Marathoner. Saturday, around 11am, I crossed the finish line of the Santa Barbara Marathon. 26.2 miles of physical effort, happiness, emotion, difficulty, focus, pushing the limits. It can go a long way. Follow me through my first marathon experience.
How to start? If you read me before, you certainly know I am not good with concision. I first believed I'd be able to tell it all in one post. And I gave in. My head is full of details, feelings, images. I want to write it all down. To share it with you, but, also, for me, not to forget.
Before the marathon
I wrote my last blog post on Thursday afternoon. Friday, I woke up calm and full of a new sense of optimism and excitement. Contrary to what I thought, picking up my bib didn't blow up this new state of mind. Friday afternoon, Friday evening, planning of the last details, I was still calm. When I went to bed, I was focused and excited, not anxious.
I had asked the playboy to do something for me. Once in bed, I asked him to tell me: where should I position myself at the start line. I didn't want to know before. I didn't want to be discouraged or afraid of a time. First marathon, no idea of how I'd handle the distance and how much difficult it was, I couldn't have a goal. I didn't want one. Low expectations. But, I know my comfortable, difficult or easy paces (well, usually...). The pace groups were given on time goals. I didn't want to do the maths myself, and definitely not before.
The playboy's answer: "You look out for George.". George was the pacer for "3:25". I know... It didn't really scare me. I didn't want to follow a group. I just wanted to be sure to start with people going out the same pace than my comfortable one. And then, I'll run my race. That was all. Anyway, I still decided to start between the pacer for "3:30" and the one for "3:25". It was too late to overthink that. It was the point.
Marathon morning - before the start
3:50am, I opened my eyes, without the help of the alarm clock (set on 4am), and I was immediately wide awake. Still no stress. At 5:35am, we had put everything in the car (it looked like I was moving out: water, running fuel, change of clothes) and we were on the road.
50 minutes to go to Santa Barbara. I saw the sunrise. I watched the nice colors on the ocean. No stress.
There was a drop-off area for the runners, just before a gymnasium where the start would be held. The playboy was supposed to drop me there before looking for a place to park the car, trying to see me at the start and waiting for me at mile 9.
Little inch of stress when I had to say goodbye to him. Carrying my bib and my hydration belt, I walked towards the gymnasium, It was cold. I knew we could wait inside. The playboy managed to park the car at the gymnasium so he waited inside with me.
Around 7am, I went out to warm up, tighten my belt and post a picture on Instagram to show you I was in beast mode (#rapogwarrior). No stress, only focus and excitement.
7:15am, the speaker asked the runners to gather at the start line. I waited for the pacers to get into position. I said goodbye to the playboy and entered the group of runners.
The races (marathon and half marathon) were dedicated to the veterans. There was a fly-over with World War II planes, just on top of our heads. It was cold as the sun was not warming us up yet. I was shaking, but it wasn't only due to the cold. I was fully realizing what I was about to do.
Then, they played the national anthem. It was a solemn moment. All the runners around me with their hands over their hearts. A big flag flying on top of a fire engine. I was already a bit emotional. It killed me. I felt like crying. I managed to get back to my senses thinking about the fact that, #1, I am French (I won't cry on the American anthem!), and, #2, it would have been stupid to faint BEFORE actually running. Can you imagine the picture on Instagram? #fallenrapogwarrior
And then, the countdown: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... GO TIME!
I crossed the start line, last emotional moment thinking: "I am running my 1st marathon!!". After that, I went into "focus" and "listen to my body" modes. It was MY race.
I felt light. My legs were fresh. I was happy to be here, at this exact moment.
I had checked and studied the course. Steps:
1 - half marathon ++
Until reaching a bike path (mile 15), just let go, don't push it. Don't freak out on the paces. Just check them: if I am running miles I usually run while sprinting, calm down / if I am on a very comfortable pace, try to find out if it's just the way it is today or if I am too cautious. It may have been my first marathon, but it was still a race. I wasn't out for a nice stroll. On this part, the course is not really interesting, so stay focused.
2 - miles 16 to 20
Bike path, nice change of scenery after the not so great first part. Relief and serenity. Enjoy to be strong before entering the difficult part.
3 - miles 20 to 22
Rolling hills, handle them as good as possible. It will be normal, at this point, to find it hard and to have to push it.
4 - downhill section
Downhill section before the big hill, calm down. Don't go down too fast. Keep strength for later. The goal: not being short of breath at the bottom of the hill.
5 - Cliff Drive, mile 23.5
DON'T STOP. Or only in case of extreme emergency. Run up, slowly, but run up.
6 - last stretch
2 downhill miles, finish at all costs. Give everything you have left.
It was a good move to position myself correctly at the start. I was surrounded by runners running the same pace than mine. I wanted to run relaxed. I was starting to get in the run and entering my little running bubble when, even before mile 2, a man who was running next to me started to talk to me. Simple questions, high five when he found out it was also my first marathon, just like him. I thought it was nice... at first. Except, I was buttonholed. He went on and on. He was sharing with me the sound of his phone giving him the pace. Well... EXCUSE ME but I am running my first marathon and I would like to live it my own way. And I don't need your phone to pace me. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
I didn't let that making me loose my focus. I was answering his questions very briefly. I wouldn't have thought twice before asking him to leave me alone if I've had to. Especially true once he asked me if I had a significant other... seriously?!
It was an easy part. Slightly downhill until mile 5. Not really interesting, but it actually didn't bother me as I thought it would. Few people to cheer us on. But still, some. My new friend was still around. He was running from one side to the street to the other to high five the kids or speak with the nice cheering ladies on the sidewalk.
After mile 5, it was slightly uphill to mile 8. I focused on not pushing. I knew I would see the playboy at mile 9 to exchange my water bottle. I made sure to gradually drink to finish the first bottle.
My running buddy was falling behind. Around mile 7, he yelled at me: "See you at the finish line!". I didn't turn back but waved for him. PHEW!
Around mile 9, by far, I could recognize our starting point. It was the first exchange point with the playboy. I emptied my water bottle, exchanged it for a full one, without stopping. No need to loose the tempo.
This loop, which I thought would be boring, was over and it went well. But I knew it was only the start and I was off for a 10K long stretch on one single avenue.
It was quiet. The sun was now warming us up. I remember I looked at my watch to check where I was about to be for the half marathon. I wanted to make sure I wasn't out for a PR on the half marathon. I knew I wasn't but I still checked.
The runners around me were more or less always the same ones now. I was cruising next to a man with a grey T-shirt. As soon as I was naturally running ahead of him (not trying to pass him), he pushed to stay in front. I don't know if he didn't want me to pass him, or if I was simply a point of reference for him. I noticed he was already quite out of breath. It made me realized I wasn't. Good point for me.
Just before the half way point, I heard runners coming behind me. I thought it was the "3:25" pace group. I had passed the pacer around mile 3 (he went out too fast so slowed down). It didn't worry me. It was just a reference for me. As long as I was feeling ok, everything was good. Actually, it was a group of 3 runners including a woman. And they were running strong. I wondered why they were behind until this point seeing the pace they were holding now.
I think I didn't look at my watch exactly at the half marathon mark. I knew my time wasn't totally off (neither too fast nor too slow).
We were now running in a residential area so more people were cheering for us. They had signs, cow bells or music. I was thanking them smiling, waving to them. I made a group with music go wild when I mimicked a dance move with my shoulders. They liked it! I got lots of comments on my smile: "pretty smile!", "and she is smiling!". The playboy told me, afterwards, that the runners in front were mostly not responsive to the spectators. That's why they liked the fact I interacted with them.
From mile 12 to mile 14, it was a gradual uphill portion. I could tell. I stayed focus on the fact I'll soon be at the bike path. And my main concern was to drink all my water bottle before the 2nd exchange.
That's when people started to tell me: "top 10 women". (It was funny to see how people cared about it. They were pushing me: "You can do it! 2 not so far in front of you!") But, I didn't care about that. I wasn't running for that. And, anyway, it was still early in the race. It didn't mean anything.
The sun was strong. I can't tell that, during the race, I really acknowledged the heat. I was running. It was hot. I didn't seek further. I tried to make my mind about getting my hat from the playboy at our upcoming meeting point or at the next one. I prefer running without a hat, but I thought the best was to be safe than sorry.
Straight line before entering the bike path, I looked around to spot the playboy in order to let him know, by far, I needed my hat. Once I saw him, I took my water bottle out of the holder. We exchanged bottles and I took my hat. Once again, I didn't stop.
Quiet, wooded, relaxing and relatively flat. That's how I envisioned the bike path. From the first meters, I knew it wouldn't be the blissful running section I thought it would be...
FYI, I didn't know the playboy would be as active as he was on Instagram. I only made the suggestion he could post a photo, if possible, just like that. And to be honest, I was afraid I made a mistake telling him that. My main concern was to get my water bottles. He doesn't like or use social media for him. So, my fear was that he would mess up with my water trying to do too many things at once. In the end, I discovered one of his hidden talents! He did such a great job posting photos and captions on Instagram!
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