I woke up the morning of the Spinx Marathon feeling a little nervous, but ready. I knew I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and I knew that that could be painful and scary. I had found a new mantra thanks to Swim Bike Mom: “Be brave. Be thankful.” I thought it was perfect for the day ahead.
The best thing about doing small races, especially those close to home, is that the logistics are super easy. We were just a 15 minute drive away from the start line, and the race didn’t start til 7:45 anyway, so we didn’t have a super early morning. We got to the start line in plenty of time and promptly froze to death because we’re stubborn and refuse to check bags at gear check for reasons that seem logical at the time and then seem incredibly stupid when I’m freezing to death before and after the race.
As you can see, Amanda had purchased us excellent Halloween hats. I planned on wearing it until it got uncomfortable, but it actually never did and those hats got us many, many cheers and compliments along the way.
The course starts out running about 6 miles through downtown Greenville – a rather hilly start. There are some big hills in this section of the course. I did not wear my Garmin so I would not have known our pace anyway, but I did have my heart rate monitor on and we decided that we would just set out at a pace that felt comfortable and manageable based on the course and then check where we were at the halfway point. No point in going out too fast, right? The first few miles flew by since we had to constantly pay attention to what felt like hundreds of turns and changes in direction. The course was well marked, but we still saw plenty of people go off course and need to be pulled back in. There were definitely some confusing sections!
After going through downtown, we got on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which is our lovely local multi-use path here in Greenville. It’s almost 19 miles long and is lined with trees and has some cute cafes and stores along the way. This time of year, the fall foliage was absolutely beautiful and we really enjoyed the view. Of course, the only bad thing about running on a multi-use path is that you’re essentially just running in a straight line for a rather long time. We took a turn through Furman University around mile 11, which I had never seen before. There were some hills in this section as well, but I was feeling really strong and had been pumped up by seeing the race leaders heading back down the trail. If there is one thing that really puts me in a good mood, it’s cheering people on during the out and back sections of a course. I absolutely love it!!
Around Furman, my left glute, which had been kind of tight since the beginning of the race, started to really seize up and start sending pain down to my calf. I tried to change my stride to engage my glutes more and forget about it, since it was way too early in the race for that nonsense. Amanda was feeling a little worn out since she hadn’t trained for this race at all, with the exception of the one long run we did together about a month and a half before this. She definitely was feeling the hills! We did really appreciate the support from all the kids at Furman, though, as plenty were out cheering the runners on. It’s a beautiful campus! We crossed the halfway point while on campus and I checked my watch: we were at exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
At that point, I knew that my dream of a post-surgery PR was out the window, because it meant I would have to negative split the race by 6 minutes. Not happening. I have run even splits on a couple of occasions, but that would put me at 5 hours. Strangely, I wasn’t really upset – I knew that we had run at a pace that was smart and sustainable, and just because I wasn’t going to hit my goal didn’t mean I couldn’t still push myself for the last half of the race. We headed back onto the trail from Furman at mile 14 and I got to resume cheering for all the runners heading back to town, but now there were a lot more of them! I was in such a great mood, because we only had two miles until the turn around point in Traveler’s Rest, where AJ would be waiting for us! I was having so much fun cheering and high fiving people. Amanda seemed to be having a lot less fun than me, but she was hanging in there. Before I knew it, I saw AJ straight ahead!
He was pretty amazed by my great mood but was excited to see my in such good spirits. As I’ve said before, AJ is not much for actually cheering during races. He stands there while holding coffee and waits to see me run by, but that’s sort of his personality anyway. He hasn’t been to a race of mine in a long time, so it was pretty exciting.
We reached the turn around and headed back towards town, and as we did, I noticed Amanda didn’t have one of the yellow wrist bands they had handed me. There were no timing mats at the turn around, which seemed weird, but they were apparently supposed to be handing out these wrist bands. We weren’t sure if she needed one or not, but thankfully one of the volunteers stopped her on the way out and gave her one and explained that we would need them at the finish. Totally fine, but there probably should have been some type of mention of that at some point during the pre-race instructions…just saying.
Now we were headed back to town and had basically 10 miles to run back down the trail. I wasn’t really looking forward to that part, but we did get to cheer people on who were still heading out for a while. I was feeling pretty great and encouraged, and I was pumped to keep running. Amanda was not. She said she thought the race would be more enjoyable for her if she could walk a bit more, and that she didn’t want her lack of training to hold me back. It was a hard decision for me, because we always finish together, but I had promised myself that I would push myself during this race and see what I could do. Still, the thought of running the last 8 miles of myself kind of scared me. Then I thought “No, BE BRAVE. You can do this. BE THANKFUL that you had someone to run 18 miles with and now get after it.”
As I left Amanda at 18, I thought to myself, “Ok, let’s see what you’ve got.” I picked up the pace a little bit but mostly just wanted to keep a steady running pace. I have a bad habit of finding myself in pain (especially back pain) at the end of a race and walking a LOT, as you know. I really didn’t want to do that this time.
As I passed mile 19, I started having really sharp pain in my lower back. “NONONONONONO” I thought. “NO!!!” I really needed to bend over and let my spine decompress, but whenever I tried to do that, I got really dizzy and disoriented, so I kept running. I took it one mile at a time and just tried to get to the next mile marker or water stop. I also really, really had had to pee since about mile 10 of the race, but there were no bathrooms anywhere along the course. There was also Gatorade at only 3 of the stops, and one of the aid stations ran out of cups at mile 17. I was pretty surprised by that because this even is put on by one of the local track clubs, and you’d think it would have been more runner oriented. Fortunately, I had carried my water bottle and some extra Chomps with me, so I was ok, but had it been a warm day, it would have been tough.
Anyway, I kept pushing and running turned to shuffling. The miles dragged by so slowly, and with no one to cheer for or talk to, I was losing my enthusiasm. I was determined to think positive thoughts and tried to just think “Be brave. Be thankful,” over and over again and remind myself that this is what I had trained for, and how amazing it is that I am still running after 48 marathons.
I’m not going to lie, though. As the pain got worse and worse, I got angry with myself. Why am I torturing my body like this? I only get one body, and my back had shown me signs over the past few weeks that it wasn’t entirely thrilled with what I had going on. I have had some pain and stiffness after my last few runs since my long run, but I ignored it. Now, at mile 22 of the marathon, I just felt so bad. Bad physically, yes, but also, mentally. Why is it so hard for me to let go of something that my body clearly doesn’t appreciate?
Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Keep pushing. Walk as little as possible. Stretch quickly, keep going, PUSH YOURSELF. I pushed. I really did. Around mile 24, a woman caught up with me (I had still somehow mostly been passing people at this point, because most other people were walking), and she said “Come on! We can catch those walkers!” I laughed and said I wasn’t so sure I could, but that I would try. She was running her 10th state that day and was about to join the 50 States Marathon Club, so we chatted about that for a little while until we came to the aid station at mile 25 and she left me in her dust. I was inspired by her positive energy, though, and she seemed so strong and happy. I remembered when I used to feel like that at mile 25, too.
As we wove the final mile through town, I was just praying for the finish. I heard a cheer from the sidewalk and one of my clients at Barre3 said “Keep going, you’re almost there!” HEY, that’s my Barre teacher!!! Go Danielle! Only 20 more to go…19…18…YOU’VE GOT THIS!” and that made me laugh, because that’s how I countdown in class and I guess I deserved that one. Definitely brightened my spirits. There were far too many turns before we got to the finish line, but the finish was pretty cool – we ran a lap around our minor league baseball team’s field before finishing at home plate! As we turned towards the stadium, I really gave it everything I had and charged the last quarter mile to the finish, passing a lot of people in the process. Might as well, right? AJ was there in the stands, waiting for me.
I crossed the finish line and immediately just wanted to bend over and then lay down, but I had no idea where Amanda was or how long she would be. I trudged up into the stands and then laid down on the concrete floor between the seats and froze to death (due to lack of gear check because I’m an idiot) while AJ stared down at me and confirmed again that he will never, ever run a marathon. We waited for Amanda and about 15 minutes later, she ran into the stadium and crossed the finish!
I finished the race in 5:16, far past my time goal. I did, however, meet my other goal – to push myself and not to quit. I did push myself as hard as I could and never gave up. I didn’t walk it in. I kept going even when it hurt and I didn’t want to. Where the results what I hoped for? Definitely not. But I can’t say I didn’t try, and I don’t have to wonder what would have happened if I had just pushed myself a little harder, because I truly could not have. There is something satisfying in that, even if I ended up in a lot of pain as a result.
At the end of the day, I finished marathon #49 and am proud of the effort I put in. I was brave. I am thankful.