There were people cheering all over the place! And this was a cold day, folks. The fact that people were willing to come out and wave and give us words of enouragement was amazing. I saw everything from a sign that said “Over the hill” as we got to the top of a hill, to a sign that said “Run like your hair is on fire.” I heard one guy say, “You’ve done all the hard work in training. This is the easy part.”

I saw several people several times, obviously biking or driving or walking or running from one part of the course to another, just to cheer us on. I got lots of compliments on my hair, from other runners and spectators, which helped keep a smile on my face – I kept thinking, “A girl with Christmas hair can’t frown!” Even a clown on stilts called out “You look great, number 885 – I love your hair!” And he had clown hair!

There were bands and DJs and dogs and kids and signs and runners dressed up and spectators dressed up. This was fun.

 Santas run a marathon

Saw my friend Scott around mile 14. He was walking through a water stop, I ran by and we said hi and he said he’d catch up with me later, and I continued on.

I did a lot of zoning out, which I think is probably a good thing for mental-block avoidedness. I just thought about anything or everything or nothing at all. I enjoyed the sights and the cheers and the fact that I was running because I can. Several times I felt my eyes well up with tears – happy tears – that I was doing this. For real. No more practice. This was really happening.

Started to feel my glutes getting sore around mile 19. That was a soreness I’d never experienced. It was mild but I kind of had a feeling that if I were to stop running to take a walk break or stretch or anything, that I might have a lot of trouble moving again. I saw a lot of people stopped, stretching against building walls. I hadn’t walked yet, I needed to keep powering through. Luckily I did not have to pee. Took my last Hammer Gel about mile 20.

Reached a decent uphill leading into NoDa right after mile 20. That hill might’ve just gotten me except for the fact that I knew I would have friends and family in NoDa (they wanted to cheer near Smelly Cat Coffeehouse so they could rub it in my face that they had coffee and I didn’t). Turned the corner onto 35th street and saw Jeff and Chris and Ashley. John was there too but I didn’t see him. And also saw the awesome wall I posted a photo of last night.

me between mile 20 and mile 21

NoDa knows how to party, and this was a party. And it was perfect timing – I was now entering the longest run of my entire life. And even during my 20-mile practice run, I had taken walk breaks. This time, had been no walk breaks.

At that point, I made a decision. I had not walked at all. I did not need to use the bathroom. I felt great – albeit sore from the waist down. My knees were hurting but they weren’t collapsing. My feet were sore but it was bearable. So I decided, if I needed to walk at all, it was going to be at the awful hill I knew was coming up at mile 24.5ish – up Kenilworth right before Central. And I would not take a bathroom break – even if I did decide I needed to go, I could hold it. And I prayed I wouldn’t “hit the wall” (for those that don’t know, it’s a point in the race where your body just says “no more” and physically and mentally cannot go on anymore. And your job, as a runner of a marathon, is to power through it. This is notorious for happening around mile 20-22.)

Scott caught up to me and ran with me for a bit around mile 22. He told me if I hadn’t hit the wall yet, I wasn’t going to. Is that possible? I thought. Not hit the wall? I thought everyone hit the wall. I was happy to hear this. After delivering the good news, he ran ahead for a few, then fell behind to walk.

I kept running at my pace – I felt like I was going really slow, but steady. And I was eyeing my time and I was very pleasantly surprised. I didn’t have an official time goal but secretly I wanted to get in under 5 hours. And TrySports had told me they thought I could do it in 4:30. I thought they were nutso for thinking that but I figured anywhere between 4:30 and 5 hours would make me happy.

I won’t bore you with the mile-by-mile numbers, but you can check them out here if you want (thanks, Scott, for showing me how to set this up on my watch.) I started out strong and got slightly slower as the race progressed, but I am not unhappy with any of the times.

Got to the Kenilworth hill and powered up it. Felt slightly out of breath at the top but managed not to walk at all. At that point, I was less than 2 miles away. I was not going to walk now.

At mile 25.6, I thought I was seeing things. Because there was a girl that looked just like Jenny, wearing Jenny’s running clothes, running toward me. It was Jenny – my sister had come to surprise me! “I can’t believe you’re here!” I said excitedly as she fell in beside me to run with me to the finish line.

She was super excited. “You are killing this race, Melissa!” she told me. “I can’t believe it!” We ran together all the way up to about mile 26, and then I had an uphill climb to the finish (which was really physically challenging – I’m not sure if it was the wall, but I did have a feeling of “I’m glad I don’t have to run any more than this – because that might not happen.” Jenny split off and let me cross that line myself.

About to finish!

I didn’t sprint to the finish. Not sure I had it in me – but I did run, and I feel like I was running pretty strong. I looked for my family and friends – and I saw Colleen first, cheering and waving and holding a sign. I was so happy to see her!

Colleen waiting to cheer me in

Then I saw my parents – Mom and Dad, yelling and cheering and so proud. I was smiling and crying at the same time.

Dad waves at Jeff and Chris while waiting for me and Kevin

I crossed that finish line. I crossed that finish line in 4:29:37. (Clock time was 4:32:20)

Crossing the finish line

I crossed that finish line 30 minutes before I secretly wanted to, and I thought to myself how dang smart the TrySports people are. I did it. I really did it.

I. ran. a. marathon. Without a single walk break. Without a bathroom break. Without stopping at the water stops. I started running as I crossed the start line, and I did not stop for 26.2 miles. I did not stop. I did it.

Dad gives a thumbs-up!

After the race

Immediately I was given a “space blanket” and a medal. I was really wanting a banana but they were all green, so I grabbed a Snickers Energy Bar (they are super-gross. Do not eat.) Got another tech tee (Thunder Road hooked us up!), and found Jenny and Chris and Jeff.

Me and Jenny, both of us pleasantly surprised how fast I did this!

Scott crossed the finish line a few minutes later and we said our congratulations.

I needed to keep moving. I realized once I stopped that my legs were moving more out of habit by this point than anything else, and they didn’t know how to not run.

I walked over to where Colleen and Mom and Dad were standing, now looking for Kevin. I had assumed he was ahead of me this whole time! I still don’t know how we didn’t see each other on the course at all.

I gave sweaty hugs to all of them, and I said to my parents, “I did it! I ran the whole time! I didn’t stop!” and I started crying and Dad started crying and even Mom started crying (and Mom rarely cries.)

congratulations hugs

Me and Colleen

And then I walked in circles and looked for Kevin and tried to realize that this whole thing wasn’t a dream, that I had really done it. And then I started feeling kinda weird like I really needed food and the food selection was so not good (my one complaint about this race, other than the crowded start line) and I thought I might feel better if I peed so I went inside the Hilton Garden Inn and peed and got some free coffee and when I came out Kevin had crossed the finish line.

And if I hadn’t been giddy with happiness about what we had done I would have been upset that I missed his moment. But I was giddy. And Jeff photographed it all. And Kevin looked awesome crossing that finish line.

Kevin to finish

Kevin sees family

And our littlest fans were there to cheer us in:

Cai and Mia, my nephew and niece

And so were Crystal and Ryan and Crystal’s mom. Crystal and her mom both ran the Jingle Jog 5K. A great day to race!

Crystal and me

Mia loved my medal – so much that she wanted to have it. I told her she’d earn her own someday!

Mia and my medal

Me and Kevin, both proud marathoners:

Kevin and Me after the marathon

We went to Mert’s after and ate (I barely ate, didn’t have much of an appetite), then walked back to the hotel (it seemed to take forever!). I checked Facebook and Twitter and smiled big at everyone who sent me well wishes during the race. It was awesome to read all of those! I tried to nap, restlessly. Then went out to dinner at Zink and rehydrated with some cheap watery beer. (Hey, it’s like water!)

medal and recovery drink

And now I sit on the couch, on Sunday night a day later, with sore legs and happy heart, typing this at 3 a.m. because there’s no way I can go to sleep until I get this out.

I did it. I did it I did it I did it I did it.