I keep wanting to find the right word to define my first marathon experience. But I’ve always struggled with decisiveness and there are far too many diverse adjectives to describe what I went through yesterday to pick just one anyhow. So I’m not gonna.
It was fun, cold, frustrating, beautiful, thrilling, lonely, exhaustive, funny, windy, painful, challenging, inspirational… See what I mean? I could go on if you want.
The Inaugural Asheville Marathon was the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do. Every inch of my leg muscles are angry at me this morning, I feel a cold coming on, and I’m really spoiled for getting to stay in my pajamas all day with bottomless coffee and movies. I think they call this a ‘marathon hangover.’ And I want pancakes (okay, not atypical).
As a writer, I want to hash out every detail of the race. But I think I’ll refrain from self-indulgence and give you the take-aways. I’m saving you from a novel, reader, even though it’s still pretty lengthy. I dunno, get a cup of coffee first?
The good, bad, and the ugly:
-It was 25 degrees with a 10 degree wind chill when I woke up at 5:30 am on Sunday, and there was fresh snow on the ground. Luckily I’m a Colorado girl so I wasn’t intimidated too much. Spectator Boyfriend is awesome for getting up with me when it would have been very easy to stay in the warm hotel room and meet me at the finish line later in the morning. He wasn’t any warmer than I was, and he was still out there cheering me on. Big props to him.
-The race was held all on the Biltmore Estate. The views were breath-taking and I decided North Carolina and I should be friends. The course took us through forests and valleys, past a field of horses, big barns, and a massive vineyard. At mile 12, we passed a field of cattle who mooed at us, cheering us on. It made me smile. Mile 6 took us right in front of the Biltmore Mansion. I couldn’t help but take a picture, albeit off-kilter (see below).
-I threw off my jacket at mile 5 feeling fantastic and warm, only to feel stupid for doing so halfway through, when the real test began; the wind kicked up, and it became more of a trail race with lots of hills and chunky gravel. Luckily I thrive on that stuff, but I imagine other marathoners who expected pavement and dirt roads were probably not so thrilled to be mislead by the course description. The biting headwind was unforgiving for the last 13.1 miles, as if to really test your mental and physical strength. It did.
-There were only two times I questioned my sanity for choosing to race 26.2 miles, and both were when my head was down, fighting against the wind and calling it rude names.
-My playlist started out on the bluegrass side of things, with the first song of the morning being ‘Help You’ by Trampled by Turtles. Random, and absolutely perfect; it put the biggest smile on my face. When I needed to dig a little deeper, I switched over to my Rock playlist with heavy doses of Foo Fighters, old Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Jack White. For a final kick, I needed some dance music and finished on NERO’s ‘Crush on You.’
-I sucked down a mocha Clif energy gel at mile 14 (Okay, pause: Why aren’t they easier to open with numb fingers?!), and scarfed cookies from a water station at 21. In my handheld water bottle I had half coconut water and half water which proved to be a good combo. All of that was enough fuel for me and I never felt any cramps, side aches, or nausea. Victory!
-The volunteers at all the water stops were the best motivators! It was cool to have my name printed on my race bib, because perfect strangers were cheering ME, Taylor, on. I tried to thank them all in my zoned-out, marathon runner state. They were all very much appreciated.
-We were cloaked in blankets immediately after finishing, which was about the best thing ever. My hands and fingers were numb, and I was sure I looked like death. It was confirmed that I didn’t look like death, nor did I have frozen snot on my face, which was surprising/a relief. My legs felt like Jell-O, and all I wanted to do was sit down right away. The tents were heated, but pretty small and packed. I scarfed down a banana, pretzels, a chocolate doughnut, and part of a muffin (carbs, I love you). We didn’t stick around post-race because I was freezing, probably a little cranky, and wanted a hot shower and a beer. My wishes were granted, and crankiness stopped.
-Spectator Boyfriend had been to Asheville before, so he played tour guide and showed me the Grove Park Inn. It was built out of stone in 1913 and looked like it came out of a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, but on steroids (so, very cool). After cleaning up, we went there for a victory beer, to enjoy the views and relax. I had the local Highland Kasmir IPA and highly recommend it because HOPS. Looking out over the Blue Ridge Mountains and drinking craft beer was my definition of a perfect post-race reward. I felt like I was back home in Colorado; it hit the spot.
-I finished 7th in my age group with a chip time of 4:02:50 (my goal was around or below 4, so all things considered, I’m thrilled). My pace was 9:19, and I only ever stopped running for a bathroom break at mile 23.
It’s crazy: I’m a marathoner. I will never not be a marathoner for the rest of my life. I guess that’s life changing, isn’t it?
So, I’m not done. My next marathon (the Country Music Marathon here in Nashville) is in a little less than 8 weeks (seven weeks, five days to be exact), so I have until Saturday before I begin training again. This time I’m wishing for warmer weather, a sub-4 time, and no risk of frozen snot on the face. There’s a good chance of victory there. One thing’s for sure: I’ll miss the supportive cows.