When I had signed up for the Miami Marathon, it was before I had even considered doing the TARC Fells Winter Ultra and before I had discovered my love for trail running. My first marathon, Baystate Marathon, would be in October so I would have plenty of time to recuperate before Miami in January, and it would be a nice mini-vacation away from Boston in the Winter. Somehow over last Spring and Summer, I went from training for my first marathon, to training for my first ultra marathon and using Baystate as a "long training run". After successfully completing both races, Miami seemed like a wasted effort and I dreaded the race. I thought about dropping down to the Half Marathon, but there was no way I was spending all this money on plane tickets and hotel rooms for a measly 13.1 miles. I dreamed of spending my winter cross-training or doing hot yoga, not running 20 milers in the freezing cold along the Charles River. However, I jumped right back into training after the ultra and decided to hire a coach. I did my own training during the month of December, and then I started with White Pine Distance Training in January. Even though I was only training with my coach a few weeks before the marathon, it instilled a sense of confidence that I hadn't had before. Doing speed work and different exercises that I had never tried, I pushed myself further than I had before. Leading up to the race, I was becoming more excited about the marathon although I tried to keep in mind that this wasn't a goal race, just a vacation that ended in a 26.2 mile "fun run" (ha)!
We flew into Miami a couple days before the race. The weather was not vacation, lay on a beach, get a tan type of weather. It down poured the first day, and then was windy and cold the next, however it still beat the weather back home in Boston. We spent most of our time trying out what vegan food Miami had to offer and relaxing in the hotel in-between mealtimes. I was getting more nervous about the race as the hours ticked down. I wanted to do well, but I also really did not want to hurt myself or make recovery as painful as it was after my first marathon. I finished Baystate in 3:57:12, so even just running a 3:55 time would be great. The night before I spent tossing and turning, full of nerves and also suffering from a stomach ache. Not a good feeling a few hours before running a marathon!
The race started at at 6am. A little before 5:30am, we walked over to the starting coral. It was a much different vibe than Baystate, that is for sure! Lights, loud music, thousands and thousands of runners scrambling into the corrals or waiting at the longest porta-potty lines I have ever seen. It was dark, cold and windy, and most runners were wearing winter gear much like what I had worn the days leading up to our trip to Miami. Another runner asked if I was cold as I stood there in my Strong Hearts Vegan Power tank and shorts, and I chuckled as I said "Nahh, I'm from Boston." Looking around at the other runners in my corral, I turned and noticed that the 3:45 pacer was right behind me. The day before the race, a good friend of mine wrote on social media "3:45 or you're dead to me!" Obviously, it was a joke, but it stuck with me, and seeing the pacer right behind me made me wonder if it was fate. I still decided to start out running my own race and whatever happened would happen.
The race started, and almost simultaneously as my foot crossed the starting timing mat, I got an awfully familiar feeling in my stomach. Having gastroparesis ("delayed emptying of the stomach") and irritable bowel syndrome, running can sometimes be a game of Russian Roulette. By having a routine and staying away from certain foods pre-race, I can usually keep my symptoms in check, but eating new foods while enjoying our time in Miami and the early start of the race, made my stomach angry, and there was no way I could run the entire 26.2 miles without stopping. Luckily, the first few miles provided much distraction as running the MacArthur Causeway over Biscayne Bay to Miami Beach in the dark with thousands of other runners was amazing. I kept my eye out at each mile for porta-potties without lines, but there was no such luck until finally at mile 4.5 on Miami Beach. Up until this point I had been running some fast miles because I wanted to pre-game on making up lost time from having to stop. After I "did my business", I felt like a new women and ready to tackle the rest of the distance. My mile 5 lap time was 9 minutes! I ran a mile and pooped within 9 minutes! I got a big laugh out of that, then saw the 3:45 pacer just up ahead. Running back over the bridges on MacArthur Causeway was tough. The sun was up now, the winds were blowing, and the bridges are deceptively hilly. Getting closer to the half marathon/marathon split, I caught up to the 3:45 pacer and made a game-time decision to pass the group. I wasn't sure if my stomach was going to play another trick on me and in the meantime I thought it would be a good idea to get ahead in case it did.
A couple of Huma Chia Gels later, my stomach started acting up again. It was quite the disappointment and all I could think of was "is this really happening??". I stopped at the next bathroom break, around mile 15, "did my business" again, and as soon as I left I saw the 3:45 pacers go by. Another 9-minute "poop" mile. At this point I was pretty angry with what was going on with my body. My stomach was out of whack, my legs were starting to hurt more than they usually do at this distance and pace (possibly from dehydration) and I just felt mentally burnt out. I decided to stick with the pacer and let him do the rest of the work for me. The rest of the 3:45 pack were pretty chatty. Others who had hoped for a faster marathon time were slowing down and joining us. I kept to myself as I didn't want to waste an energy socializing (plus if you know me, socializing isn't my jam). Running through the neighborhoods in Coconut Grove was my favorite and kept my mind off of feeling like my wheels were about to fall off. Every time we ran by a crowd of people, it felt good to be running behind the 3:45 pacer, as if to say "yeah! I'm with him! I'm doing it!". The miles up until mile 20 were very much mental exhausting. Should I eat more, should I drink more, what is going to work with my stomach? The weather was perfect, warm with a cool breeze, but I felt like I wasn't drinking enough water. There were volunteers handing out pineapple throughout the course, but I didn't dare risk eating any. I ate and drank what I thought would be enough purely for survival.
The last few miles were on the Rickenbacker Causeway, a short out and back over the water. There was a lot of headwind and it was really frustrating, but the views were amazing. I felt like I was slowing down quite a bit. Every time a lap time showed on my watch, I was in complete shock that I was still under the 8:34 pace for a 3:45 marathon. My body hurt so much, and I kept telling myself that I should slow down as to not injure myself, wasn't this suppose to be fun? However, I could not bring myself to physically let go of the pace I was running. There was people who believed I could do it and that was too motivating to let go of. Another runner before the race told me that there was a huge hill at mile 24. As mile 25 approached, I thought I was in the clear, but then there it was, the Brickell Avenue Bridge. Another bridge, another hill. It was a hill I would've dominated any other run, but today just the sight of it made me want to cry. I stared at the ground as I went up and over, and when I looked up, it was just me and the pacer. The other runners must've slowed down or sped up. He congratulated me on a great run, and I told him "we still have a mile! don't say that yet" and his response was "no, it's over, start celebrating". I immediately started tearing up and removed my headphones so I could soak in all the noises that were going on around me. As we were running through the finishing chute, which seemed extraordinarily long, the pacer yelled "40 seconds left". I ran like wind that was pushing against me just a few miles back, eyes full of tears, almost falling over my own feet. A huge sigh of relief and accomplishment fell over me once I knew I had actually finished. As I searched through the crowd to find my husband and in-laws, I could not stop smiling. The first thing I said when I saw them was "I ran under 3:45 AND I pooped twice!!!".
One lesson I learned from Miami is to stop signing up for long-distance races "for fun". I love running and I do have fun running most of the time whether its long training runs with friends or just running on my own, and I've even had fun during some shorter races, but when it comes to something like running a marathon, I am a beast. I am a beast who can not be trusted once the starting gun goes off. I am going to run with my heart, push myself beyond arbitrary limits and cross every finish line knowing that I didn't give up and tried as hard as I could. The feeling that I had when I crossed the finish line a few days ago is something I want to feel after every race!