4:50 a.m. Waking up early is not my strong suit, but I felt ready for my marathon. I had a simple breakfast consisting of oatmeal. I was a little nervous that I had overeaten a little bit. Nothing had me more nervous than the hour before the race. They announced at the starting line that more runners were there than they have had in the past 12 years. In my head, that only meant more competition on the field.
Once I warmed up and claimed my spot. I got more nervous when I realized how close I was to the front. I didn’t know what to expect when the gun went off. When I heard the gunshot, everyone went out so fast! I tried to be mindful and slow down, but I made the rookie mistake of going out too fast. The first couple of miles were interesting because I met two people running the half-marathon without shoes. I always heard about people barefoot running, but we were about to go onto coarse gravel. I was interested to see how they would do and was surprised to see that they still went on without any trouble. I have never seen anyone do that in person, so I thought that was cool to see! When it came time for the marathoners and half marathoners to split routes, I made more friends as I continued through the race (some being three, four and even five times my age!)
We were all excited and having fun, jamming to all ’80s and ’90s rock songs I was playing from my running playlist. With my favorite music playing and the good energy of everyone around me, I didn’t see how anything could slow me down from getting to my goal of a sub-3-hour marathon. Little did I know that I would not be meeting this goal. I expected to hit “the wall” at mile 20 or 21. Instead, I hit my wall at mile 18. At that point, it felt like this was my punishment for going out too fast. I had never experienced any sort of thigh or hip cramps like I did running this marathon. It hurt so much even to stand up straight, but I pushed on until I could get to the aid station at mile 21. Maybe it was the exhaustion, but this was hands-down the best aid station of my life! They had pickles, pickle juice, oranges, water (and watered-down Gatorade, which tasted gross).
When I ate my pickle and drank the pickle juice, it was like I instantly perked up for the next 200 meters. After that, I felt like I went through a massive withdrawal of energy. I started to slouch, and I stopped multiple times because I began cramping up so easily. My legs felt like they were asleep but without the pins and needles. After a while, the pain became a friend of mine, and I became numb to it. That feeling of pain and exhaustion was what I thought would be the most unique experience from the race until I got to the last mile. Seeing the finish line had me crying in pain and joy. An indescribable wave of relief came over me, knowing that I could finally stop after 3 hours and 43 minutes of running.
Sadly, I didn’t hit my sub-3-hour goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But that’s OK! Being in one of the toughest age groups to compete in, I know that I did better than many other people my age who would have tried. I’m just so thankful I got to complete a life goal of mine. (I’m also a little happy that I get bragging rights for being the only student in my school to have done a full marathon.) Although this race threw me some curveballs and pushed me to my physical and mental limit, I can’t wait to do another one! If you are about to run your first marathon, I would say have fun, keep going and Run Happy.
Cole ran in the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, North Carolina, on March 20.