On Sunday, December 14th, my older sister Brittany and I ran 26.2 in Honolulu. That means that this recap is approximately 45+ days “late”. It was Brittany’s first marathon and we had the crazy cool opportunity to be a part of 26 strong women all going for 26.2 in 2014 with Saucony.
After a long, luxurious week in the sunshine (we soaked up all of the vitamin D we could), we grumpily boarded a plane bound for home. And while I grabbed my iPad to load a movie and try to entertain myself for the 8-hour flight, Brittany sat for a few hours typing away on her race recap. I kept peeking over at her to see if she was even close to finishing; she had so much to say (because, duh, she should. She ran a marathon)! I was so curious about what moments stood out, the things that made her laugh, and how she interepreted her first marathon. All of our racing experiences can be so different — and how we interpret them is so personal, especially when it’s a distance you’ve never run before. When she felt like she was done with her first draft, she nudged me, passed over her iPad and asked me if I wanted to read it.
This is what she had to say, just 6 days after racing her first marathon. I’ve filled in some details (in italics) that stand out to me; moments that make me proud and happy …and giggle with laughter at the moments that I hope we’ll both remember for a long time to come. You did it, Brittany!
“The alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. With the time difference, it felt like 8:00 a.m. to us, which worked out well. I had laid out all of my gear the evening before so that I was sure not to forget anything. I ate some oatmeal, drank water with nuun, and packed a banana to eat closer to race time.
Either Brittany really was calm and collected or she really concealed her nerves well. I think I was more flustered that morning than her!
Despite a recent minor calf issue, I opted to forego the single calf sleeve I was given by my PT and went with full compression socks instead. I figured since I have tight calves to begin with, they might both need a little extra support. I put on my bullet shorts, sleeveless top, and Monumental Marathon running cap (that was my first half marathon, which I ran with my other sister, Lindsey), and laced up my Kinvara’s (my favorite shoe by far). I loaded up my side pockets with gu, put my iPod in my back pocket, and plugged in my recently-purchased yurbuds. I was glad I had bought them because my last pair was well beyond its useful life. Also, they seemed to stay put much better than my old pair. Couldn’t have any gear malfunctions on race day! Two puffs of the inhaler and some quick stretches and we were out the door.
Brittany’s recent minor calf issue came just 3 weeks before race day, at the end of peak week and just 7 miles into her 20-miler. Her PT was able to see her within a day of stopping her run short and experiencing some sharp pain. He diagnosed her with a minor calf sprain and we rolled with the punches. She received 3-4 Graston treatments and she (luckily) experienced absolutely no pain while cross-training on the bike and elliptical. I know how frustrating an injury so close to race day can be — but she handled it well and her calf was 100% ready to go the morning of the marathon. I remember telling her that the beginning of taper was probably the best time that a little niggle could happen.
Can you tell Britt is almost 6 feet tall? I didn’t get that gene!
The other 26Strong coaches and cadets met in the lobby of our hotel around 3:30 a.m. It was very apparent how nervous most people were. I was both excited and nervous, to be honest. I’d been working hard for almost 7 months and now race day had finally arrived. (“Can we get this show on the road already??”). We left the hotel around 3:45 a.m., just as a light rain started to come down. A few people we saw were smart and had brought trash bags to keep dry but it was a warm rain and not very hard so I didn’t mind it much. As far as race conditions go, I would gladly take cloudy and raining over 74 and sunny*. It was about a 1.5 mile walk to the start so it served as a good warm-up. We were grateful not to have to take a shuttle there because it would’ve just complicated things.
Spoiler alert!: I think it was to our advantage that Brittany and I both love running in the rain.
When we got near the start, I really had to pee (hello hydration!). The lines for the port-o-potties were super long, as usual, so we kept walking while we looked for another option. Not finding one, we got in what appeared to be a shorter line and waited our turn. Until that morning, I didn’t have a full appreciation for how many Japanese people were in Honolulu for the race. Jenny and I were easily the only blondes in the crowd :) After about 20 minutes, it became obvious the lines were NOT moving. Maybe it was the added complexity of getting the trash bag off before they could pee but everyone was taking their sweet time! Thankfully Jenny spotted some public restrooms that seemed to be a well-kept secret so we jogged over to them. No line. Phew! We were in and out in minutes.
*I can’t overstate how ridiculous these bathroom lines were — After a bank of 7-8 lines didn’t move an inch during our 10 min wait, I ran across the field to stand in another line. Brittany could see me (barely) from across the field and I told her I’d jump up and down like a crazy person if my line moved faster. Neither of us moved. (The runners in those lines must have started 30+ min after the official start of the race, I swear.) I saw people running in and out of this group of trees so I decided to run over there to see if there were ‘secret bathrooms’. Success! After another run across the field to grab Britt and back to the bathroom and THEN to the start line, we finally made it. Phew.
The start wasn’t organized into corrals of any kind. Instead, there were signs posted, each with a target finish time. It was essentially a “seed yourself” scenario. It was really crowded but we managed to get near the 4:00 sign and only waited a few minutes before the official start of the race (complete with fireworks, believe it or not). Just before the start, the Darude song “Sandstorm” started playing on my iPod and that’s when I finally felt ready to race. Music was one thing that really helped me get through my training so hearing a song I love to run to really fired me up!
I’ve never seen fireworks at the start of a race — that was exhilarating! I’ve also never been at a start line and wondered, “when are they gonna say something in English? I wonder if there’s important information they’re sharing.” Because over half of the participants are Japanese, at least 75% of the annoucements were in Japanese. The only thing I heard in English before we started was “You’re going to runnnnnnnnnn!”. :)
The first couple of miles we had to weave in and out between people while trying to keep as steady a pace as we could. It was frustrating to be wasting energy going side to side in the crowd rather than just forward, but there’s no helping that when you’re in one of the largest races in the US. It took patience, but going out too fast would’ve been disastrous anyway.
*The amount of weaving that we had to do was pretty frustrating, but we kept tabs on one another and worked our way through the crowd. It would have been much easier if it hadn’t been pitch black outside.
The crowd opened up a bit around mile 4. I remember seeing some goofy-looking Christmas lights downtown Honolulu (that’s just weird to me). The streets were wet from the rain and we were still 2 hours from sunrise so I tried to really pay attention to my footing. Hawaii also has rows of raised plastic reflectors separating traffic lanes, which were annoying to dodge. One wrong step and someone would roll an ankle. I’ll pass, thank you very much.
We had agreed to look for Lindsey and Manny around mile 5 since that was the closest point to our hotel. Those two are quite the professional race spectators by now (especially since they’ve done quite a few themselves). We spotted them and we were all smiles. I ran towards them and yelled “sweaty hugs!” before they even knew what was happening (mwahahaha). Eh…they were already wet from the rain, right? ;) It’s always a boost to see friends and family along the course.
Next, we began the climb up Diamond Head. I knew there would be some uphill portions of the course, but I didn’t have a full understanding of how steep it was going to be. “Small, quick steps,” Jenny said to me. I didn’t have too much trouble and to my surprise, even my calves behaved themselves.
The wind and rain really started to make things difficult around mile 8. It was so windy I felt like we were practically standing still. I couldn’t get a full breath. It was at this point I was extremely glad I’d worn a hat. I put my head down in an attempt to block the wind. My Indiana training definitely didn’t include wind and I think it affected me both mentally and physically. I thought to myself “if this keeps up, there’s no way I’ll finish!”
I’m not sure I was even ready for the wind, even after training in Chicago. Wind is one thing, but wind and rain is another. We dealt with the rain and wind for the majority of the race, with the most annoying section between mile 8 and 14-15.
At about the halfway point, Jenny suggested we use a race/walk strategy, as it was obvious we wouldn’t finish in 3:xx. We would run for 4 minutes and walk for 1. “Yes please.” She had me follow right behind her and just focus on her feet and matching her stride. It sounds odd but it worked. It took my mind off of everything else that was going on and I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We used that strategy the rest of the race.
I knew we were working too hard to maintain goal pace in tough conditions; I wanted to make sure Brittany was able to run those long legs across the finish line and ENJOY her first 26.2 as much as possible. She said to me, “Jenny, I’m running across that finish line no matter what.” I kept my eye on my watch so she could focus on maintaing a rhythm and watching my heels. It’s funny to think about how I was completely convinced that I was blocking even a small amount of wind for her — I’m 5’6″ and she’s 5’11”. I still like to think that I helped a wee bit — even if it was only a mental boost.
I don’t remember much of miles 15-22. I know I was struggling, needed to stretch a few times, and was cussing up a storm. (Sorry to anyone I may have offended. lol). I hardly checked my Garmin at all, thinking it would just discourage me to see my pace. I vaguely recall there being a rainbow everyone was snapping pictures of. All I could do was focus on the task at hand. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.
This is where the race really got interesting. We maintained our run-walk strategy and I knew Brittany was feeling comfortable doing that. But when I heard her say “oh f***, oh f***”, I knew we were in for a treat. I couldn’t help but laugh — I totally knew what she was going through. She was swearing not because she thought she couldn’t do it; she was swearing because it was a totally new sensation. She likely heard people say “you won’t know what running a marathon feels like until you run one” a million times leading up to her race — and now she was really experiencing that dead-legged exhaustion that sets in. As her pacer and sister and coach and friend, I took every opportunity to try to make her laugh, to remind her to look at the views (which improved toward the end, thanks to the rain stopping), and to dance to whatever song was on her iPod. I knew she was staring at my heels to keep her legs going, so I waved and made silly motions to her as she followed. We joke now that she spent 26.2 miles staring at my butt.
Once we reached Mile 18, Brittany said “hey, longest distance I’ve ever run in my life!”. Her longest run was 18 miles (due to her calf sprain, she wasn’t able to complete her 20-miler), so every mile marker after 18 was a milestone. We maintained our run-walk strategy really well, I think! We stopped a few times to stretch our quads and calves and get our Gu down.
The people from Saucony and Competitor (Sean, Brandon, and Erin!) who helped organize the 26Strong program were spectating and taking pictures at mile 25. Luckily this was a downhill part of the course or they may have gotten to see just how slooooooow Brittany can move. We attempted to smile for the camera and I’m 100% sure Jenny was more successful than I was.
When Brittany says that she was running slow, she really means that she was at mile 25 of a freaking marathon and she was tired. Because, duh, running a marathon is hard. :) I 100% remember her having a spurt of energy here – seeing people you know on a race course always gives me an adrenaline rush and we knew all we had to do was continue running down the hill and straight through the park to the finish line.
Shortly thereafter (near mile 25) some people were handing out ‘shots’ of beer. I hadn’t spotted them yet when Jenny asked “do you want a beer?” I responded “heck yeah!” before I realized she meant now and not at the finish. Haha! No beer for me….I have a race to finish… Back to business…
I, for one, was completely serious about taking the beer offer. Next time, Brittany, next time. ;)
On the final stretch, we again spotted Lindsey and Manny. This time they were joined by Jenny’s friend, Chanthana (a fellow marathoner). I remember hearing them cheer but don’t recall exactly what they said. I was soooo exhausted and just wanted to cross that finish line! I know I was able to keep picking up my legs but just barely off the ground. I do remember Jenny saying “You’re doing it! You’re running a marathon!” which made me smile (more so on the inside than visibly showing it).
VIDEO: That moment when you are just meters away from finishing your first marathon. *Also, I’d like to give a shoutout to Chanthana’s incredible lungs and vocal chords.
When I think about running Honolulu with Brittany, I think about this moment. Lindsey, Manny, and Chanthana ask Britt “who’s a marathoner?!!! … You’re a marathoner!”
Jenny and I held hands as we crossed the finish line, which made me feel so incredibly proud. We were congratulated and each given a seashell necklace. How appropriate! As I bent over and held my knees, a woman asked if I was okay (thinking to myself: “Does it look like it?”) But I did feel “okay” relatively speaking. We kept walking through the finish chute looking for water but no such luck. This was a huge race organization fail in my opinion. I know they wanted to keep the line moving but making you walk another half mile for water wasn’t cool.
Lindsey, Manny, and Chanthana soon found us and were all smiles and high-fives. “You’re a marathoner! You’re a marathoner!” they kept saying. :D. After getting our race medals and t-shirts, we found a place to sit (woo!) and take off our shoes, get some water, check our phones, and all that stuff. One unique thing about the Honolulu Marathon finish is that they have malasadas*, which are the Hawaiian equivalent of donuts covered in generous amounts of sugar (“Sign me up! I’ll take a dozen”). It may not have been the smartest move to eat that right after racing but at that point, I didn’t really care :)
*Malasadas = pillowy sugary doughnut slice of heaven. All other races need to take note!
Looking back on the whole experience, it definitely was the chance of a lifetime and I can’t believe I even had to think twice before I said yes. Many people run marathons (about half a million Americans actually) but not many get to go about it quite the way we did. Lots of new shoes and gear, a magazine cover, the support of 24 other women, free race entry and travel expenses, and most important to me – having my incredible sister as my coach. Jenny and I often joked that we were dreaming. This just doesn’t happen. But it did happen. And it’s something I’ll always cherish.
When asked if I will ever run another marathon, I’m not sure. It was a bucket list item of mine and now it’s complete. Training for 26.2 is a huge time commitment, not to mention the mental and physical discipline it requires. For now, I only know one thing for sure. I won’t ever have another FIRST marathon. So I’m going to bask in my achievement a little while longer. Mahalo Honolulu.