I signed up for the Zydeco Marathon shortly after completing the Louisiana Marathon in January. It would complete the series of 3 marathons in 90 days qualifying me to join Marathon Maniacs! It would also be the weekend I got home from a month-long externship in Arkansas, which would be a fun way to celebrate before starting my next clinical rotation.
I knew from looking at the elevation map that this marathon would be more hilly than the races I had previously run. Fortunately, Arkansas had plenty of hills for me to train on, and throughout the weeks of my externship, I tackled those hills with enthusiasm. (Ok, some days I managed to muster more enthusiasm than others!) Maybe, just maybe if I got enough hill workouts in, I would be able to beat my previous PR despite the hills. I also started making a point of drinking a protein shake after every workout, since I had recently read that this helps to prevent muscle breakdown after a run.
As race weekend approached, I started to get nervous as I watched the weather forecast. Thunderstorms until the morning of the marathon, which would clear into sunny weather climbing into the high 70s with humidity at 92%. This was much warmer and more humid than the beautiful, cool winter weather I had enjoyed during training and during my previous two marathons. Oh well, nothing I could do about it. I decided I would still try to stay with my goal pace group, but if I had to fall behind due to the weather conditions, I wouldn’t beat myself up about it. The goal was to finish. And regardless of my finishing time, this would still be an exciting day as I would qualify for Marathon Maniacs! No matter what, during my next race, I would proudly be wearing official Maniac gear that would let the world know I was a proud member of this fun and awesome group.
Joshua and I stayed at a hotel in Lafayette with our dogs Terra and Jasper the night before the marathon. I found myself surprisingly relaxed that evening compared to my usual state of pre-race jitters. I guess I wasn’t as nervous because I knew I had achieved this distance twice before, and I had let go of any real time expectations. It’s very freeing when you decide to just go with the flow for a race. Joshua and I just enjoyed the evening, and didn’t even go to bed very early despite the fact that we had to get up at 5:00, and would lose an hour of sleep that night due to daylight savings.
Joshua dropped me off at the start line the morning of the race, and I weaved my way through the crowd toward the pacers. Last time I had run with the 4:30 group, so this time I decided I would try to stick with the next group up – 4:15 – for as long as I could. Joshua’s text of “Good luck, beautiful” put a big smile on my face before I started. I fingered the necklace he had gotten me a few weeks ago for Valentine’s Day, with its tiger’s eye heart pendant very similar to one he had gotten me on our honeymoon which I had sadly lost. How lucky was I to have such a sweet, thoughtful husband who supported me in these races? I was in a very good mood as we set out on the first mile.
It was a very humid start. The air was foggy, and puddles still lined the roads from the previous night’s rain. I looked at my watch to see our average pace so far… about 9:30. This was a pace I never dared to try on my long training runs, and I laughed a bit as I prayed, “God… if I manage to keep up this pace throughout a whole 26.2 miles, it’s all going to be by Your strength. Please help me run a good race.”
Surprisingly though, I felt pretty good as the miles went on and the heat gradually increased. During the Louisiana Marathon, I often fell behind the bouncing cat sign with the 4:30 on it. But today I managed to stay beside the 4:15 sign’s carriers, and sometimes even pull out a short distance ahead of them. Sean Broadbent and Sabrina Seher were our team leaders, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to chat with them during the early miles of the race. I felt good enough during those early miles to speed up at the first several water stops when I needed water to mix up some more Tailwind, and that made catching up with the pace group much easier afterwards. There were some hills, as promised, but thanks to my hill training in Arkansas, they really didn’t feel bad at all. I am finding that I actually enjoy hills, in moderation, because they use different muscles than running on a flat surface and keep the run from feeling so exhaustingly repetitive.
The first 12 miles of the race were very well supported by the community. There were lots of people in their front yards cheering for us. One of my favorite moments was running past a lady sitting in her front yard as she shouted encouragement to the music of “Chariots of Fire” blasting from her loudspeaker. Another fun moment was being cheered on by a bunch of people dressed up in Star Wars costumes! The best cheers though came from my dad, who used an app to track me through the race, and sent me regular cheers through my phone. It was almost like having him actually there with me, even though he was many miles away in Florida.
At mile 12, we split off from the half marathoners and the crowd support began to dwindle. There were fewer people running the full than the half, so the streets suddenly felt very empty. The water stops were still great though, especially the one where volunteers were handing out ice cold wet rags for us to combat the rising temperature.
At around mile 18, things started to get really tough. It was plain hot now with the sun beating down on us, and we passed increasing numbers of runners struggling with heat sickness who had to slow to a walk. I had brought four packets of Tailwind thinking that I probably wouldn’t get through them all, but I used and was thankful for every packet… especially later at the finish line when I saw the medical tent full of dehydrated runners on IV drips. Still, somehow, I was managing to keep pace with the 4:15 group. And a little voice inside me doggedly refused to give up this goal after coming so many miles with them.
The worst moment of the race was at mile 25. I was really struggling at this point to keep my pace. My heart rate, which usually hangs around 170 during a long distance run, was climbing into the 190s. But I was so close, I had to keep going. I reached for my heart pendant for inspiration, thinking about my sweet husband who would be waiting for me at the finish line. The chain was there… but the pendant was gone! It must have fallen off at some point in the previous miles. I felt sick. He had gone to so much trouble to get me a pendant like my honeymoon one, and I had lost this one too.
Well, I had to keep moving. Somehow, I still managed to stay just ahead of Sean, who said we were on track and encouraged me to keep pushing forward. When the finish line was in sight, I felt too spent to work up my normal ending sprint. That is, until another runner edged up beside me and started to pass me. We weren’t even in the same age group, so we really weren’t competing, but she still gave me the last burst of energy I needed to pick up my speed and run strong across that finish line, finishing in 4:13:50!
I found Joshua and our two dogs waiting for me at the finish area. I was elated… not only had I finished and achieved my goal of qualifying for Marathon Maniacs, but I had managed to PR ahead of the 4:15 pace group despite the horrid heat and humidity. But the day’s surprises were not over yet. When we went to check the official results, I was the only person listed so far in my age group! It turned out that one girl actually came in ahead of me, but her chip hadn’t registered when she crossed the finish line. Still, when the final results were in, I brought home a beautiful second place medal to hang next to my finisher’s medal.
I’m not sure why things went so well for me that day when they were so tough for a lot of other runners. Part of it was probably that I have found a fueling and hydration strategy that works really well for me. Part of it was definitely having excellent pacers and lots of support from loved ones. But I know that mostly it was God’s strength that kept me going, and I am so thankful that He sustained me through yet another 26.2 injury-free miles. It is truly a blessing to be able to run, and I hope I do it in a way that honors Him!
*Note: I purchased the images included in this blog, so I don’t feel too guilty about sharing the proofs! They will be replaced with scans of my purchased prints once they arrive in the mail.