All the pics TJ took were horrifyingly bad. :) At least to me. So I took some selfies that were Ashley-approved, and here we are!
I can't believe I really did it. I ran the Salt Lake Marathon for the second time in my life, and I lived to tell the tale!
I'm about to go into excruciating detail about my experience. If you get bored easily, move along! I just want to remember every step of this race because it meant so much to me to cross that finish line.
In the days leading up to the race, I wasn't too nervous. I was excited. I had put in a lot of training, and I was really confident in the miles I had covered. Most of my training runs, because they occurred in the winter, involved snow, ice, hail, rain, and bitterly cold temperatures. I was excited to actually run in relatively warm weather! I began my carbo-loading three days before the race, mostly just making sure I ate 80-90% carbs. Not a hard task for me! Bread, pop tarts, and pasta? Sign me up! A couple of cute friends and neighbors put cookies on my doorstep and decorated my porch with chalk wishing me good luck before the race. So sweet. I got all choked up! I'd done quite a few training runs with these ladies, and they cheered me on all throughout my running schedule. I'm so lucky to live in such a great neighborhood. TJ and I pinch ourselves daily - is this real life??
Anyway, the morning of the race came and I was ready. It was TJ's birthday (sorry, Teeje, worst birthday ever!), so I left out a note and some of his favorite cereal and grabbed an Uber to head up to the starting line. I had to leave at about 5 AM, so I didn't want TJ to have to wake up the boys to take me. Uber is seriously awesome! I had a promo code for $22 off my first ride, so the trip only cost me like $7. Worth it.
It was FREEZING at the starting line. I was there quite early, since the race started at 7 AM, so I had to shiver and walk around until it was time to start. I didn't want to wear any more layers than I needed to, so I only had on a light jacket. It was worth it later on in the race when I got hot, but in the beginning, I wished so bad for a big winter coat. Brr!!
Before I knew it, the starting horn blared and we were all off. I was so ready to start running at that point! Get some blood moving to my freezing legs!
To prepare, I had packed five goos - one for every five miles - along with a $20 bill and a plastic baggie for my phone in case it started to rain. I had prepped my music playlist with all my faves. I was ready!
We headed up a big, steep hill initially before starting on some serious downhills. I had not trained for downhills very much, assuming they would be easy, and that was probably my biggest mistake in my training. Uphills are hard, sure, but downhills may be even harder in the long run. But I'll get to that.
I was having lots of fun from the get-go. I felt great, my pace was steady, and I pretty much just wanted to stay ahead of the 4:15 pace group. I knew at about mile three I was going a little too fast (8:30 min pace on average), but I was feeling great, so I just let my energy carry me.
We snaked through a bunch of pretty neighborhoods near the capitol building and then headed straight into downtown Salt Lake around mile seven. I discarded my cheap little light jacket (I hope someone who needed it picked it up!) and prepared myself for less than 20 miles more of running. The only hitch was my left quad - it was feeling pretty sore, and I wasn't that far in. Uh-oh. I knew it had to be from all those downhills. Your quads take a beating when you go downhill for so long, as I discovered too late, but there wasn't anything I could do about it now! I knew the pain would get worse, but I just pushed through. I guess I would just have to see what I was made of!
We continued on our way through some really pretty parts of Salt Lake. Sugarhouse Park is one of my favorite places in the world, and I knew I would get a boost just running through it around mile 10. I downed another goo pack (they're so gross, by the way, but they work!) and cruised through the pretty green lawns and beautiful, overarching trees. I should add that I had a Gatorade at every single aid station, and I'm glad I did. I needed the calories to get me through.
While I was in Sugarhouse Park, I pulled out my phone to try to take a pic to send TJ, but decided the effort was too much and I should stay focused on the task at hand. My $20 must have slipped out about then, and luckily a runner behind me grabbed it and gave it back! I tell you, runners are the best kind of people. :)
Both quads were hurting quite a lot at this point. We had split off from the half-marathoners a while back, and the crowd of runners had thinned out considerably. Every time I passed people who stood on the sidelines, I raised my arms and smiled, and they would cheer for me. It was an awesome feeling! Once, on a little bit of an uphill, I passed a house with a big, rooftop balcony filled with a bunch of twenty-somethings having brunch. I raised my arms in their direction and got the biggest cheers of my day. It was so fun. It's not often in life you get to be cheered on by a crowd! I decided to be a total ham and play it up. I must say, it really gave me a boost every time I heard a cheer or slapped a hand.
My quads just hurt more and more after a while. Around mile 15, I had to start visualizing and practicing my mental toughness. I wasn't fatigued - I felt great energy-wise - but my thighs hurt a LOT. All that pounding, I think. I just started to tell myself, "Well, my arms feel great! My shoulders feel great! My stomach feels great!" I had to focus on what didn't hurt. And I quickly learned to never stop at the aid stations, because stopping at all made it that much harder to start up running again. My average pace had shifted to a little over nine minutes, which I was happy with, but I was feeling the too-fast times and downhills in the beginning of the race.
At mile 18, I started talking to Jesus. "Hey, help me through this uphill, okay? Can you let there be a downhill soon? Why is my app telling me I'm at mile 19 already, but the course is telling me I'm only at mile 18?? I just had to keep digging deep. I could do this, I told myself! Just keep moving!
Miles 20-25 were a little bit of a blur. I was in quite a bit of pain. My quads were screaming at me. My legs felt like they were locking up. This nerve between my shoulder blades felt pinched and super tight. My head began to ache. I kind of wanted it all to be over! But my energy was still good, thanks to the goo packs, so I kept moving one foot in front of the other. I would tell myself that my legs were going numb, and that was a good thing because soon I wouldn't feel pain! It was a lie, of course, but in the moment it helped.
It was then that the 4:15 pacer group caught up with me. In my mind, I began to scream, Noooooo! I really liked being ahead of them! Come on, Ash, you can do this! My pace had slowed to over 10 minutes per mile at this point, and nothing I could mentally tell myself could step up my pace at all. I was going as fast as I could, and that was that. I tried my best to stay with the pacing group, but I knew I couldn't keep up. I just let it go and decided I was proud of myself no matter what time I got.
TJ called me at mile 25 to ask me where I was. He had gotten a babysitter to watch the boys so he could meet me at the finish line without distractions, and he wanted to make sure he didn't miss me. "I'm. At. Mile. Twenty. Five." I gasped. He said I was doing great and said he was waiting for me at the finish. It was coming up! I downed another goo pack and felt a fresh surge of adrenaline. After four hours of running my hardest, I was minutes away from crossing the finish line.
And then, there it was. I turned a corner, and I could see down the road the huge banner indicating the finish of this long, merciless run. Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" came up on my playlist as I turned that corner, and the first line of that song is, "When your legs don't work like they used to before..." Ha! True indeed! My legs were in agony. But I had a smile on my face as I saw TJ and ran as fast as I could toward the finish. And, luckily for me, the time still said 4:15! The pacing group must have been a few minutes ahead of their time. I had officially beaten my 2007 time by over an hour. Go me!
Once I stepped across that finish, TJ gave me a huge hug and told me he was so proud of me. I told him I had so much fun and I was so glad I did it. Then the adrenaline began to wear off, and the pain began to take its place. OUCHIE. I could barely walk. My quads felt like knives were stabbing into them with every step I took. My intestines felt like they had been blended by our Vitamix. TJ suggested we sit down, but that turned out to be a huge mistake. I almost couldn't stand up again! I had not anticipated this much pain. I walked like I was 90 years old, holding TJ's arm in a vice-like grip while we shuffled to the car. I thought I would have enough energy to grab lunch with TJ after the race, but nope. I felt super sick to my stomach. Nothing sounded better than a hot bath at home.
By the way, I have to say the finish line at the Salt Lake Marathon was quite lame. They had some Kodiak Cakes to hand out, which aren't all that exciting, and a bottled smoothie thing that tasted like socks. The San Francisco Marathon finish line had fresh Jamba Juices, free massages, buffets, goody bags, you name it. Come on, Salt Lake!!! Step up your finish line game!
Anyway, the days after the race were quite painful. Bending over to pick something up off the ground just didn't happen. If the boys dropped a toy or their food, too bad! It stayed there until TJ got home. Walking up the stairs was agony. Walking down the stairs was worse. It took about six full days before I started to feel somewhat normal again. Now, I'm back to running every day and I feel great.
I'm so glad I did this! It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. All the early mornings, the training runs, the day-in, day-out consistency I've had to have was completely worth it. When I crossed that finish line, I felt like I could do absolutely anything in life. Take that, marathon! I honestly can't wait until I get to do another. Even though it was painful, it was so much fun.
Running is such a blessing in my life. Those early mornings where it's just me, the lake, and my thoughts are some of the best mornings I've ever had. I feel so peaceful when I run, like all my stress is working itself out and pounding away into the ground. I come back feeling fresh, alive, and happy. My problems seem smaller somehow. I am so glad I've found something that helps me work through hard things, because without it, I'm not sure where I would be in life.
Next up, Boston! (Not really... I don't think I'll qualify for that race until I'm 70 years old.)