My first marathon [2/2]

Ready for the last part of my marathon journey? I was around mile 16. A bike path was waiting for me. Everything was fine. But, a marathon, if it were that easy, everybody would do it.

Did you miss the first part? Check it out: My first marathon [1/2]

Bike path - miles 16-20

I didn't expect to find a narrow and winding path. Runners were running fast around me. I wasn't around the same people anymore and I couldn't figure out why. Could I have sped up without noticing it? It started hard. We had to cross an highway, going under it. Down and up to get on the other side. And it carried on: turns, down, up, bridge to cross a stream. It was demanding. I had to change my running tempo multiple times. It was a shock to me, after all these long and wide avenues. Finally, a straight portion. I tried to collect my thoughts. I was running the 17th mile. There was no way I was giving in so early. I had been left behind. I couldn't tell if I had been passed. I forced myself to drink and eat. I tried to swallow a 3rd almond paste. I couldn't. I ate an energy chew instead.

I reflected back on my long runs. I had never been in difficulty so early. I panicked. The wall, already? No, I was too lucid. It was only a tough part of my run. I convinced myself of that. The toughest part of the race was still to come. I had to stay strong. No way I was giving up so easily.

©Scott Christopher Stolarz Photography - click to enlarge

Stay focus. Don't doubt yourself. Carry on. Little by little, I noticed it was hard for the others too. I passed runners who were walking. I had more visibility in front of me and I could tell my pace (which I thought was laborious) was getting me to catch up with lots of runners. I couldn't tell if I had slowed down before and was now getting back to it, or if the others had slowed down. I could only tell runners in front of me since the start line (never seen before) were struggling. I can clearly remember a fit runner who was stopped on the side of the road, hands on the knees.

I may be a bad person, but it reassured me and helped me carry on. It was hard for everyone. It was NORMAL to struggle.

Not so many spectators on this part. Still, a small group, and I heard: "She is still smiling!". It was a woman I saw before. Once next to her, she told me: "You make it look easy.". My answer: "It's not.". Clearly, at this point, it wasn't easy anymore.

From time to time, I could see in front of me and I saw I was catching up with a woman. I didn't try to pass her. I had no interest in that, the final stretch was way way further. But, little by little, I passed her. After that, same thing with 1 or 2 women in front of me.

The bike path was absolutely not the relaxing and quiet time I was expecting. No "calming time" to refocus, start the hard part at mile 18 and prepare myself for the rolling hills. The game was on and nobody warned me.

Rolling hills - miles 20-22

Finally, I was able to see the turn into the road. No more bike path. It was a relief from one aspect only: one step done, the finish line was getting closer. But I knew what was coming up wouldn't be particularly pleasant. I had thought the hard part would only come at this point...

We had driven the course before. I could swear the uphill sections were steeper since then. It went up and down, again and again.

On the first rolling hills, I took a look at my watch to check my pace. I could have bursted out laughing... on the inside. The effort I was providing didn't match AT ALL. This pace was the one I thought would be my "death march". But, I wasn't dying. I simply was doing my best and it didn't go faster.

I thought I was there. THAT was what a marathon was all about. But, at this moment, anyway, my thoughts were just going through my mind, without me really acknowledging them. I couldn't catch a thought anymore. The images I still have in mind are shrunk, as if I had blinders on. I can't tell if I passed people. I can't tell if I have been passed. I was aware of everything but not really acknowledging things.

The last exchange point with the playboy was coming up. We had talked about it: "At mile 21? More around mile 22 to help me carry on?". I couldn't remember what we had decided. Anyway, what I was really waiting for was the last climb before the downhill stretch to get to Cliff Drive. I was totally into my race. I didn't need a pep talk. I was keeping high spirits. It was hard but I had come for that.

Just after another climb, I saw the playboy, in the following descent, waiting for me with my water bottle in one hand and a bigger one in the other. Since the bike path, I was using the water points on the course to take a cup and spill the water on my head. The idea of spilling more water on my face with the big water bottle made me stop. I slowed down. I felt my legs. I only said one thing: "I shouldn't have stopped.". So, I made a very quick stop. Water on my face, water bottles exchange and I was off. The playboy immediately understood it was not a nice stroll anymore for me. He forgot about his new Instagram addiction.

I clearly remember a cheerleader. I clearly remember someone with a donkey costume on (actually, it was Scoobidoo). I can also remember cheering signs. One, in particular, was saying: "Make Cliff Drive your bit**". My main concern was: "WERE is this bit**??".

Downhill - miles 22-23.5

Mile 22, FINALLY, last climb before turning into the downhill road to get to the bottom of Cliff Drive. I didn't feel the climb. I was so ready to get to a long downhill portion!

Straight line, no rolling hills, it was a relief... well, not really. It was hard. Still. I laughed (again, far, far, on the inside) thinking about my race strategy: "don't go too fast on the downhill, don't get to the bottom of the hill short of breath". AH AH AH! Believe me, going too fast wasn't a concern AT ALL. I was struggling to maintain a pace which is usually easy for me, even on a flat road.

©Scott Christopher Stolarz Photography - click to enlarge

I heard two men talking to each other, behind me. I saw them getting to my side. It was George, the "3:25" pacer, with a runner. I was struggling to GO DOWN, and they were easily talking to each other. LIFE IS UNFAIR. They very easily passed me. At least, I knew where I was as far as the time was concerned. During all the race, I only cared about my time on the first half, to be sure I didn't go out too fast. The idea of trying to keep up with them didn't even occur to me. I wasn't here to get a time. I was here to finish MY race.

This downhill section seemed to last forever... I didn't expect it to be that long. But, it still managed to calm me down and be prepared for Cliff Drive.

Cliff Drive

I saw it by far. I was so ready for it. I was about to run it. End of the downhill section, 90 degree turn and here I was. Mile 23.5.

It was total anarchy. Most of the runners were walking. I didn't know if they were running the marathon, or the half marathon (the half marathon started before us and ended on the same route), or if they were spectators. Actually, I didn't even ask myself the question. I refocused and started to climb.

I saw a speaker at the bottom of the hill, but no music. I didn't even try to understand. At the mid-point, another speaker, and, this time, there was music. It was a slow motion tune. It made me laugh (again, on the inside). I thought it wasn't really appropriate for a hill.

"Chariots of fire" - theme song

Almost at the top of the hill, last speaker and another music, but more like "Eye of the tiger". (I didn't manage to remember this one)

I didn't even think once about walking. It was hard but I was so prepared for it that it went well and more easily than expected. The rolling hills were definitely more difficult for me.

Around the top, I passed a woman who was walking. She told me: "Good job!". I tried to cheer her up too. Once I was done with the hill, and on a relatively flat part again, this woman came back and passed me, running strong. I thought it was her strategy: walking the hill to keep her strength and finishing strong.

Last stretch - last 2 miles

I was thinking I couldn't have done like her, putting me at risk of not being able to run after the hill. I was thinking I had to try to push now. And then it hit me: now, I was sure, I would finish this marathon.

At the next water stop, I saw the woman stopping to drink. I did what I've done before: spilling a water cup on my head without stopping. I passed her. At this moment, for the first time, I considered the fact it would be nice to stay in front of her. But, she clearly had a running strategy. She looked fast. She surely was used to run marathons. I would see her passing me sooner than later. Actually, I never saw her again.

A little bit more than 2 miles to go. I didn't want to let me think it was done. It was still hard but I was exhilarated. I saw the ocean and my goal became: taking a dip into the ocean.

I was running as fast as possible. And, without noticing, I was next to George, the "3:25" pacer. I didn't try to pass him or to catch up with him. I was running my pace. He cheered me on when I passed him. And then, he came back next to me. I understood we would finish together.

One mile to go. We entered the veteran mile, lined up, on both sides, with American flags. Someone gave me a little flag to hold in my hand.

George talked to me a little. He told me he remembered me from the bib pickup. He was the one who gave me my bib. He also said he was sorry because he was ahead of time. I said: "Even better!". But, actually, my finishing time was the least of my concerns. I remember telling him 2 things: "I may die but I will finish this thing." and "I can't wait to take a dip into the ocean.". That was my state of mind. I would have time, AFTERWARDS, to think about that.

©Scott Christopher Stolarz Photography - click to enlarge

I couldn't tell if I was following George's pace or if he was following mine. I can't tell if, alone, I would have run this last mile so fast. He was my point of reference on this last mile.

I wasn't emotional at all. I was into physical effort. I was about to finish my first marathon. It was hard but not agony. I couldn't see the finish line. I was checking my watch to know if I was almost there.

When I saw the finish line, I gave it all I got left, leaving George behind. I heard the playboy, on my left.

I crossed the finish line with my fist in the air. I had just run my first marathon.

©Scott Christopher Stolarz Photography - click to enlarge

After the finish line

I stopped running. I leaned on a gate, just the time for my legs to get used to not running anymore. I can't remember, when, exactly, I looked down at my watch. On it, I could read: 03:23:40.

My finishing time didn't hit me. And, honestly, it wasn't what mattered, right there, at this moment. I didn't realize so much. I was fulfilled. That was all.

The playboy came to my side, behind the gate. He looked at me with a smile and said one thing... But, we'll talk about that later.

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Next races

  • NONE

Miles / km

  • 1 mile = 1.6 km / 1 km = 0.6 mile
  • 5K = 3.1 miles
  • 10K = 6.2 miles
  • half marathon = 13.1 miles = 21.1 km
  • marathon = 26.2 miles = 42.2 km