by Casey Cline
Last weekend, my roommate Lindsay and I finished the New Jersey Marathon. We were “up and running” (the theme of this year’s race) at 5:15am, though we’d both been tossing and turning since much earlier than that. After quickly changing, we were packed up and in the car, eating peanut butter-and-banana bagels by 6am.
Lindsay’s uncle dropped us off and we made our way to the start just as the half marathon kicked off at 7. With time to kill, we stretched and quietly judged a few runners who were jogging around the parking lot. Some people opt for a warm-up run, but Lindsay and I are not those people. We also debated, at length, whether we should put on our sweatshirts. Though the forecast had predicted a high of around 60 degrees, the weather was in the 40s with hovering clouds and wind. Finally, we decided against sweatshirts and made our way into our corral, which coincidentally, is when the sun finally came out.
First, the National Anthem was sung by a man running his 100th marathon. His 100th marathon. Then “Sweet Caroline” played over the speakers and we observed a 20-second silence for Boston. Before we knew it, a bugle sounded “First Call,” Springsteen’s “Born to Run” blared, and we were off.
As you know, I hate the beginning of any run. But Sunday was different. Maybe it was the adrenaline and thrill of being in a crowd of equally-insane people, or the two Advil I took that morning, or the pounds of spaghetti I ate the night before, but those first few miles flew by, and surprisingly, I felt fine. It wasn’t until around miles 10-13 that I started to really get tired and felt a sharp pain in my leg.
Two weeks prior to the marathon, I’d done a 21-mile training run, and did something—what, I don’t know—to my ankle. I iced it, Icy Hot-ed it, and even stopped running altogether the week before the race, but come Sunday morning, I could still feel it. My lack of medical training told me my best plan of action was to simply put the pain out of my mind, and it seemed to work, at least until that first stabbing pain. Thankfully, that only happened a few more times, but there was constant a dull ache. I could also feel blisters forming on my feet, but had no choice but to just keep running.
To add insult to injury, it was around this time that the marathon route doubled back—there was a turnaround at mile 19, so while I huffed and puffed through my 13th mile, some shirtless freakshow was passing me as he breezed through his 23rd. I was encouraged only when I realized this meant I could see all the faces of the hardcore runners as they passed—and they looked just as miserable as I felt.
That false sense of justice only lasted so long, and if it hadn’t been for all the spectators, volunteers, and aid stations, I don’t know how much farther I would have made it. Tables were stationed about every mile to mile-and-a-half, with volunteers handing out small cups of Gatorade and water. I slowed down and took a cup of each at every single station. I was also pretty liberal with my GU energy gels, downing half a packet every 45 minutes. This, and my carb-heavy dinner the night before, helped me avoid hitting the dreaded wall, when your glycogen (fancy word for energy) levels drop and your body responds with severe fatigue and an overwhelming urge to curl up in a sweaty ball and cry.
I’d hit the wall before on one of my longer training runs, and kept waiting for it to come between miles 15-20, but it never did. And as soon as I hit mile 20, I could feel the end was near. I never exactly caught a second wind, but running is as mental a game as it is physical, and with only six miles left, I knew that I’d be knocking run a marathon off my bucket list. Granted, those last six miles seemed to stretch out into forever, but spectators were out in full force, cheering me on the whole way.
From the very beginning, people lined the streets, shouted into bullhorns, played drums, and held up signs which ran the whole gamut—from personalized to “Go, Stranger, Go!” As solitary as a long training run can be, this was about as team effort as you can get. Any time I felt like stopping, there would be another person applauding me from their driveway or offering up a beer (I declined).
When I hit mile 24, I slowed down until Lindsay caught up with me. We’d separated at mile 13, but had agreed we would cross the finish line together. As we made our way down the boardwalk into the final stretch, we saw our two roommates and their boyfriends, along with a couple more close friends and our dogs. They screamed and shouted, waved their signs (“Your next marathon will be Arrested Development!”), and showed off their shirts (“Team 6Beyoncé”—what we call our apartment). It was the final push we needed to pick up our pace, and we ran as hard as we could, crossing together in 5:01:25.
I’ve run 303.2 miles since I started training on Christmas Eve. It may have been fewer than what my plan called for, but it’s also more than I’ve ever run in my life. And I’m so proud of it.