Last Updated on September 27, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
The stats: 26.31 miles, chip time 4:25:58
874 out of 1748 finishers = 50% on the nose. Can’t get more middle of the pack than that!Personal Record of 11 minutes 02 seconds
Time difference since last marathon run: 55 minutes 42 seconds
It’s not a BQ. It’s not a 4:15:00 marathon. Certainly not the 3:59:59 I set my sights on 16 weeks ago. But this past Saturday was the BEST marathon I have had yet, and not just because I finally beat Oprah (having your first 26.2 be Marine Corps will forever burn that idea into your head) or hit a huge PR. But because I ran a marathon, and I enjoyed every last (painful) second of it. I’m still on cloud nine, and I still smile thinking about that day. I can’t fathom how I can possibly put the entire day into words, but I’ll do my best. I know, I know, I say this all the time, but this time I mean it. Brace yourself, this is a loooooong post!
The alarm went off at 4:30. I wanted to give my body enough time to “wake up” just like any other day, and uhh, take care of “business” on it’s normal schedule, if you’re picking up what I’m laying down here. In the battle of Heather vs. Heather’s stomach, who is notorious for flipping out during a marathon, I wanted every advantage I could get. I ate my typical long run breakfast of a Chocolate Peppermint Stick Luna Bar and half a can of NOS energy drink. Important note: I have a long, long way to go on my nutrition journey, however, marathon day is not the day to try something new, am I right?
My sister Holly and her husband Jim had arrived safely the night before, and eventually Holly joined me in the kitchen for our pre-Myrtle Beach rituals. Eat breakfast, pin on our bibs, and jibber jabber on in our best Gannoe-girl ways. I donned my neon green, and (temporarily) inked my arm with the Trakkers logo, proudly representing my team and at the same time, as cheesy as it sounds, keeping them close to me, knowing I had teammates all over the country rooting for me.
We left the house around 5:15 and headed down to Broadway at the Beach. Found parking without issue (seriously, Myrtle Beach Marathon has THE BEST parking situation of any race I’ve ever been to, ever). Being our 7th year participating in the race, we had to take our obligatory cheesy-self portrait in the car. Seriously, I have one from every single year. Maybe I’ll post them tomorrow, haha.
We headed across the street towards the Pelican’s field. Nothing like skipping the porta-potties and using an indoor restroom instead, ahhh! We met up with my friend Dawn and her husband, and headed over to the Grand Strand Running club tent, to wish some local runners from the club AND the tri group good luck. Quiet or rowdy, everyone was buzzing with excitement. You could just FEEL it in the air. The temperature was nice, probably high 50’s. For once, I wasn’t shivering as we waited around, and causing my poor sister to wonder if I had hypothermia, haha. A few more group pictures, and back to the start line.
We met up with Christine, and a bunch of other runners/professors/bosses/friends (the people in my life wear many various hats!) and chatted to pass the time. Eventually, I hugged Holly, wished everyone else good luck, and we all went our separate ways. I planted myself somewhere behind the 4:00 pace group but before the 4:30 group, and waited. I was ready. Slightly nervous, I think it would be WRONG not to be, but never as nervous as before. I was READY. I WANTED to run a marathon. It was going to be a good, good day.
Finally, the gun went off, and a few minutes later, I had crossed the starting line, with a big goofy grin on my face. I felt like I was gliding. The plan for the day was “Even Steven” with my pace, as I had debated and discussed on my dailymile page. Steady, easy pace for as long as I could hold it, and if I had the legs for the second half, I would go for it.
Miles 1-6: 9:39, 9:31, 9:28,9:30, 9:26, 9:19. Not even a quarter mile from the start, I made a new friend. Ed from Charlotte. Ed was running his second marathon, and forgot to bring his Garmin, so he asked me what pace we were running. Ed kept me company for the first 11 ish miles. We talked about running, races, goals, kids, spouses, school, everything. Since I had the Garmin, I kept the pace. I had set the alerts to yell at me to “slow down” at anything faster than a 9:20/mile and “speed up” at a 10:00/mile. For some reason, the “slow down” alert wasn’t working. Every now and then I’d feel my breathing start to kick up, I’d look down, and sure enough, we were running somewhere around 8:50/mile. So I’d reign it back in. I really enjoyed the new course route through market commons. Not only is it pretty over there, but it was full of spectators, and what runner doesn’t love that? I followed my new nutrition plan: about 11 calories every mile. I’ve decided that taking in an entire gel/package of chews/beans/whatever every 45 minutes to an hour as typically recommended is just too much for my stomach. Also on the avoidance list: race course Gatorade/powerade. Too much sugar. My approach, dubbed the “running buffet” helps keep my digestive system running smoothly, and, equally as important, keeps my blood sugar levels steady. I also ran with my own water. Small sips when necessary, instead of chugging a bunch at each water stop, proved to keep the “sloshy belly” at bay.
10k split- 1:01:21
Miles 7-11: 9:17, 9:20, 9:32, 9:21, 9:20. We turned around in Market commons and started running North on Ocean Boulevard. The sun was in our eyes (thank goodness for my awesome Trakkers HeadSweats visor!) and it was getting warm already. It wouldn’t be a Chicago marathon, but it was still warm for a February marathon. As we approached the 11 mile marker on the boulevard, there was a long split in the road, where the half marathoners were instructed to stay to the left, full marathoners to the right. The half-er’s eventually turned left and headed up the road for their last homestretch towards the finish. It was here I realized “man, my legs hurt already” and for a split second, I thought to myself “gee, wouldn’t it be nice to just turn now? A half marathon is still awesome…” Turns out, a lot of people had the same thought, and did the same thing, ultimately really messing up the finishing times/placings for the day. But me, I kept going. I thought of the necklace I purposely wore that day, with the Joan of Arc quotes, from Sporty Girl Jewelry. “I am not afraid” on one side and “I was born to do this” on the other. I know it sounds silly, but this reminder around my neck was a source of inspiration that helped me as I called upon those quotes many, many times throughout the race.
Conversation between Ed and I waned as I realized now was the time I needed to focus. As my legs started to get sore, I would alternate strides and gates, trying to work other muscles and just stretch out my legs. We played back and forth for a while, thanked each other for the miles/conversation, wished each other luck, and went on our separate ways.
I passed a couple of awesome course cheerleaders holding a dailymile sign, and when I cheered “GO DAILYMILE” they shouted back “Yeaaaah it’s Heather G!!!” that TOTALLY made my race and gave me a boost. The awesome support of the dailymile community never ceases to amaze me!!!
Miles 12-17 9:27,9:30,9:34, 10:05, 10:18, 10:27
Half marathon split: 2:04:16 . I had run low on water in my bottle, and decided at the next stop (mile 14) I’d stop and ask a volunteer to fill it for me. I knew the risk I was about to take: stopping to walk when your legs hurt is the beginning of an often vicious cycle where you convince yourself you NEED to walk. I told myself, from here on out, you can walk for a minute at every mile marker. And that’s just what I did.
After mile 16’s brief walk/water/nutrition time, I saw a person walking up ahead of me, holding onto her hip. I had a bad feeling I knew who it was. Ran up ahead, looked back into the tear streaked face of a friend. A friend who busted her ass training for this race and wanted so badly to do well. I grabbed her and hugged her, and assured her that there was no shame in walking, quitting, shuffling, doing WHATEVER she had to do to. She is a tough girl and I could tell she was in pain. If she had asked me to, I would have stayed. Walked her to wherever she needed to be. But I also knew she wanted her friends to have a good day, so after she told another friend and I multiple times to GO, I did. As I ran away from her, I had a renewed sense of energy. Sure, my legs were a little sore from the lack of training, but darn it I was having a GOOD DAY and I needed to take advantage of that, for myself and for those who weren’t having a good day, and not waste that gift. I thanked God for allowing me to be there at that very moment, for the opportunity to pursue something I loved so much, for my health, for the sunshine, for everything. So many things can go wrong on race day, and so far, everything was going in my favor. I pushed on.
Miles 18 -20: 10:30, 9:44, 9:57. Ocean Boulevard is a long, looooong road (10.5 miles on this course), especially when you run it often, know exactly how far you’ve gone, and there is a headwind. I was thrilled when we finally turned off the road, and commented to the random guy next to me “sweet, the headwind will be gone”. Funnily enough, even with a 90 degree turn, there was still a headwind. ah well. We headed across Business 17 and I marveled at the looooooooong line of cars stuck in traffic. Clearly they didn’t get the marathon memo. As we headed onto Grand Dunes Boulevard, about a 1 mile out-and-back, I saw a handful of runners from my running group who were gunning for a 4:00 marathon. I was shocked to be honest, that at almost 20 miles in , I was that close to them. Wow, I’m really holding my own here! The walking breaks became more frequent, but I pushed. At the turnaround just past 18 miles, the wind was finally at our backs, there was a slight downhill, and I pulled off another 9:xx/mile. Sweet.
It was at this point, I knew I had it. I knew I had this race. The hard part was still coming, of course. But every time I felt my mind start to wander, start to get irritated by the guy tailgating with a heavy footfall and loud breath, or the ever increasing pain in my quads, I pushed it out. I called to my necklace (yes, my necklace, I sound like a carebear or something) “I am not afraid (of the pain)”. “I was born to do this”. I am having a great day darn it, I am a marathon runner, and I’m doing what I LOVE. So love it, damnit! And I ran on.
Mile 21-22 10:59, 11:06. Ok, so here’s where my lack of training came in. It couldn’t break my spirits, but darn it my legs hurt! So I walked when I had to, ran when I could. At one point, back down business 17, I passed one of our local club members on the side of the road, and saw two more just up ahead. I absolutely admire the training these people put into this marathon. They followed Pfitzingers advanced marathon training almost to a TEE. I mean, their dedication was like no other. I clearly fell off that wagon around week #2, and totally aspire to hang with them for an entire 16 weeks one of these days (I hear Savannah in November?!) And while I would NEVER EVER brag about my lack of training or imply that it’s not important (it is, believe me it is!) it gave me a little boost to see that I was still holding my own, despite my short comings. And, it was awesome to see a familiar face and hear a “keep going girl!!” cheer in my direction.
I started doing the math. If I could hold on…a PR was mine….
Mile 23, 24. 11:41, 12:57. OH. MY. LEGS! It hurt. I ran when I could, wishing I had my ipod so I could play eminem’s “Till I collapse” over and over, because no other time in my life than that very moment had the lyrics been more appropriate. Instead, I started the marathon shuffle, and started singing to myself that silly song “cupid shuffle” only replaced cupid with “marathon”….”down down do your thing, do your thing, do your painful leg thing, the marathon shuffle” as I realized that a shuffle would last longer than a run, and still held me around a 10:00/mile. We kept turning up and down side streets , which was killer since I knew EXACTLY where the finish line was in relation to our current position. I would have preferred a direct path, haha. Eventually, we were on Grissom Parkway, and it was a straight shot to the finish. I kept up re-working the math. 4:15 that seemed a possibility a few miles ago slipped away…but I could still do it, I could still set a PR. My stomach started to rear it’s ugly head. Though, not in the typical marathon GI distress way, but more so in the “wow it’s hot out here” way. I decided at this point, there was probably no use in taking in more nutrition and possibly having it backfire, so I quit eating.
Mile 25, 26, 11:58, 11:16. I met up with a really nice woman from Alexandria VA. She made a comment “I’m not sure if it would hurt less to run or walk right now” and we instantly became running buddies. We did the “ok, lets run from this stop light to that sign, then we can walk again” approach. Both of our stomachs were a little wonky, and both of us seemed to say “Ok let’s stop and walk before we puke” at the same exact time. God bless that woman. When we ran, we actually ran. It hurt like a b*tch, but it was so fantastic to see a 9:xx/mile pace on my garmin during the run sessions. I’m not sure I could have done that on my own. I hope I helped her out a little too.
Now, keep in mind at this point, it was well into the mid 70’s. HOT for a February marathon. We passed a couple that was running together, and I noticed the woman doing a side to side weave. My instinct told me this was something akin to the Paula Newby Frasier Ironman finish, but then again, it was the last mile and a half of a marathon, so who knows. Shortly after we passed her, I heard someone yell what I thought was “CAR!!!” so of course I whip my head around just in time to see this woman pass out. I had a moment of panic, but saw a few men catch her and others run to her aid, including volunteers. I figured there was nothing I could do other than keep moving forward and inform the first officer I saw at the next intersection. I did, and she said they were already on top of it, thankfully.
A little while later, I saw another amazing runner friend/professor on the sidelines cheering. I yelled to her, and told her I was on par for a PR! She cheered for me and yelled “keep picking those knees up!” and I, being an idiot, attempted to do a silly high-knees move to show I heard her loud and clear. I almost fell over, my legs were not having it, haha! The VA lady and I were about half a mile away, when she said she was going to take off, she had a time goal. I wished her well, and after a few seconds, burst into my own run. I wanted to quit about every single step of that last 6/10ths of a mile, but I kept pushing forward. Now was the time to talk myself through it. Pain is only physical, you are stronger than this. I knew I could finish under 4:30, as long as I didn’t walk. No walking, Heather, NO WALKING! When you sign up for a marathon, you sign up for pain. It’s almost over, think of how awesome that finish line is going to feel.
That was the longest 6/10ths of a mile in my entire life. But as soon as I rounded that corner into the chute, I was on fire. Average time for the last .2 of the marathon: 9:07/mile. Fastest pace in that .2 of the marathon: 6:57. First I saw my mother-in-law Jan, with a huge sign that said “GO HEATHER” on one side, and ” WE LOVE YOU” on the other. Then I got a cheer from some local triathletes. Finally, I heard the screams from Holly, Jim, Shawn, and Ron, and I just burst into celebration. Grinning, throwing fists in the air, holy cow, I just smashed my PR. Someone commented on my facebook, “Other than children, what’s better than a PR?” and I have to agree, that those last 100 yards of that race were one of the BEST moments of my life.
For once, in the battle of Me vs. my self doubt vs. my GI system during a marathon, I WON. There was never a bonk, not for one second. The infamous “wall”, it hurt, no doubt, but it didn’t break me. A PR was just an added bonus at that point. I’ve wanted this ever since I toed the first starting line of my first marathon, 3.5 years earlier.
I met up with family and friends after the race, and though I was still flying high, my body started to rebel against what I just put it through. I narrowly escaped a few puke sessions, and felt better when I was finally able to put some salt (in the form of potato chips) back in my body.
I’m sure I have so, so much more to say about this race, but with two kids tugging at my arms and a sports psych exam tomorrow, it will all have to wait. THANK YOU for all of the support before and after the race. I thought of so many of you and called on so many of your stories during my race. About 60 hours later, other than a swollen knee (painless, but full of fluid), I am feeling awesome. My legs feel suprisingly good. I’m so excited for part 2 of this birthday celebration….next stop, DISNEY!!!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.