#TBT Cilantro, April 2012

April, 2012
April, 2012

The year was 2012. The month, April. And I was finally ready for my first marathon. This was a huge event in my life. Even though I lived close to where the Salt Lake City Marathon was held, I got a hotel room close to the finish, so I could easily walk to and from the start. It was also my first expo, and I was in awe of everyone there. I remember wondering “can everyone see how nervous I am?”

Because I was scared to death. But race morning came, and I did it.

In order of awesomeness, here are my highlights from the race:

1. I finished.
2. I finished in 3:47:58.
3. According to my Garmin, I finished 26.4 miles in 3:47:58.
4. I finished 8th in my division (age 25-29).
5. At the end of the race, a guy informed me that he paced off ME the entire race. Moi? Yes, me!
6. And I was only a little sunburned.

From the beginning:

The Salt Lake Marathon and half-marathon began at 7 am Saturday AM. Despite all of my best efforts (no sarcasm here, I am painfully well-organized), I couldn’t find the start of the marathon on a map, so marathon morning, my sister Jaymee drove me up to the University of Utah with plans to follow the crowds.

Follow the crowds we did, but once we found that all roads were close in the entire city surrounding the marathon, I had to hop out of the car and follow the sound of loud music to the marathon start: about a mile. Uphill.

I didn’t let the distance bother me, and I viewed it as a warm-up – but importantly, I didn’t move too fast. While the morning wasn’t cold, it was cool, and I think walking to the start kept my muscles warm. I arrived at the start about 20 minutes before the start and headed straight to the port-a-potties where the lines were epic-ally long. The line moved relatively quickly though, although that wasn’t enough for a lady a couple people behind me who moved up in the line impatiently until she cut off seven people in front of me to snag the next open one!

I laughed. Life’s too short to rush into a port-a-potty even on race day, when high-technology chips track our start. Looking back on the race, I can see that my mental state was super good pre-race: some days that would totally piss me off and that would have had a huge detrimental impact on my race. Marathons, at least my marathon, was equally mental and physical.

Despite the rush of “impatient pee’er” I made it through the port-a-potty line with plenty of time, and headed up to the finish line, worked my way towards the back of the line where the 4:00 pacing group was. I didn’t intend to pace with the group per se, but didn’t want to be towards the front with the ‘professionals.’ My goal was to finish. Not win.

After the gun signaled the start of the race, it only took two minutes to get to the start when I started running. Almost immediately it became clear the my aforementioned water ‘solution’ wasn’t going to work. I don’t know if it was because of the downhill portion of the race, but I struggled with the belt bouncing around for the first five miles of race. It bounced like I was running with a balloon hanging off my gluteus, and was driving me nuts. So nuts that when I looked at my Garmin, I was shocked to see that I was running a 8:30 mile pace. I ditched the belt at mile five, carrying the waster bottle in my hand until it was empty around mile 12.

I somehow managed to keep between a 8:30 – 8:50 mile pace for the remainder of the race. A full 1-1.5 minute faster then I planned. For the first 12 miles of the race, I felt unequivocally great. Every part of me felt great. The hip ‘twinge’ I’d been feeling in the days leading up to the race was gone (it’s gone now too, but for a different reason) and I kept wondering when the run was going to start to suck.

My sister told me that the race would suck – she hasn’t run a marathon before, but an ex-boyfriend had run many – and that it wasn’t going to be fun. I was having fun, so I felt sure that the other shoe was going to drop. I just didn’t know when.

Around mile 12, my legs, specifically my hamstrings started to feel fatigued, more from the downhill sections of the race, not the uphills. I’d trained for uphills, but not downhill. Lesson learned. From mile 12 on, I had to rely on the water stations set up by the race, which were every 2 or so miles and well staffed and organized. I could have had more water, but they worked and I think dehydration only affected me at the end of the race.

From miles 12 to 23, I felt significant hamstring pain, but nothing out of the ordinary, and maintained a strong 8:30 pace. I started listening to an audiobook, Divergent. Up until this time I’d been running without anything, as the other runners were entertainment enough. The story and making it a goal to pass the runner in front of me kept me moving. I felt strong. Too strong, I decided, but wasn’t going to kick a gift horse in the mouth.

In fact, I still felt great. I’d read about the virtual wall at mile 20, so I timed my Cliff bar consumption around it. 1/3 of it at mile 14, Caffeinated Sport’s beans at 17, 1/3 of the Cliff bar at mile 20, and the remaining third at mile 23. No wall.

In fact, I don’t think I ever hit the “wall,” but around mile 23, running at my regular pace started to get WAY tougher. Every step hurt, and stepping down (like off a curb) almost sidelined me. It was starting to get hot and people were stopping all around me – but I had a feeling that if I stopped, even to walk, I wouldn’t start again. So I ran.

And ran. A guy next to me bent over and screamed in pain and then took a couple of steps to keep up with me shouting out in pain with each step. I remember wanting to tell him to stop – to tell him that it wasn’t worth it – but my thoughts didn’t codify into words. He fell behind me shortly after. From mile 23 to 25, I was slightly behind a lady wearing pink compression sleeves. Physically, I was exhausted. Mentally, however, I was not. I decided I must pass her.

State street. Pretty in a picture. Ugly at mile 25 of a marathon! Image via wikipedia.

I pushed. I shortened my stride to give my hamstrings a break. And i passed her. On mile 25, the marathon path took a sickening turn onto State Street. Sickening, because this part of state street starts to climb up the side of the mountain.

Yes. They put a freaking mountain at the last mile of the marathon. It was tough. Impossible, really. People around me stopped. Walked. I remember thinking, irrationally, I’m so glad this wasn’t earlier in the race because I don’t think I could have finished the race.

I ran. Slowly (this was my nine minute mile). I didn’t stop.

When the street turned, I was positive that I wouldn’t have the energy to sprint to the finish – but then I saw the crowds and the cheering. I realized that I was going to finish this race, and I started to choke up. To prevent any more tears, I ran faster. If I had the energy to cry, I certainly had the energy to sprint.

And I did.

Crossing that finish line was one of the best moments of my life. I found out later my official chip time and my place in my division. That was more awesome – but even without it, it felt amazing to finish.


And it still feels amazing today, even 2 1/2 years later.

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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1 comment

  1. This story and so many other first marathon stories really show how ignorance of what you’re in for the first time you race a marathon really is bliss! There’s something special about encountering all that pain unexpectedly that can never be replicated. Once you go there it’s so hard to knowingly do it again, I swear!