Settle in…this is going to be a long one. After all, I’ve never run this distance before so its only appropriate that you get a blow by blow of my experience on my first full marathon. Let’s start with the expo shall we?
Friday, November 3:
We arrived in Savannah around 4pm and went immediately to the expo to pick up my race bib and packet. While I was standing in line, I noticed they were still selling race registrations for the weekend, and thought it amusing that they were charging $40 for the one mile race. $40 to run one mile? Ha! Anyway, after I grabbed my bib (I had been assigned to corral 11 of 15) I went to look at all the booths and vendors. I took a picture by the entry way sign and posted it to Facebook with the caption, “GUYS, IT’S HAPPENING! OMG IT’S HAPPENING!” It really hit me in that moment that I would be running a marathon the next day!
After walking around and checking out the vendors, I purchased a FlipBelt that had the zipper pocket that fit my iPhone 6 plus with the case on it…that has been an issue since I started running. I also picked up some small nutrition items and some Clif Bars to have the morning of the race. I knew there was no way I was starting 26 miles without having something in my stomach. I met up with some friends who were running the half at the expo and chatted with them for a few minutes before heading over to get my ID checked so I could enter the beer tent at the race finish. After that, we left to go check into the hotel.
I was staying at the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency in the historic district. Not only was this cool because it was literally steps away from the start line, but they had excellent amenities for runners! Upon check in, I received a bag with apples and bananas, a granola bar and two bottles of water. I thought it was pretty cool that they provided these complimentary to the racers.
We ended up going to eat pretty late (almost 8 pm). The first place we tried (Traylor Park) had over an hour wait so we decided to walk down the street a bit to see if we could find somewhere else that was faster. At B Matthew’s Eatery, we were sat right away, which we thought was awesome, but then it ended up taking an hour + for our food to come out. That was a bit annoying, but the food was really good. I went with a classic meal of spaghetti and vegetables in a light sauce so I wouldn’t upset my stomach prior to the race. Once we finished eating, we went back to the hotel and turned in for the night. I think I fell asleep around 10pm after laying out all my race stuff so I knew where it all was in the morning. People warned me that I might not sleep prior to race day, but I actually slept pretty well until about 2:40 in the morning, when people outside our hotel room were being pretty loud and obnoxious. I lay in bed, hoping they would shut up or I would fall back asleep. I didn’t want to get into a confrontation right before doing my race. Eventually I ended up falling back asleep and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at 5:30. That was another plus about being so close to the start line…we literally could roll out of bed and be down at the start line in minutes so no insanely early wake up time for me.
Saturday, November 4:
Race morning dawned bright and early. The nerves kicked in a bit as I was getting ready and eating my banana and Clif Bar. After I got ready I went downstairs to have a few sips of coffee (but not too much because I didn’t want to get the pre race poops!) and finally went outside to meet up with my friends. They were across the street at the city hall building, so I had to walk all the way down to corral 15 from the start line to cross the street. After making a bathroom pit stop and chilling with them on the steps for a bit, we walked all the way back around because they weren’t letting people enter the corrals on the side we were on. My two frents Hollie (who was running the full with me) and Edelma (who was running the half) were in corral 9, so I jumped in that corral with them. The people who were checking bibs obviously didn’t care because people were jumping in different corrals the entire way down the line. The pacers for the pace I hoped to maintain were also in corral 9 though, and I wanted to stick with them so I lined up with my frents and prepared to run.
At the expo, they had made the call to begin the race at 7:20 instead of 7:30 due to the intense heat wave that came through the day before. Honestly, many people complained about this, because what did backing the start time up ten minutes really do? I feel they should have started the marathoners at 6:30 or 6:45 and let the half marathoners go fifteen to twenty minutes later. This would have given us more time without the sun and less intense heat. But of everything that occurred that day, that remains my only complaint for the race, so I think they put on a pretty good event.Check out my experience @RunRocknRoll Savannah Marathon this past weekend! My first marathon… Click To Tweet
We started several minutes after the first corral…they were pretty good about keeping everyone moving while they let the corrals off in waves. For the first four miles, we went through the “ghetto” part of town, where the houses were pretty run down and had bars on the windows. There were a lot of people outside their houses watching us in this part though and cheering us on which was pretty cool. Some were playing music, others just cheering and enjoying the day on their porches. I was keeping up with the 5 hour pacer and keeping what felt to me like a pretty conservative pace, averaging 11:01/mile. Most of my training runs had been in the low 11’s so I knew it was a pace I could sustain for a while…in good weather.
Miles 5-8 were in the squares and historic district, which was a very pretty part of course. We ran around Johnson square and through some of the tree lined streets with beautiful houses on them. It was a great part of course, shaded and cool. They had several bands (one about every two miles) for entertainment which was great because it took our minds off of the running. They were playing some good classic rock songs from the 60s-80s too, so the music was good. I was still within sight of the 5 hour pacer, who was a pretty fun guy, making jokes and yelling, “Where’s my 5 hour crew!?” with an average pace of 11:07/mile.
We began our way out to where the marathon and half marathon course split off at mile 12. This was the last of the tree lined, shaded streets before we hit the stretch of highway in the direct sun. It was still cool and breezy in the shade but we could tell the temperature rising. I was still making really good time- I hit the 10 mile mark around 1:53, so I knew I was on track for my goal pace. For those next four miles, we averaged 11:17/mile.
Right before mile 12, we hit the split of the course, where the half marathoners continued to the right to the finish and marathoners headed left. There were signs telling people if they were experiencing signs of heat illness to head towards the finish and “rock the half” instead of continuing on the full course. Hollie and I made the turn to head out onto the full course and I made the comment, “This is it! No turning back now!” Miles 13 and 14 were in direct sunlight and were a bit tougher due to the fact that there was no shade on the highway. I was still maintaining a good pace, and actually passed the 5 hour pacer at a water stop and stayed ahead of him for a while. Mile 15 and 16 were in a more shaded portion of the area when we turned off the highway to head towards the college, Savannah State University, and the turnaround at mile 17. Around mile 14, one of the marathoners who was already headed back towards the finish gave us some words of encouragement, “The turn around is only another 3 miles away! You’ve got this!” Average pace for these miles: 12:27/mile, due to a side stitch that came up around mile 16, which slowed me down some. I always get side stitches in intense heat.
Miles 17 and 18 were in the entryway and college campus. Honestly, it seemed like the turnaround would never come- mile 17 seemed like it was 10 miles away instead of one after that side stitch. The heat was really starting to get to me, but I was desperately trying to keep my pace under 12 minutes per mile because I really wanted to have a good time. There were plenty of kids out on the college course who were cheering us on; at one of the aid stations just past mile 17 I took some ice and shoved it down my bra to try and cool myself down. It helped for about three quarters of a mile. Mile 19 was pretty challenging because it was once again in direct sunlight, but mile 20 took us back into a shaded area of the course, so I stopped to stretch a bit because my legs were cramping up. I felt like even though I was drinking water and gatorade at almost every aid station, I still couldn’t really stay hydrated. The 5 hr pacer passed us at mile 19 and I knew my A goal was out the window- there was no way I was going to catch back up to him. My average pace for these four miles dropped down to 12:57/mile. I also couldn’t get rid of the stupid side stitch I’d been having since mile 16.
After mile 20, I knew it was only a 10k to go. I hit the 20 mile mark shortly before the 4 hour time mark on course, so I knew I could still come in under 5:30, my B goal for this race. We entered a suburban area where there were shaded, tree lined streets. There were lots of spectators and a water stop here so I took some more ice and had Hollie put some down the back side of my bra. A woman was standing outside her house handing out soaked icy towels around mile 22; I told her she was a godsend and took one. I ran with that around my neck until mile 23 which helped keep my temperature down. Right after mile 23 we were back on that highway stretch which killed my pace yet again. I fade so quickly in direct sunlight and heat, and this was brutal. All of mile 24 was in the sun and on the highway, so there was no relief. I stopped at every aid station and doused myself in cold water; I even had a volunteer pour a large pitcher of icy water over my head at the aid station at mile 23 which felt amazing. Unfortunately, when the heat climbs into the 80s, that cool feeling doesn’t last very long. My average pace these miles was 14:03/mile. I was honestly so disappointed in myself; I hadn’t run this slow of a pace since my very first 5k back in 2014. It made me ready to cry. I had to keep telling myself to hold it together until the finish; since I was already having issues with side stitches and breathing, I knew if I started crying that I would have even more trouble catching my breath, so I forced myself to keep it together. But at that point, I was freaking miserable. Had Hollie not been there I’m pretty sure I would have just walked the rest of the way.
Here it was; the final countdown. We were coming up on mile 25 after we made the turn to head to the finish just past mile 24. The course was trending a bit long; almost everyone’s GPS was beeping for their mile alerts prior to reaching the actual mile sign. Around 25.5 miles, a guy was sitting out on his porch with a stereo playing “The Final Countdown” song. It gave me a boost of energy so I tried to pick up my pace a bit. Shortly after that we saw Edelma waiting for us and cheering us on. She ran next to us in her flip flops. That’s how much our frents love us haha. I was really hurting and kept saying how much pain I was in and how much I wanted to be done. Edelma kept telling me the finish line was just around the corner. It had already passed the 5 hour mark, but I knew I’d come in under 5:30 so I kept pushing until we rounded the corner and were in the finish chute. I kept up my walk breaks until we were about a tenth of a mile away from the finish and then I just started to run. I kicked it in as hard as I could that final tenth of a mile and finished in 5:22:28.
As soon as I crossed the finish line, I saw my boyfriend standing by the railing and practically collapsed into his arms, hyperventilating and crying saying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” The photographer came up to me and got a picture because he said he wanted an emotional candid.
After I got through the finish area and collected my medal and water, we met up with the rest of the group who was waiting for us and got hugs and finisher photos. We also went to collect our finisher jackets. Everyone kept asking me how I felt post marathon…most of my responses varied from, “I’m never doing that again,” to “I hate running,” to “That was fucking miserable.” I got lots of laughs at these responses, when everyone kept telling me that it was common for people to say that and I’d change my mind soon. They were right; literally an hour or so later when we were all at lunch we were talking about “our next time” and how I thought I could have hit my A goal had it not been so hot. That part is true; all my training runs were the correct pace to hit that goal and I honestly believe had the heat not climbed so quickly I could have made it in 5 hours like I wanted to. Now I really can’t wait until NOLA so I can have a marathon PR attempt. See? Literally days after completing my first one and claiming to “hate” running, I’m already planning my second one.
The only thing I think I could have done differently in my training would have been to train later in the day when it was hot. I just didn’t think it would be that hot. Up to a week prior to the race, the high was supposed to be 71; by the week of the race, the high changed to 85. There’s nothing we can do to control the weather and I think I ran a good race despite being really hot and miserable in those final miles. I was at an overall sub 12 minute pace until mile 20 so I know I have the capability of doing better in good weather conditions. Overall though, I’m glad this was my first marathon. The course was great, minus the four highway miles, and it was a great first marathon experience. The entertainment was on point and there were several stages on the marathon course, even though multiple people told me there wouldn’t be. The only thing I walked away from the marathon with other than the medal and finisher’s jacket was some chafing under my arms (I forgot to put body glide in that spot) and my blister on my big toe opened up and got bigger. All in all, I think I did ok. 😉
*Full Disclosure: I cannot afford to purchase my pictures at the current moment, but intend to as soon as I can. However, I did not want to wait until I could purchase the pictures to post my blog post, so I used the copies.