I was trying to organize things for my taxes last night and was going through a box of old papers. As I was sorting through everything I found a printed-out copy of this email I sent after my first marathon! It was really fun to read through this, and since I know a lot of you guys are runners I thought you might like reading it too. I wish I had more pictures from this trip, but this was before the day of good phone cameras, and I was a broke college student with no money for a real camera, so I don’t have many. Have you ever experienced any of these same ‘crazy’ feelings I did during a race? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Dear Friends and Family,
I know I have talked to many of you about the marathon I ran this weekend at Nationals, and I told many of you I would let you know how it went, so rather than tell the story 50 times, I thought I would give you an update this way!
I qualified for the marathon at the NAIA National Track & Field competition in Fresno, CA a few weeks ago and have been really excited to compete. There were six athletes from my team who qualified (in different events) for the national competition. We arrived in Fresno, CA on Tuesday evening and my race was at 6am on Saturday. It was really nice to have those four days, because I was able to spend a few days preparing for my finals exams (which are this week), adjusting to the heat, and getting used to waking up so early! I was able to go down to the track and cheer on my teammates who were racing throughout the week.
All week I had been hydrating really well. My coach was having us drink mixtures of Pedialyte and Gatorade, and a lot of water. It was so incredibly hot in Fresno – averaging about 99 degrees each day.
On Saturday, I had to wake up at 4am in order to eat and get ready for the race. Finally, we got to the track and I had to go through some funny routines to prepare for the race. I had to make sure I had a lot of Vaseline on my ankles, armpits, thighs, and chest so that nothing would chafe and hurt during the race. I also wore a visor so that during the race I could pore water on my head and not have it drip into my eyes.
My goal was to run 3 hours and 20 minutes, which I thought was a fairly realistic goal. However, I was a bit nervous, because the longest run I had done in my training was only 2 hours and 30 minutes. Up until about 3-4 weeks before the race, I was actually training more for 10k/half marathon distance, and was only going for 90-100 minute runs each week. I had done three runs over 2 hours, but that was it.
There were 39 girls and over 40 guys who had qualified, and we all started together on the track at 6am. The race began with 2 and 1/8 laps on the track, which was nice because we were able to pace ourselves with the 800m distance on the track. With the adrenaline of a big race like this, it’s really easy to accidentally start out too quick, and I didn’t want to make that rookie mistake.
The first 16 miles of the race felt great! I was running really consistent 7:20 miles (give or take a few seconds) and felt really strong all the way up to mile 18. Then, it got significantly harder. My body started getting depleted of glycogen storage, and my legs were definitely feeling it. My coach was on the course, and every 40 minutes or so was giving me a PowerBar Gel, as well as Gatorade, and towards the end of the race, had me drink watered-down, flat Coca Cola to increase my blood sugar levels. Miles 20-24 were significantly slower, and in hindsight, I probably should have gone out about 5-8 seconds slower per mile in the first half so I wouldn’t have gone into oxygen debt so bad during these miles.
Nobody had warned me of this (and apparently it is quite common) but I started to go crazy during the race! I had to start talking to myself in order to stay sane. It makes sense, if you think about it, when your body gets depleted of glycogen, so does your brain, and it starts acting funny. I kept imagining and hearing people behind me, and then I would flip my head around and absolutely nobody would be there. Or, I would imagine that my feet were really, really swollen, I mean I just knew they had to be huge and swollen! Then I would look down and they would be completely normal. I had to keep talking to myself on the long stretches where I was completely by myself (remember there were only 39 girls competing, so there were very long stretches in the course where I wouldn’t see a single person and we weren’t allowed to listen to music on headphones either). I kept saying, “Come on Natalie, you can do this. Believe in yourself. You’re Natalie Hatch [my maiden name]. You are great…” etc etc. Remember, this was not a normal road race with a lot of runners. Only those who qualified and were on a collegiate team could compete, so by the end the runners were really strung out from each other (and almost 20% of the girls dropped out at some point during the race). We also were not allowed to listen to any form of music during the race, so on those long stretches all by yourself, you could get pretty lonely out there.
Finally, in the last mile, I saw the girl ahead of me and she was walking! I couldn’t believe it. It really motivated me to pick up my pace, because there was no way I was going to let somebody beat me who had walked. My last mile was a 7:40, and my last 400 meters on the track was at a 6:00 minute mile pace. When I was trying to pass that last girl, I remember thinking I had to do something to motivate myself, so (remember, I had been running fast for over 3 hours now and was going a little crazy) I started singing the Chariots of Fire theme to myself in my head as I passed her. It worked! Although, in hindsight, realize I was going a little nuts at that point.
I crossed the finish line and burst into tears…only for a second though…because then I had to catch my breath. I had finished in 3 hours 24 minutes and 21 seconds, only 4 minutes slower than my goal. Physically, it was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. It is hard to explain the feeling of accomplishment that I felt afterwards. I looked over and saw my coach and teammates standing on the side of the track, and they were so proud. It was really an awesome experience.
Immediately, my coach got me out of the sun and changed into some dry clothes (I was drenched in sweat). I was shocked that I could hardly move! He had to untie my shoes for me because I couldn’t even reach over that far. Compared to most of the other runners, I was in pretty good shape (many had collapsed on the finish line), but I was so sore. My hip flexors felt like they had been through a meat grinder, and were literally sore just to even touch. Even now, two days later, I feel like a 90-year old woman limping/walking around.
Although I can still barely move (I have to actually lift my left leg up with my hands when I get up or get into a car), and from miles 20-24 I thought I was going crazy, I am so happy that I ran that marathon, and finished so strong. I learned a LOT and am really excited to run my next one (not in any time soon though – I have to get back to walking normally first!). I think that with a few more miles added to my training I can really prepare for those hard miles at the end, and shave off a lot of time.
I know this was a really long email, but I hope you enjoyed it! I have one more final and one more paper to write and then I am all done with college and will graduate on Saturday. I would love to hear back from each one of you and get an update on how things are going with you.
**This was written in 2007 during my senior year of college.
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Natalie Hodson is a mom of two showing how to balance family, fitness, and a healthy lifestyle. www.nataliehodson.com