"Good morning!" I said, maybe a little too cheerfully. "Is this where I check in for the marathon?"
"Yes." They said my name correctly! This is going to be a good day.
"Good luck today!"
"Thank you. It's my first marathon!"
"Congratulations! Make sure you have fun."
"Thanks!" Fun? I don't know that running 5+ hours will be "fun," but ok...
15 minutes and 3 measly squares of state park toilet paper later, I found myself surrounded by runners who looked like racehorses prancing at the gate. Lean legs, camelpacks, and all that jazz. Where were all the recreational runners? Oh. Right. They were smart enough not to sign up for 2100 feet of elevation gain over 26.2 miles of poison oak lined single track.
We dashed off straight up a hill (wasn't expecting that!) and straight down a hill (eesh that's going to be painful on the way back!) and out onto the levee. People were passing me left and right. After the months of training, I did not want to find myself dead last. One mile in I checked my watch. 8:33. 8:33?! I didn't believe it was possible, because course records show most first places were barely under 4 hours. I slowed into something more my pace. And when the hills hit, I was happy to see I wasn't the only one walking already.
By the time I got to the half marathon turn around, I was thrilled that no half marathoners had caught up to me (they started 30 minutes later). The aid station volunteer warned us about a tree that had fallen onto the trail. She wasn't kidding! The tree had not fallen across the trail as trees usually do, but rather was laying on the trail. I picked my way through the tree, thankful that there was no poison oak on it, and continued on to the 2 miles of trail I had not previously seen. Turns out it was 2 miles of trail I technically still haven't seen because it was overgrown with long grass up to my waist.
The hills rolled on and somewhere around mile 10 I caught up with Bart and Tony, two marathon newbies I'd met around mile 4, when I cursed their long legs and they envied my ability to scramble down hills. About the time I thought we should be turning around, I heard one of them ask a returning runner, "Where is the turn around? It should be right about here!" The other runner said, "I thought so too, but you've got about half a mile to go." Rats.
Adam was waiting for me at the turn around, which was nice. It was nothing spectacular, just a curved flour arrow on the dirt. I'd made it there within the goal I'd set for myself, and headed back, looking forward to the aid station 2 miles ahead.
At this point, I must have been slightly delirious, because I thought, "hmm I made it to mile 13, and this aid station is two miles back, so 13-2=9. I have 9 miles to go!" Really though, it was 13 + 2 = 15, or 11 miles to go... I hung out at the aid station for a while.
Around mile 16 a group of 3 runners caught up to me. The man and the woman passed and kept on going. The girl passed me, but then I passed her. She decided to stick with me after that, so I decided to ask her name. Turns out she was 17 and also running her first marathon.
We encouraged each other for the next 10 miles. Jogging when we could, walking if we needed to. We almost jumped for joy when we got to the aid station at mile 19.5, because we were both on the threshold of running farther than we ever had before.
Her family cheered us on to mile 23.1, where the last aid station was. Her dad said, "You are going to blow that 6 hour goal out of the water!" I asked what the time was. He said, "You're not even at 5 hours yet." We hurried off, eager to come in at 5:30.
About a mile later, running became a true struggle. I knew we were so close, but I couldn't catch my breath. I told Taylor she could go on ahead, but she insisted on encouraging me the way I'd encouraged her when she was struggling at mile 16. We stayed together until the last mile. She took off down the levee, looking strong, while I continued with a walk/jog.
Taylor finished at 5:42, and I crossed the line 8 minutes later at 5:50.
After dining on some delicious salty/sweet snacks, Adam and I were ready to go. We checked the results. I'd come in 27th, and there was only one other 20-29 year old ahead of me! I finished second in my age group (out of 2, lol).
I definitely struggled with the desire to race and be competitive, and the fact that trail running is sooo muchhh slowwwerrrr than road running. I can say I truly understand what it means to say, "It's not a race, it's a marathon!"
And I've already signed up for my next marathon, if for no reason other than to prove that I can finish it faster.