Submitted by: Ron Fleming
I really had no idea what to expect going into my first marathon. I didn't have anything to compare a marathon to. My longest two training runs were both 18 miles...One was supposed to be 20, but at 18, I crashed and burned. My mind raced for the entire work week leading up to the race. I don't think one minute went by that the marathon did not cross my mind. It was exciting but nerve racking at the same time. I was REALLY looking forward to this trip.
On the drive to Cincinnati and on Saturday when my mind was racing and going in every direction, I kept envisioning myself at 18 miles during the race. I guess I picked 18 miles because that is what I knew so far. Looking forward to the race, I really wanted to compare how I felt at 18 compared to my training runs (really hoping the taper and rest pays off here). One minute I would have some confidence and see myself stroking right along and feeling good (don't ask me why I thought I would be feeling good at 18), and the next minute I would see myself in the same physical and mental state I was in during my 18 mile training runs. That was a bad vision.
The night before the race Eric and Frank kept asking me what my strategy was. I didn't have a strategy...Again, my first marathon, I didn't know what to expect and maybe this was one of the details I was overlooking. This was honestly the first time that I started seriously questioning how I was about to approach things (I didn't tell them that ...I just kept feeding them different answers to keep them happy).
Another almost sleepless night (nerves, I guess) on the road and 5am rolled around. We woke up to a light rain which was expected and the temps were warmer than we expected, which was good. Six of us walked from the hotel to the starting line right by the Bengals stadium and just hung out waiting for the gun to go off. I was way past ready at this point...I didn't need any further delay because I just wanted to get the show on the road (again, nerves). The gun goes off at 6:30am and I think it was about 5-6 minutes after that when I finally made it across the starting line. Rain a non-factor at this point.
Ok...now we are getting somewhere. Cautiously and slowly, but at least we're moving. This is when I started developing my strategy...Start very slow and then from there, just do what feels good. We run a block or two through downtown and then cross the Ohio River into Kentucky. I think my first mile was a little over 11:00. At this point I'm still feeling the rush of the start and the crowd and just soaking up the excitement and trying to ease the nerves. Around mile 4 or 5 mile, I finally turned on the music and tried to start settling in. We came right through the heart of downtown and there were people lining the streets. It was truly an awesome site and really took my mind off what was in front of me.
After making our way through downtown, the course started to climb. This was another moment when my strategy-on-the-fly took shape and I decided I best take the advice of some others and walk up these hills. I pretty much walked up every big hill when the climb started. I really didn't want to walk but it made sense. Michael and Frank both advised to work in some walking and I know for sure that it paid off. When the course started climbing we were entering some more scenic neighborhood-type areas away from downtown. I remember looking behind me one time to catch a view of the river and then quickly reminding myself that I didn't have time to soak up views and I needed to focus. I seriously had tunnel vision the entire race and remember very few details about the course.
Somewhere around mile 10-11 when I "thought" the hills were over, I was feeling really really good, except for some pain on the inside and tops of my feet which I now believe was from laces too tight. It had me worried, but I manage to run through it. It was dumb because I should have stopped and retied my laces, but I seriously was not interested in breaking my current stride. I was taking advantage of the downhill areas and swiftly moving down them. I was a little nervous of how this might play out later, but it felt good, so I went with it. Around mile 14 or 15 I saw a pace runner ahead of me and finally caught her and it was the 4:20 group. I worked my way past that group and at that point told myself this is where you will finish. I wanted to do my best to stay in front of them.
I kept hearing about this "wall" that marathoners hit around mile 20 and decided since it was inevitable, I was going to hit it hard and at least try to put a dent in it. Think the Kool-Aid guy busting through the brick wall here..."Oh Yeeeeah!"...yes, this actually crossed my mind during the race. I learned on the ride up that it was completely natural to think of the stupidest things when you reach a certain point in a marathon. So....I was feeling too good to slow down. Miles 10-18 were probably as good as I have ever felt running. Certainly the excitement and crowd support were contributing, and also knowing I had friends and family receiving email and text alerts at the timing checkpoints was a huge boost. At this point we were running through smaller little village areas and neighborhoods and people were out of their houses on the streets cheering us on, some drinking coffee, some drinking beer.
At mile 18 I felt nowhere near as bad as I did during my two 18 mile training runs, so that was a real lift in confidence. However, it wasn't too long before reality started setting in. I think it was around mile 20 when I was there...at "the wall". At this point, I started taking short walk breaks with each aid station to get down my fluids. I think it was around this point where I had my only conversation during the entire race and that was just some encouraging words to a young lady that was struggling that had a 4:20 goal written on the back of her shirt, yet she was managing to stay in front that group. I didn't get a response from her, so I wouldn't even call it a conversation.
Other than a few spurts of energy here and there, I was just in survival mode. At mile 23 I was asking myself "what are you doing here?", "why are you doing this to yourself?", asking all sorts of questions to myself and getting extremely frustrated. I kept bringing myself back by reminding myself that everyone else around me was going through the exact same thing and we were all going to get through it. The pain wasn't unexpected. The degree of pain was. This part of the course was not very scenic, but the crowd was still showing enthusiasm...The miles were getting LONG.
Finally getting to the last mile, it was one foot in front of the other as it had been for the last few miles. I tried to amp it up a notch, but it wasn't happening. Crossing the finish line was more emotional than I had expected. I'm sure it was a combination of the achievement and the relief of having those last few miles behind me, but I really think having the weight of those last few miles off of me was what stirred the emotion. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't holding back tears. My first marathon was finally over and I was very pleased with the results as I had not idea what to expect going into it.
Overall it was an absolute wonderful weekend. Things just went so smooth, I thought. We had a fun road trip, great food and accommodations and great fellow RMEC companionship. The race theme was well-played up and the city and people seemed to be very welcoming. I honestly think the only complaint I have about the race (or entire weekend) was how foul the water was at the aid stations. And the Gatorade they mixed with that water was just as bad.
The day of the race, I didn't even want to think about running again. After writing this and remembering all the excitement, I'm really looking forward to next time. Physically, it wouldn't be possible right now. I've got some serious soreness to get over.
Oh yeah - After the long miserable uphill walk back to the hotel, we credited ourselves with doing an "ultra".