The morning of my 13th full marathon and my 33rd birthday had finally arrived! My alarm went off at 5:15am to give me enough time to shower, get ready, and eat breakfast. I toasted myself a piece of bread in the hotel’s continental breakfast area and added the peanut butter and bananas I had brought from home on top. For an added bonus, I drizzled on some honey too. Sometimes my pre-marathon breakfast includes coffee, but this morning I decided to skip the coffee. Instead, I added a caffeinated Nuun tablet to my water.
Kelly and I drove over to the marathon start line, used the restroom, stretched, and took some pre-race pics. I saw Daniell and went over to wish her “good luck” on her first full marathon!
Before lining up with our pace groups, Kelly and I said our good-byes since we knew we wouldn’t be seeing each other again until the end of the race. On my wrist was a 4:25 pace band. I was hoping for a 3 minute PR. I knew, however, that this would most likely not happen since I hadn’t been putting in the training for a PR. I still decided to go for it and I lined up with the 4:22 pace group.
Both the marathon and the half marathon started at the same time, so intertwined with the marathon pace groups were also the half marathon pace groups. As I was looking around I saw the 2:10 half marathon pacer and realized that it was fellow Beast Pacer, Stacy Anderson! To help ease my nerves, I went over and started talking with her.
In no time at all, the National Anthem had been sung and we were off! At first I stuck with Stacy, but then when the 4:22 full marathon group came up and passed Stacy within the first two miles, I decided to jump in with them.
A little after mile 2, we came up on our one and only hill, Mt. Modesto. Yes, as you can tell in the picture below, this was not actually a hill. Instead, this was an overpass. Although this hill was nothing the first time around nor anything compared to Lake Tahoe’s elevation change, when coming up to it at mile 24, it seemed huge! (More about mile 24 later.)
By mile 5, I needed to go to the bathroom. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have stopped to use the bathroom during a race. I normally only stop if I think it’s going to be extremely uncomfortable and nearly impossible to hold it for the duration of the race. This time around, it was both uncomfortable and nearly impossible to hold.
All of the port-a-potties I spotted within the next couple of miles were taken. Finally, at the half marathon turn off I spotted a vacant port-a-potty and made a run for it. I purposely did not stop my watch so that I could calculate how long my bathroom detour took. I am proud to report that I was in and out of the “john” within only a few minutes.
Now came the difficult part… catching back up to the pace group. I picked up my pace and within a mile and a half I was able to spot the pace group about 100 yards in front of me. I was able to hold that pace for a couple of miles, but by mile 13 I knew that I was not going to be able to hold the pace.
The turn around point for the full marathon was at mile 14. As much as I don’t really care for out and back courses, there are some positives in regards to these types of races. 1) You are inspired by the faster runners ahead of you coming back your way. 2) You get to see the runners behind you and realize that you are not last. (A side note about mile 14 aid station… They were seriously SO sweet! I was feeling quite down at this point and when they started to sing happy birthday to me as I ran through, I started crying. Thank you mile 14 aid station for your sweet gesture!)
At about mile 15, I spotted Kelly on the other side. Here’s the video she took of me….
Although I am “running” and give her a thumbs up, I am clearly not in high spirits. When Kelly asks, “How are you doing?” I respond, “Ok.”
In reality, I was a mess. I was kicking myself for not training more, kicking myself for thinking that I could possibly pull off a PR, and kicking myself for losing the pace group. I was already a hot mess and this was only mile 15!
I turned off my running music playlist and turned on the Run, Selfie, Repeat podcast instead hoping Kelly Roberts would have some words of wisdom for me. As she spoke about her own struggles with trying to BQ, I started feeling a little better. Soon I came up on the aid station at mile 19 and they were JUST what I needed!
When I first came into the aid station I asked, “Do you have scissors?” All I wanted was to cut off my 4:25 pace band and burn it! I could not stand to look at it any longer! As I was ushered over to a man with scissors they saw my “it’s my birthday” sign on my back and asked, “It’s your birthday today? Would you like a cupcake?”
A smile came across my face and I eagerly replied, “Yes!” They then went on to explain that it was one of the volunteers’ birthday too so that’s why they had cupcakes.
I went over to him and said, “Happy birthday! Can I get a picture with my birthday twin?” And with that, I was off with a cupcake in hand and a restored spirit. (This was the BEST tasting cupcake EVER!)
At mile 20, the 4:52 pacer came up behind me. (The 4:37 pacer had already passed me back at mile 17 or so.) When I saw the 4:52 pacer come up behind me, a fire was lit. I thought, “No! I WILL cross that finish line in under hours!” I was able to successfully stick with the 4:52 pacer until mile 23.
At mile 24, we came back to Mt. Modesto (the overpass). I walked up the hill while texting Kelly to check on her. At the top, I put my phone back in my SPIbelt (use code STEPHANIE17 for 15% off) and enjoyed the journey down Mt. Modesto!
One of the things that motivated me to keep going in the dark moments of the final few miles was 1) the thought of being done and sitting down 2) the idea of possibly placing first in my division, the Athena category (more about this in my moment) and 3) trying to stay in front of a fellow female runner who I thought was in the same Athena division.
“What is “Athena”?” you may be asking yourself. As stated at Runner’s World.com, “The Athena (women’s) category weight cutoff ranges from 145 lbs to 160 lbs.” Yes, that’s right. Instead of being in a category based upon age, there are also categories based upon weight. The Modesto Marathon set the weight minimum for the Athena division to 160 pounds. I was excited for the chance to be in the Athena division because then I had a higher likelihood of earning a division award. (Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I am quite competitive.)
Yes, I actually had to get weighed at bib pick up to confirm that I indeed qualified for the Athena division. When I went over to the health booth and said, “I am here to be weighed for the Athena division,” the women looked at me and replied, “You better hold on to your purse.” She looked at me and assumed I weighed under 160.
I stepped on the scale and it read 162 pounds. The women then commented, “That was close.” In my mind I thought, “Close? That’s not close. 160.2 pounds, now that’d be close!” Instead, I took my sheet of paper that had my weight written on it stating that I qualified for the Athena division and I walked it over to the timing booth so they could officially change my division.
Am I a little disappointed to be labeled “Athena”. Yes and no. Yes, only because I have gained a little over 10 pounds over the last year. No, because I have still maintained a 50 pound weight loss since 2012 and I run marathons. I am strong!
Back to the marathon… I successfully stayed in front of the runner who I assumed I was racing against and I successfully crossed the finish line under 5 hours. Yes, it was over 30 minutes slower than what I was hoping for, but I finished. I raised my hands and face to the sky in gratitude to God. He has brought me from couch potato to marathoner. He has brought hope and joy to my life. He continues to bless me with a body that can run. With God all things are possible!
Once I crossed the finish line, I grabbed some ice cold water, some chocolate milk, and some ice cream. I then made my way slowly around the finishers area. I checked my results via a computer and saw that I indeed came in first for the Athena division… yay! (We won’t mention that I was first out of two.) I collected my first place division award mug and sat down near the finish line waiting for Kelly.
Soon she too came across the finish line and in a much faster time than what she was expecting! We took some finisher pictures and headed back to our hotel to shower.
Once we were all clean, we packed up our belongings, checked out of the hotel, and decided it was time for lunch. We ate some well-deserved burgers and french fries, took one last picture, and began the two hour drive home.
All in all it was an amazing birthday weekend! Working the expo was SO much fun, spending time with Kelly was SO much fun, and I am now a 13 time marathoner! Not every race is going to be a PR race and not every mile is going to be pretty. There’s truth in the saying, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” I will move on from the Modesto Marathon stronger knowing that in order to see improvements in my running, I must put in the training. Now, on to the next race…