The One Percent

How do you start a conversation about the biggest physical event of your life, a day you've been preparing for for months, an event you've been talking about for just as long? I don't really know. In order to write fully and completely about the marathon, I think I would need more words than the English language contains and more letters than the average blog reader cares to be subjected to.

They say less than one percent people have run a marathon. As of Sunday, November 1, 2015, I am part of the one percent.
I do want this post to be as full an account as reasonably possible, so there's no pressure to read every word (or any of them at all, of course). But this is everything.


The Before
I'm not going to walk you through all the chaos that was my mind pre-flight, because a) you've done nothing to deserve such punishment and b) it's just not pretty and way too much to document. Sufficient to say you could take my normal crazy and multiply it by 26.2 to find how completely insufferable I was.

Friday night before my early flight to Raleigh, I squatted down to hang something on my drying rack (it's important you know how ridiculous the whole story really is) and felt a tweak in my left leg sartorius muscle. That's the one that goes from the inside of the hip down the inner thigh and into the knee. So, kind of important for running. I've felt this tweak before, and not in a "no biggie, I know and can work through this" kind of way, but in a "oh NO, I know this and it sucks" kind of way. I freaked out, mentally cancelled my flight, calmed down, iced it, and went to sleep.

My alarm went off at 4 a.m. but it was the pain in that muscle that woke me. Again, I freaked out. I sat around thinking it was in the top 5 worst non-fatal things that could happen right before a marathon. I limped around my apartment but by the time I hit TSA it had subsided enough that I stopped freaking out. About this, at least.

Even despite my threats to the contrary, I got on the plane and arrived in Raleigh early Saturday morning. Lisa and I spent some time peeping the course greenway before heading to visit her boyfriend and my unofficial running guru/virtual coach, Brian, at work where I loaded up on energy gels and good luck wishes. From there we drove the whole course so I could have some concept of the roads I was about to leave my blood, sweat, and tears on.

Side note: Raleigh is hilly. I knew this when I picked the marathon. Every person I spoke to in Raleigh asked me if I knew that Raleigh is hilly. Do they think that other parts of the country don't have hills or something? I'm from New Jersey, not Iowa (or some other state that evokes imagery of flat lands, which I really don't think New Jersey does). The hills in Raleigh are comparable to mine in NJ, and I was able to mentally prepare by comparing these roads to the same size hills on my training routes.

We headed to the expo where I told anyone who would listen (or not) that I was picking up my packet for MY FIRST MARATHON DID YOU HEAR THAT ITS MY FIRST MARATHON OH MY GOD TOMORROW I'M GOING TO RUN A MARATHON.
And soon it was finally time to meet up with Tracy for pre-race dinner and a final strategy meeting. I wish I could say I left dinner feeling ready, but I didn't. My left sartorius muscle had me really nervous, and I just didn't want something beyond my control to go wrong. After carb-loading, we headed to Brian's where I foam rolled and otherwise treated my legs in every way I knew how before collapsing into a heap of nerves for the last night of sleep before becoming a marathoner.

The Race Day
I had been nervous about the weather all week leading up to the race. Humidity was reading pretty high, and the chance of showers fluctuated day to day. I don't mind running in the rain, but spending hours in wet running shoes is a recipe for blisters. Starting at 7 a.m. and projecting a late-morning finish in the middle of a North Carolina fall makes dressing for the event sort of hard.

It ended up being pretty great racing weather: mid-50s in the morning, cloudy, slight drizzles throughout the course. The clouds opened up somewhere around mile 23 and a steadier rain came down, but nothing too bad (ahem, Rock 'n Roll). It was refreshing at that point too.
The Race Course/Production
First off, it was kind of funny when I realized I was probably the only runner in America LEAVING the NYC-metro area to run a marathon this past weekend. The NYC Marathon took place on the same day, but I have spent the last year or so wanting City of Oaks to be my first marathon, so southward I went.

The course was beautiful and as full of oaks (and hills) as promised. The first 11 miles rolled through the city, past landmarks of North Carolina State University, through Meredith College. The 10k course came with us for a little over 5 miles; the half marathoners split off around mile 11. From there, we went down into the greenway, a paved bike trail through scenic Reedy Creek (and some others that I can't remember the names of).

The aid stations were full of amazing and cheerful and encouraging volunteers. I didn't have to wait a second to refill my water bottle, pick out my favorite Gu flavors, or grab a cup of Gatorade. They were every 2 miles almost exactly, and you could hear the stops approaching before even getting there. When the course gets quiet and lonely, too much cannot be said for the volunteers and spectators. They really are amazing, and we runners owe so very much to them.
My Race
I felt like I ran several different races on Sunday, so here are the goods broken down as such.

Out of the Gate
The name of the game was start off slow. Slower than I wanted to. Almost slower than comfortable. Slow enough to not dump all my energy in the first 10 miles.

I was so lucky to have my two friends with me at the start line. Lisa and Tracy both ran the 10k, so we all started out together. Lisa was planning to hang with us for the first 5 minutes or so before her walk/run program chimed in, but she kicked her race's ass and stayed with us through mile 2. We high-fived goodbye and Tracy and I kept climbing through the city of Raleigh. The 4:30 pace group was right in front of us, and the rule was DO NOT PASS THEM. I didn't, and Tracy did have to reign me in once or twice, but I was feeling so good. Better than I've ever felt in a race, honestly.

Running through downtown was full of fun things to see and the spectators and volunteers were fantastic at every turn. After a couple of rolls we came to The Hill. It was a smooth ride down and a surprisingly smooth ride back up, and about mid-way through it the course split—marathoners to the right, 10kers to the left. Not even going to pretend otherwise, I got emotional. After saying goodbye to Tracy, I put my head down and ran up that hill like my life depended on it. Still felt as good at the top as I did at the bottom, and then even better when I saw that Tracy had come to a complete stop in her own race and NO I DIDN'T CRY okay fine I did. On my own for the first time in this race, I tucked in right behind the 4:30 pacers and enjoyed a couple beautiful miles.

The marathon course came through Cameron Village around mile 8, where the 10k racers had been routed to their finish line. I had my eyes peeled for my cheering squad and saw Tracy on my right, and just as I was about to pass her, she pointed behind me where Lisa and Brian were waiting with cameras ready. I'd passed them without seeing them somehow! We were looking too hard for each other. I looped back a few feet, swatted Lisa to say hi, and kept on up OH YES ANOTHER nice-sized hill. Brian took off like bullet and ran me up the hill much faster than I would have managed on my own. I was still right on the 4:30 pacers' heels and feeling like I could fly.
Middle of the Road
I had mentally broken the course down into a few different segments before I started. I knew I would have tons of crowd and friend support through the first 8, then a good middle chunk on my own, and then the last few Brian had planned to jump in and pace me through. I knew the middle would be the hardest and the loneliest, but I knew I could get through them like I had gotten myself through every training run.

In the middle of the tenth mile, my right leg quit. So I've talked before about my right hip and knee issues that stem from wonky alignment, and as a result, my IT band on that leg can get a little sticky. I had been so preoccupied by the sartorius freak-out on Saturday, I neglected to properly prepare the part of my right knee where the IT band comes in and didn't tape it properly. I took a step on my right foot and nearly collapsed. I've had this happen once before—on the very last step of a 16-mile training run. On Sunday, I had to stop and nearly cried. It was so, so, so painful, and there was nothing I could do about it. I pulled off to the side, stretched a bit, tried to rub out a knot, adjusted my failing tape, and limped a few steps. The 4:30 pacers were around a turn and out of sight.

I almost quit. How could I run on this? I could barely walk. I had more than a dozen miles to go.

But I went. And I gritted my teeth and adjusted my gait and promised my knee that if it could just hold on, I would ice it until the end of eternity. I ran. I ran to Meredith College, and when the half marathoners split left, I almost went with them. But you only get one first marathon. This was mine. It had to be mine. My knee would heal eventually, I was sure. I fought back another round of tears and went down into the greenway.

The greenway part of the course went out and back, and I wasn't really thinking straight enough to figure out how many miles were ahead of me before the turnaround. The greenway was gorgeous, luckily. But it was lonely. The middle miles were the loneliest miles I've ever run in my life. The spectators were few and far between (more on that later), but the water stops and aid stations were dutifully there and cheering loudly every 2 miles. Still, I was sad.

Running is very emotional for me, as you probably know if you've been reading here any length of time. It's not how I keep fit, or get fresh air, or win awards. It's how I changed my life and became a better person. It's how I bested every demon in my head and heart and how I learned who I really was and could be. It's how I became the person I am, the person I like being. It's not uncommon for a run to bring my emotions to the surface, and on such a monumental day in my running career, I knew tears would be a given.

Sunday, I think a combination of the physical exhaustion, the spike and crash of adrenaline, the knowledge of the PR I was about to set (Your first marathon is a PR no matter what, right?), the songs that kept coming up on my playlist, and the excruciating pain I was in all really pressed down on me on the greenway. There were only a few people around me at any given time, I knew it would be literally hours before I saw my friends again, and I was in the middle of the woods that weren't mine with no end in sight. I finally hit the turn around and swelled with emotion, leaving a few tears on mile 18.

The amazing women pacing the 5 hour group passed me during a short walk break after the mile 20 marker. They shouted some encouragement to me, could tell I was injured, checked if I was okay, and lit a fire in me like nothing else. There's nothing wrong with a 5-hour marathon. But I didn't want to get behind them. So I ran. Only a 10k left, right? That was less than a mid-week training run over the past few months. I had this.

The Final Four
There's a pretty monstrous hill near the end of the greenway section of the course. Lisa and I were able to scope it out a little the day before, and it was already defeating me. There's a little footbridge in the middle of it, and we had planned for that to be where Brian picked me up. I, along with literally everyone else near me on the course, gave in to it and took a walk at the bottom. I knew Brian didn't come out to watch me walk, so I gave myself about 20 seconds before I knew I would see him, and then off we went.

Up and over a few more hills we went until we were back on the road. The rain was falling now and my knee was throbbing. But oh my god, I was so close! I took two more walk breaks totaling about a minute and let Brian keep me from giving in to my knee. Sample dialogue: "My legs feel pretty dead right now." "Well, they should. You're in mile 23 of a marathon." Right. I couldn't see the finish line yet but I knew I was on the road. No more turns. Just a few more baby hills.

Sooner than I expected I heard some crowd noise. I could feel the finish line, even if I couldn't see it yet. Brian took off get in position for a finish video, and I was alone again. I wanted to sprint, but my leg just wouldn't let me. I knew I was going to finish sub-5, so I decided it was better to finish without an injury too.

The Chute
I'm crying just thinking about what I'm about to type, so bear with me.

I heard them before I saw them. Tracy and Lisa were there, to my left, beaming and screaming. I turned to them ("presented," according to Lisa) and couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I honestly wish I remembered this moment better, but it was a blur. One second, the finish line was ahead of me. The next, I was running through it and having a medal placed around my neck.
(Tracy's video — can you hear her?!?)
(Brian's video)

"Congratulations! You're a marathoner!" I could have kissed the incredible volunteer who gave me my medal and these words.
And then I sort of walked around for 10 seconds not knowing what the hell to do next. Brian came around and gave me a hug and the photographer ushered us over to the backdrop for my first picture post-marathon. Moments later, my girls were there, standing out in the rain, running into the chute from the other side. Lisa crushed me in a hug, and then Tracy, and then my tears broke and I was full-on ugly crying at the finish.

My mom (hi, I know you're reading) had snuck around with Tracy for a few days and arranged to get a note and flowers to me at the finish. (Thank you both SO much.) I opened the envelope ("No, now, you have to open it right now." - Tracy) and recognized my mom's handwriting and just kind of went "What? Wait.. how did.. this is her handwriting.. how did she.. what?" while Lisa took very very flattering photos.

I knew what my Garmin said my time was, but it started a few seconds late and I stopped it a few seconds late too, so I didn't know my official time. I could see what the gun time was, but I knew we crossed the start line about 4 minutes after that.

Timing Isn't Everything
I had a few different goals for this race. My primary goal was to finish. I knew I could do that.
My official goal was to finish under 5 hours. I was mostly sure I could do that.
My crazy stretch secret goal was to finish somewhere in between 4:30-4:40. Until mile 10, I felt like I really could do that.
But this wasn't my race to be crazy. This was my race to become a marathoner.
Official chip time: 4:54:16
MAJOR LOVE to Lisa for making these shirts!
The Everything Else
There's a lot more that needs to be said about this experience, but not today. But there are a few people who need to be noted, who helped make my first marathon everything amazing that it was:

The Bumble Bee – Like I said, the greenway was out and back so the super speedy marathoners were passing the rest of us on their way back. Somewhere in the low teens, while I was gritting my teeth and begging my knee to keep going, an incredibly kind woman dressed as a bumble bee (and dominating the marathon course) was looping back, looked me in the eye, and shouted, "Keep it up, great job 239!" (That was my bib number.) Aaaaand I was back in the game. I saw her later in the finishers' chute and thanked her for her shout-out and she gave me a great big hug and "congratulations." The running community is a beautiful place.

Shark Lady – Somewhere in the middle of the greenway, around mile 17 I believe, was a woman with her dog (!!!) ALL ALONE on the quietest part of the course, dressed up as a shark, ringing her bell and handing out high-fives. She was amazing and oh look at that I'm crying again. Her being there at that part of the course was such a wonderful and uplifting surprise.

The Candy Gal – I've lost track of where she was, but an older woman was also standing along the greenway, all by herself, in the chilly air and drizzling rain, with a smile for every runner that passed by, holding out Hershey Kisses. That someone would think to just be there with a sweet for a stranger humbles me to tears.

Smile guy – Around mile 20 was a relay exchange and aid stop full of volunteers and spectators (one of whom held up an awesome race sign: a picture of Chandler Bing; caption: "Could you BE running any more miles?!"). I had my name written on my bib too, and a volunteer with a smile from ear to ear came right up next to me and said, "Alyssa! Smile!" (but not in a gross cat-cally way). And then I did for a looong time.

You guys – So many of you reached out to me that morning, the night before, and even during the race. I am so overcome with gratitude for knowing (or "knowing," the way we do in blogland) you people. I can't even express it correctly because oh look I'm crying again. Thank you for being a part of this journey with me. Thank you for encouraging and supporting me. Thank you for cheering me on and being in my head and heart that day. Thank you for giving me this outlet to speak about this milestone in. Thank you.

Comments

  1. Oh. My. God. You are freaking amazing! I was so tense just reading this with the hurt leg at mile 10, despite having seen your picture on Instagram. I am blown away that you pushed through that and still hit your sub 5 goal! I'm so glad you had people there for you, and I love the Team Alyssa shirts. All of you are awesome and congratulations, marathoner!

    (Oh, and you were looking for an example of flat. Delaware. Our speed bumps have more elevation than our "hills.")

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  2. And now I could write a whole novel back to you about your recap but I'll try to keep it to a chapter :P For as much as running is just about you pushing yourself to put one foot in front of the other for x miles, it's amazing how much supporters really mean! Whether it's friends or strangers out there on race day. I love how many supporters you had and know it helped you push through your knee hurting (you freaking rock and are amazing that you kept going!!!!). Those Team Alyssa shirts are amazing! I'm glad you cried because that makes me feel better about how much crying I know I'll be doing on race day (hopefully mostly from the joy of completing the marathon and not pain!!!). When I finished my 20 miler a few weeks ago, I totally got emotional and I know on race day, the tears will be flowing! I'm so excited for you that you finished your first marathon and I know you have many more great running adventures ahead!!!

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  3. You are simply one of the most amazing people I know, and I am SO proud of your accomplishment! You killed it, friend. Fighting through every mental break and your phsyical pain is not an easy feat and you did it with such grace! And now reading this post, I'm over here like "maybe after this baby, I'll pick up my running again - slowly but surely", so thank you for that encouragement.

    Also, I absolutely did NOT cry while reading this post. Not even for a second and not at all while watching your videos. ;)

    So proud of you! I don't think I could say it enough! Congratulations marathoner!!! xo

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  4. So I'm laugh crying while reading this because obviously I lived part of it with you. I am so insanely proud of you and will continue to remind you that you ran a marathon for the rest of forever. Thank you for bringing your adventure to Raleigh. Thank you for letting me into your crazy little world and thank you for letting us all be there for you along the way.

    CONGRATS TIMES A MILLION PLUS INFINITY !

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  5. Loving the Chandler Bing quote for smile guy! I can't even begin to imagine what it's like running a marathon. I've wanted to incorporate running into my life in my twenties but I haven't quite figured out how to do it, I know it's pretty hard on your body so you're a complete bad ass in my book.
    Linds @ Not A Mom

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  6. that is so awesome!!! i love that people came out to support the runners. congrats, lady!!!!

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  7. I've been waiting all week for this post!! I'm so happy that you finished and even met your 5 hour goal with an injury. You are amazing! You can totally hit 4:30 if your knee decides to cooperate. I hope you are relaxing this week and enjoying your first week as a marathoner. I love that you thought to mention the random strangers along the course that kept your spirits up.

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  8. I haven't even read it all, I'm at the part where the women encouraged you, but I need to tell you right away this is like watching a movie. Reading a novel. I cannot wait to see what comes next!!! (Yet I did pause to say this.) You're a marathoner. You're amazing, honestly.

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    1. I really did tear up a little. I'd never thought you could be so proud of someone you don't really know. Yet here I am, speechless. And I was so mad at your right leg. I shouldn't be, though - you guys made it!! Um, when I say 'you guys', I'm thinking you Alyssa's head, you Alyssa's right leg, and Alyssa's left leg. Well, it made sense in my head. Anyway, a gigantic hug!

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  9. CONGRATULATIONS! I ran my one and only full marathon over 3 years ago. This post brought tears of joy to my eyes for you.

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    1. Thank you so much! Belated congrats to you too :)

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  10. Of course I had to read every word of this post as I've been clicking to your page multiple times per day with giddy anticipation. It's so wonderful to read about the emotion, the heart and the soul that went into your first 26.2. Welcome to the 1%! Love you!

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  11. Where do I even start?! Do I tell you for the millionth time how proud I am of you? Or do I tell you yet again that it was such a joy and an honor to be there to experience this with you? Do I tell you that I wanted to laugh and cry (and did both) reading this, even though I already knew a lot of it?
    It's so funny hearing your description of the finish and comparing it to my/our experience. I just remember Brian flying by and Lisa being like, "OMG Brian just ran by!" and then we started freaking out and looking for you and then omg there you were, almost at the finish line! The Newtons were easy to spot in the distance ;)
    Your face and your blubbering, "Wha...? How...?" when you opened the card from your mom is seriously one of my favorite memories from that day! I know you had a lot going on at that moment and you were probably really overwhelmed and confused but you yes you HAD to open it right then. (You have the sweetest mom, btw).
    Welcome to the one percent! You only get one first marathon and I hope yours was everything you dreamed it would be!

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  12. i have no words! i love this entire post, i so wish i could have been there to cheer you on! so many emotions. i am so sorry to hear about your injuries, boo! but i am so proud and happy for you. you are so inspiring and awesome and i cannot wait to see everything you do next. congrats on being a marathoner girl!!

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  13. WAY TO GO YOU ONE PERCENT!!!! I am so proud of you and your journey and want you to know you are an inspiration to us non marathons. Seriously, I'm considering training for one because you did it and keep it honest all the way. WAY TO GO!

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  14. Yayayyayayay!!! Great recap of a great race - I'm so impressed with your mental strength and endurance after your leg gave out!

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  15. You are AWESOME! Way to go and great race recap! I love the back of the finish line banner with the "YOU DID IT" message for photos -- I don't think I've seen that in the race before but now I think those should be mandatory! Congratulations!

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  16. I am so proud of you for doing this and finishing and pushing through everything. It's an amazing, incredible accomplishment and definite motivation for someone contemplating training for a marathon (note: that person is not me. But I'm sure there are plenty of people looking for inspiration and you certainly provide that).

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  17. I read every single word of this and teared up about 5 different times. Darn you, Alyssa! ;) SO PROUD OF YOU- what a feat, what a day!!! Congratulations miss marathoner!

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  18. What tremendous heart it takes to do a marathon, battling your body and your brain on the course, especially in the times you're alone. To do it with injury is even harder. I'm so proud of you!

    I cheered my best friend (and anyone else who looked like they needed some cheering) on in the NYC marathon when she ran it, and I cried numerous times ON THE SIDELINES so I can totally see it bringing out the emotion in you.

    Sidenote: I hate running posts but I really like yours. Take that as you will. LOL

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  19. Annnnnnnnnnnnnd, I'm crying in my cubicle. Happy tears! (Thank goodness it's almost time to leave.) Congrats to making me cry for the first and only time at a blog post!

    What are energy gels? Literally L'edOL at NJ not Iowa.

    I hope your leg/knee is feeling better! That was so super sweet of your mom, Tracy, Brian, and Lisa. And all those volunteers and cheeerleaders along the way. Apologies for the late comment, but CONGRATS!!!! You DID it!

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  20. I cant even imagine the emotion that you feel crossing that finish line after months of training and anticipating this!!! Especially with having your friends there to hug you over the finish line. Just so awesome!!!!! Congrats girl!!!! You make all of us so proud and so inspired!!!

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  21. You did it!!! I'm glad you tried to make this post as detailed as possible. I felt like I was there running it with you. Congratulations!!

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  22. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Reading your post made the dust really kick up in our office. No idea what was going on. ;)
    I'm super proud to have watched you succeed at this journey and SUPER jealous that you were in Raleigh/NC State. I'm glad that your knee held out to finish and that you got to join the 1%, not that I had any doubt that you wouldn't make it! Also, you have awesome friends to be there cheering you on, so props to them as well.

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  23. So So so sossososososososos proud of you!!!!!!

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  24. YAYAYAY!!! I'm so proud of you! I hope your leg is recovering quickly and easily. You are amazing!

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  25. I am soooo proud of you and feel like I felt all of the emotions reading through this- I felt so stressed over the pulled muscle, and then when your knee gave out, but how incredibly amazing that even with so many things against you, you finished strong and even under your goal! My husband watched his brother run the Detroit Marathon one year and he went on about how awesome it was to cheer on all of the runners, and to be honest I never really understood, but watching those two videos of you finishing I had alllll of the feels too :)

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  26. "But you only get one first marathon. This was mine." Ive been away for a while but I typed in you URL this morning and searched for this post because I had to read it. That line is everything. Every word written made me so proud. Congrats friend - you are amazing!!

    PS my eyes might have watered reading about how much more running is to you. Because that is what it was for me and I let work and everything else get in the way. Fairly certain Im going for a run today after reading this.

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