Athens, Greece: My serious case of runner's high

3:00 AM

Thoughts before my race, as written on my iPhone: "I never thought I'd see the day where I would voluntarily run 26.2 miles. I've always been somewhat athletic. I did track in middle school and high school. I did cheerleading (yes, it's a sport). I did volleyball. I even did rugby for awhile. The difference between those sports and this one, is that even though I'm technically part of a team, my success is solely based on what I dish out. Not only in my physical strength and endurance, but my mentality through it all. I'm sitting on this airplane restlessly fidgeting in my seat on my way to Athens, Greece. Home of the Original Marathon. THE Marathon. Go big or go home, right?

Just a few steps passed the finish line!
  I picked up running eight months ago in April. It was a forced pick up by my friend Flora. It was a slow night shift, and we didn't have too much to do, so we were all talking about our plans. I hadn't known Flora for very long at that time, and it was one of our first few shifts working together. She's a bubbly character, someone who smiles through pretty much any scenario, good or bad. She asked me if I liked to run, and I told her that I only start running when it's time to get amped up for our bi-annual PT test. She suggested that I do the Athens Marathon. As much as I laughed about it and told her that she was crazy for thinking I could do it, I ended up signing up that night. This was the start of my journey.

  I'm not going to bore everyone with the 8 month recap of my training, but it wasn't much. The furthest I had ran prior to the marathon were two half marathons. One of them being the Disney Paris Half Marathon, and the first ever, H-Town Half Marathon featuring Stacy and I. There would be a few weeks where I hadn't ran at all. There would be long stretches of nights where I was too tired from work to go to the gym, so I'd lunge from patient room to patient room during work. My training wasn't as rigorous as I wanted it to be. I had lacked self motivation many days. But every night I went to sleep, I always told myself, "eh, we'll start again tomorrow."
Officially checked in at the Expo with bib in hand!
  Before I go into the details of what ran through my head as I ran through Greece, I'd like to give a special shout out to a few people who helped me throughout this journey.

  • Flora, I want to thank you for even putting me on this path of running. Running a marathon has always been on my bucket list, but I didn't have the courage to register until the night you kept bugging me to "just sign up already!" Congratulations on finishing with Kevin, and being able to share the experience of it with all of us.
  • Stacy, for always challenging me via Nike Running Club and always being down for a long and painful run. I'm glad that I was able to force you into it the way that Flora forced me into it. Seeing our progression from our first 6 miler to our half marathon before the race was amazing. Congratulations on finishing the race! You performed awesome, and I'm sure for our next race, you'll be able to keep up with me (LOL).
  • Nate and Amanda, I'm glad you two decided to come on this run with us! We almost lost you in the beginning when scheduling didn't work out, but it all figured itself out. You two did amazing for barely training! I don't know if I could have done what you two did! Hopefully this isn't the last one we run together!
  • Congratulations to Mike, Blake, and Shai for also finishing in the race! It was great to see you all there. I'm so happy that so many nurses were able to represent out there! You guys did great, and I hope you're getting the rest you all deserve.
  • Sean Michael, for always being my number one fan. You have supported me through every moment building up to my race, and even from thousands of miles away, you were watching me run around Greece. I'd like to think that a lot of my self-motivation and perseverance stems from what you've ingrained in my head. I am strong, and I can do it. Maybe one day you'll run with me, so we can go through the pain together. I love you! Also, thank you for sponsoring my completely amazing race day outfit, I looked like a winner from the get go (let my ego have it.)
  One week before race day, Stacy and I ran a half marathon. YES, I KNOW WE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO THESE THINGS. Especially since we're so naive with our running capabilities. But we did it, and we rocked it. It was the kind of confidence boost that we needed. I PR'd on my half marathon time, shaving off 18 minutes from my first half marathon. We had never built up to running anything more than that though. People typically run up to 20-24 miles before they even reach race day, making the last two miles the miles you really dig deep for, but we definitely had to dig deep all 26 miles.

  All week, I had aches in all of my joints. I felt like my muscles were tightening up. I was afraid of pulling my back or doing anything strenuous that would cause me to injure myself so close to race day. I worked four night shifts in a row prior to flying out for Athens. I was completely drained of energy. The shifts weren't easy ones either. They were the kinds of shifts that seemed to pass all too quickly because you never had the chance to sit down. Everything you read in posts like "What to do for Race Day" or "How to Run a Marathon 101" are all the things I didn't do. I didn't rest. I didn't eat right. Stretching only came when I was getting up to go to work. My anxiety levels had skyrocketed for sure.
Our mini #breaking5 team
  The night before the race, I was tossing and turning in bed. I woke up almost every hour because I was afraid I wasn't going to hear my alarm. But when everyone woke up, and it was time to get ready, my nerves settled. I watched everyone prep themselves for the long day ahead of us. Applying body glide, enough to the point where we could probably slide down the mountains on our tummies. Powdering our feet, taping ourselves up, and eating the one meal that was going to keep us going. It was a different feeling that had set in: determination. I was determined to finish my race in less than six hours. I was determined to prove to myself that I had a strong mentality to keep going even if my body refused to move forward. I was determined to come back with a medal in my hand. I was determined to not come back with rhabdo (that was the real goal, because the last thing I want was to be admitted at my own job.)

  Block 10. The very back of block 10. Because Stacy was unluckily placed in Block 11 for being 35 minutes slower than me (haha, just kidding... notttt!) I was standing with Flora, Kevin, Nate and Amanda in Block 10. Shuffling through the arena waiting for our gun to go off. The nervousness had come back because Stacy wasn't there. I had lost the comfort of having my training partner to run with, and finding each other with 1000 people between us was a feat all on it's own, but it did happen 6 miles later.

  I started the race at a relatively slow pace, 06:52 min/km. I was feeling great. I had gotten my breathing under control quickly, and I had zoned out in the first 2 kilometers. I kept tabs on who was around me, seeing if we would finish together in the end. By the time we reached the first water point, my little group was left with Amanda, Nate, and myself, but it wasn't that way for long. At one point, I found that I was running by myself, until mile 6 where Stacy had popped up out of nowhere. We ran together for a few miles, seeing Flora and Kevin along the way. And then the real race began, when I found myself running alone again, and that's how I finished the race.  

  After I hit my 21st kilometer (roughly a half marathon), I had resorted to walking. 2:30:38 was my half marathon time. I was right where I wanted to be to reach my 5-hour goal, but I was definitely hurting. Athens was a hilly course. The inclines weren't steep, but they were excruciatingly long. As soon as you reached the top of the incline, it'd dip for a few meters and start back up. The Greeks wanted you to earn the medal, for sure. I had reached a 9:01 min/km pace by then, and that would be the slowest I'd run the entire time. Every 5km I would pick up my pace a little bit more. By then, I'd stop more frequently to stretch my glutes and my hamstrings. I'd made stops at 4 medic stations for their cooling cream which served more as a placebo effect than anything... I walked through every water point, and only skipped the last two. I drank every Powerade handed to me, drank two cups of Coca Cola, and ate my banana. Every time I stopped, I thought of quitting. Every time I started up again, I found myself pushing harder than before.
  The crowds began to build up again the further you went into the city. Olive branches were everywhere. They were handing these out in the smaller towns. I had run with an olive branch wrapped around my pony tail the entire race. Some runners ran with olive branch crowns, and I was completely envious because they looked great. But even as the crowds grew, my motivation was slowly deteriorating.

  At kilometer 31, I started to cry. I cried because of the pain in my legs. I cried because I didn't want to run anymore. I cried because I lost all motivation. I cried because I almost gave up on myself. I didn't cry for long, partially because I was extremely dehydrated at this point, salt crystals formed on my forehead. I reached kilometer 32, and my mentality changed again. "It's only a 10km now."

Oh, it's real alright!
  From that point, every two miles I ran, I posted an update on my Snapchat. I laughed to myself because when I reached the last two miles, I thought of the time I told Michael, "it's just like a PT test now!" after we had just run 11 miles. I said it again. "It's just like a PT test now." My pace for my last 5km was 06:30 min/km. The fastest pace I had throughout the entire race. When I made it to the arena, I dug deep and I cried as I sprinted the last 100 meters. "I fucking made it" I thought. I abruptly stopped after crossing the finish line, and with a sigh of relief, I had officially completed my first marathon. Athens, the Authentic Marathon 2017. Official Finishing Time: 05:25:45.
Winner, winner, gyros dinner

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