My second marathon: A lesson learned and a struggle to the finish

I went into my second marathon feeling like of course I’d run it faster than I did my first one. After all, I’d already run 26.2 miles, so I knew what to expect.

Or so I thought. I’ve learned that I’m not sure if you can ever know what to expect. I ran my second marathon about 14 minutes slower than I did last year and finished Saturday’s Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon with a time of 4:31:04.

Here I am after finishing the 2014 Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon on Dec. 6, with a time of 4:31:04. (Michael Piorunski photo)
Here I am after finishing the 2014 Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon on Dec. 6, with a time of 4:31:04. (Michael Piorunski photo)

Last year, I ran the same marathon — which had a different course — and I had set a goal to finish and to run the course in less than 4:30, which I figured was a relatively safe goal. I finished in 4:17:45 last year.

This year, I was hoping to finish in about 4:10, but I figured setting a new personal record — something I also wanted to do — was almost a given.

By the time I crossed the finish line this year, I was a tiny bit disappointed in how it had gone, but I was mostly just happy to have finished — particularly with a time that I still felt was pretty good, especially given how I felt.  I talked about it with my boyfriend, Mike, and came to the conclusion above about not knowing what to expect.

Despite not meeting my goal, I am still proud of finishing the marathon and the time I was able to get on Saturday, Dec. 6.

The start

I ran the race without a watch. I have been running my races, aside from a one-miler, without a watch since I had a second dehydration incident that landed me in the hospital at a half marathon in April. I realized I was pushing myself too hard, and that having a watch was only stressing me out more. I’ve done well running without a watch, earning new PRs in both the 5K and 10K this year, and I am happier and less stressed in races.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for a marathon, because I didn’t want to start out too fast. However, my GPS watch hasn’t been working, so I sent it off to get fixed or replaced, and I didn’t really want to buy a new watch, even a cheap one.

I got an added boost of confidence from a fellow runner in the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon Facebook group — which is an awesome component to this race — about running without a watch. I believe I asked two people on the course about pace, but I mostly just tried to follow what my body told me — which involved a decent amount of walking. I also overheard a couple times from other runners.

Here I am ready to start the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon. (Alesia Hull-McLaughlin photo)
Here I am ready to start the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon. (Alesia Hull-McLaughlin photo)

I started out the race, which began just after 7 a.m., feeling strong. The weather was beautiful, and I wore shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. Actually, it could have even been a little cooler, something I heard another runner say on the course, too.

From what I overheard, I did the first mile in somewhere around 8:40 or 8:50 (it could have been slower, depending on where the people I overheard had started in the pack). I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up the whole way, but I also wanted to give it all I could for as long as I could.

Even despite stopping for a quick bathroom break shortly before Mile 2 (I wanted to make sure I went when there were no lines, and I did not have to wait in line — although I did accidentally, very briefly, open the portable toilet door on someone — oops!), I still finished the first 5K in 28:49, according to a text alert I got. That seems logical, though the pace was off — it had that time but said I was going at less than a 6-minute-per-mile average pace.

New course

I loved the Gordon’s Pond Trail. The course was completely different than last year, bringing runners up the coast into Cape Henlopen State Park instead of via Lewes. While it was tough to start another out-and-back near Mile 18 and, as other runners have noted in the Facebook group, there were a decent amount of rocks on the Junction and Breakwater Trail, I still think I liked this course better than last year.

The Gordon’s Pond Trail reminded me of running in a wildlife refuge. It was pretty, and in addition to the nature that I could enjoy while running, I liked seeing the runners in the distance and the reflection of runners’ bright shirts in the pond. Later on trails in Cape Henlopen State Park, there was the ocean view that I believe was the same one I and other runners saw last year. I’m sure I’ll be back to do a fun run on the Gordon’s Pond Trail.

The turnaround, in Lewes, was right after Mile 10. According to the race results, I crossed that mat in 1:36:31, a 9:39 average pace. I think I was still feeling good at that point, but by the time I got to Mile 13, I know I was already starting to feel tired.

I actually walked through every water stop — aside from the first one, where I took the bathroom break, and I am pretty sure I skipped the last one, which was probably less than half a mile away from the end. By then, I just wanted to be done. I am so thankful that there were so many water stops — and that they were staffed by upbeat volunteers.

I began requesting two cups of water at each stop at some point — I don’t remember when — and volunteers were happy to oblige. For energy, I brought along two 6-block packs of Clif Shot Bloks, because I just don’t like the consistency of Gu, and that’s what was being given out along the course. They probably helped, but I might even want more for a future marathon.

Once we turned around in Lewes, much of the course was the same, but it wasn’t a complete out-and-back — the way back to the Grove Park area in downtown Rehoboth Beach was shorter.

I crossed the 13-mile-marker mat in 2:05:13, a 9:34 pace. If I would have kept up that pace, I would have come very close to meeting my goal time — although the second half was much harder for me than the first half.

The hard part

At some point, probably around the halfway mark, I not only looked forward to the next water stop, where I rewarded myself with a walk, but I also took other breaks to walk. I would give myself a spot to start running again — for example, on the Junction and Breakwater Trail, I would pick a certain tree, or at other times, a certain landmark — but I would usually, if not always, continue walking and pick a new spot at which to start running.

I don’t remember exactly what mile this began happening, but I started having a strange problem with my breathing that lasted through probably nearly the whole second half of the race. I would feel as if I was running out of air and would basically have to stop running to get my regular breathing back as I took a walk break. It was not the usual exhaustion that comes with running — it felt worse.

I had a sore throat the week leading up to the marathon, but it wasn’t too severe, and I also made sure to get extra sleep during the week and drink a lot of water. I didn’t get as much as I probably should have the night before the marathon, because I woke up at about 4:17 a.m., but it’s hard to go to bed very early, particularly the night before a marathon. I also had a little bit of a runny nose. But on Saturday morning, I felt like I was ready to go.

I can only guess that the breathing problem must have stemmed from having a cold. I actually went and got checked out by a physician’s assistant today because I had a bad cough this morning, but thankfully, it does seem as if I just have a cold.

Either way, it made running very hard. I took more walking breaks than I would have planned, and I even cried a tiny bit during the run, I think when I was nearing mile 21. Last year, it was all about the physical pain for me — muscular pain and a pain in one of my toes. This year, it was primarily about the breathing, although of course it didn’t help that I was also very sore, and when I started running again from the walking breaks it was painful.

Someone was running near me that was singing. I was jealous that people had enough energy to run and talk to other people or sing, while I was struggling to make it through.

According to the race results, I passed the 22.5-mile mark at 3:47:45, a 10:08 pace.

Nearing the end

I was running near several of the same people, and we all seemed to keep passing each other during the race as we stopped for walk breaks or kept running. I mentioned something about that to one of the runners during the run, and another one caught up with me and we spoke afterward.

By the time I felt like I was getting close to Mile 24, I felt like I had a new energy. I still stopped to walk through the water stop at Mile 25 — and when I say walk through the water stop, I not only walked through these water stops but kept walking until I felt ready to run again. However, I was very excited to be so close to the end.

Near the end, I saw my friend Brian cheering me on, and my boyfriend, Mike, was there at the finish. I soon spoke with with a couple my other friends who had already completed the marathon, Veronica and Melissa.

I am part of the Pemberton Running Club, based in Salisbury, and our group had a large showing at the event. Even though we didn’t run as a group during the race — to me it seemed like we cheered each other on with the energy we had when we saw each other during the run — it was nice to have a group there. I didn’t do all my training runs with them, but it helped to have a group of people you knew would be ready and willing to run 15 to 20 miles on a Saturday morning, and we also met and got a nice photo before the race began.

Post-race

I don’t know if any of my friends stuck around for the post-race party, but I enjoyed some water, along with mac and cheese, bacon, a hamburger, a pulled pork sandwich and a beer. I also had a few bites of an apple, but I guess I was more interested in the unhealthy food.

There was no seating available inside, so I found myself a spot on the curb — there were people dancing to the DJ, but basically all I wanted to do was eat, drink and sit. Later, I enjoyed hanging out at some of my favorite spots in Rehoboth Beach.

Since joining the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon Facebook group before my first marathon here last year, I have continued to enjoy the group. As many others have stated, it was great to have have Mary Beth Hanna Evans, one of the race directors, answering question after question. Although I didn’t meet up with people from the group, it is a fun place to connect with other runners online and read about shared experiences that many of us can relate to.

Of course, I am still sore today, so I figured I would share this awesome video that was shared with me by my colleague Ben of marathoners attempting to walk down stairs after the New York City marathon. If you have run a marathon, you know what this feeling is like. If not, this is how I currently feel.

The future

This was an incredibly tough experience for me. I do enjoy the experience of the marathon, and being able to accomplish this feat, but it also brought such hard parts with it. I really do not know how people double-up on marathons, running one on Saturday and one on Sunday, for example, or run 50 or 100 miles at once.

I can’t see myself wanting to run more than about two marathons a year (though who knows, as I never even thought I’d run one marathon).

I am already signed up for the Big Sur International Marathon on April 26, 2015, and I am not setting a time goal. I put down that I might be able to run about a 4:30, but I am not planning on holding myself to a certain time. I am looking forward to the scenic course and exploring California for the first time.

I also plan to do a fall marathon, though I am planning on switching it up next year and trying a new one. I may still do the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Half Marathon.

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4 thoughts on “My second marathon: A lesson learned and a struggle to the finish

  1. Congrats on finishing, Vanessa! I’m sorry the race didn’t turn out like you wanted, but take pride in what you have accomplished!! Running a marathon is not easy for anyone. (I am also having MAJOR problems going down stairs today as well!) I admire you for running without a watch. I’ve done some runs without it since it has been a problem in the past for me too, but I feel like I need it for longer races to make sure I don’t go out too fast. Sometimes easy in the beginning can get very, very tough by mile 13 or 20, etc. But seriously, great job once again! I wish I’d seen you out there!

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