As much as I love triathlons, running is my first love, but I had never done the one distance that would make me a “real” runner- the marathon. It was time! So my friend Alicia and I decided to run a marathon together during our triathlon off season. And, to add some extra pressure, decided that our goal would be to qualify for the Boston Marathon. We set out to find the flattest January course that we could find and decided that The Chevron Houston Marathon was the perfect race for us and got about training.
Okay, so I should clarify. I actually have run a marathon. The best marathon ever! The Marathon du Medoc in France. It’s a 26.2 mile run in the Bordeaux region of France that consists of 23 wine and food stops. You can read all about it here and then go sign up because it’s the most fun you’ll have running. So, to be more correct, I had never raced a marathon.
As much fun as a race is, the real fun in my opinion is in the training and doing so with good training partners. A good partner is someone who will listen to you whine and complain and then tell you to get up because it’s time to move. A good partner gets the freak-outs, often will freak out with you, but also will be your biggest fan and motivator. There is no rivalry with a good training partner. A good partner also knows the importance of plannng a run around bathrooms and will always examine your chaffing and black and blue toenails and not bat an eye. And a good partner will nerd out on Garmin stats with you and encourage you to buy more running shoes because you can never have enough shoes.
Alicia is my favorite training partner. We’ve gone through so much together and have very similar styles of how we approach our training and life and buying all the gear. She my biggest fan! So it was an easy transition for triathlon training to just running. We quickly realized we might have made a mistake in our timing, though, when it occurred to us that we would be at the peak of our training over the Christmas and New Year holidays, but knowing that you had to get up for an 18 mile run the next morning definitely helped reign in the eating and drinking.
About halfway through our training we headed down to Huntsville, AL to run the Rocket City half marathon with our friends Angela and Kevin; two more of my favorite people to train with. We had all run miles together in the weeks leading up to the race. Runs where we got lost, almost got hit by a car, slipped our way over icy bridges, literally blew backwards with wind gusts, and runs that were just way too hot for a December day. By the time the race rolled around, we thought we were prepared for anything. Unfortunately storms in the area that morning forced the race to be canceled. It was disappointing but we made a quick pivot and went to bunch instead. We had a great time and, of course, spent brunch planning our next races.
My longest training run, 20 miles, came all too soon. It was now just Alicia and me running together and we were nervous, but ready to see how it went. The mid-December morning started off rainy so we postponed our start time a bit, knowing that we would be running deeper in a day that was going to be warm and humid; unusual even for Tennessee. We asked some of our “real” runner friends about a route so we had something different to do. They recommended a route and told us that there was a church about halfway through that would have a place to refill our water bottles. Perfect!
We started the run just as the rain was ending and the day became warm and humid as promised. We became very thirsty as our water dwindled to nothing but we remembered the church. When we finally reached it we began to look for the water. Then I spotted a old fashioned water pump in the front of the church near the road. There was our water!
I began to pump and pump, not sure if anything would ever come up. Finally, though, water came flowing out. We were so happy and drank and drank and then filled our bottles and dumped the water over our heads. Feeling better we finished the run with no issues and texted our friends thank you about the water. Well, turns out the water is actually inside the church which always leaves it’s doors open. Here we were recreating Little House on the Prairie and all we had to do was walk in the front door to have access to water and a clean bathroom, but it literally never crossed our mind to try the door. So many people have told us that they had no idea the pump actually worked and probably have wondered about us. I laugh every time I think of what we must have looked like to passerby’s, so proud of ourselves, pumping that water from that pump and dumping it over our heads. But hey, we’re nothing if not resourceful!
Obviously it’s not possible to run every run together, but even when you’re running solo it’s nice to know that there’s someone out there doing a similar workout. Someone you can call or text as soon as the run’s over or, at times, even in the middle of the run, to discuss how difficult it felt or how you’re never going to make it 26 miles or how you’re about to eat everything in the house. I remember after one particularly difficult run on a warm and very windy day (there were so many windy days!), I was feeling down because the run had been so difficult. Talking to a few friends who had also run and felt the same way made me feel so much better. It’s always nice to know that, even when training solo, there are friends going through the same experiences.
All too soon race day arrived and we headed down to Houston. We had a few other friends who were running the marathon and the half marathon as well and we all went out to dinner the night before. Talk focused on the weather and what to wear because it was going to be cold and windy. Then we moved on to past races and strategy and nutrition and, most importantly, our after race party plans. Just being with these women who are all absolutely amazing runners, eased my nerves and made me excited to see what I could do.
Race day dawned as predicted; cold and windy, but with a bright sunny sky. Alicia and I ran the first mile together talking and joking and then she was off because she is so much faster than me. I picked up my pace too and just ran, watching the miles tick away.
Just a few miles into the marathon I rounded a bend and could see ahead of me thousands of runners crossing an overpass framed by the city of Houston. I got a huge smile on my face because this is what you train for. This is what makes a marathon or any distance race so fun; all of the people around you who have gone through similar training experiences. We had all worked so hard to be there and will work so hard to complete the race and then have stories and memories, good or bad, that we will retell over and over again.
The Houston Marathon went well for me. I never felt bad and did qualify for Boson (but, let’s face it, I’m old now so it’s not super impressive. The one good thing about getting older I guess!). Alicia killed the race and qualified too! All of our other friends had great races and we had a really fun time celebrating. We laughed and joked and told our race stories, and, of course, planned our next races.
Now I’m back to training for the next race. Just the other morning I ran with a couple friends, one with whom I haven’t run in a really long time just due to life. It was a bitterly cold morning but the three of us were up bright and early and the run filled my soul. We talked and laughed and complained and helped solve the problems each of us was dealing with. I left that run with a huge smile on my face because, a much fun as races are, this is why I train and this was exactly what I needed.