TORONTO. September 22nd 2014. In 2010, Digital Champion Emily Gray cheered on runners at mile 22 of the New York City Marathon, and cried. Inspiration had hit, and she knew she had to get involved somehow. When early 2011 rolled around, on a whim, she signed up for her first half marathon and in August 2011 bit the bullet and signed up to run the 2011 NYC Marathon as a guide for a disabled athlete with Achilles International. Halfway through the marathon, Emily thought, “Oh no… I’ll never do this again… why do my feet hurt so much? I wonder if it’s OK to lie down?” Fast forward to 2014 and her third marathon is on the race agenda, along with her first triathlon. Fully addicted to training and racing, Emily has raced 5k, 10k and 30k events, half and full marathons, as well as numerous obstacle races. Now, she is learning to swim to complete a half Ironman in 2016. You can often find Emily running all over Toronto (join her! Or at least wave to her), or hitting up every gym out there to try every workout in the city. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, indoor cycling and group fitness instructor, and run coach. Connect with Emily on Twitter @EmilyMcGray.
Musings On My First Marathon. By Emily Gray.
It’s 3 a.m. on Sunday, November 6, 2011. My alarm blares, and I stumble through my morning routine, throw on my running shoes and throwaway clothing and walk downstairs. My roommate, Michael, still awake from the previous night’s escapades offers me a hot dog and says, “Hey, aren’t you running some marathon sometime soon?” “Uh….yeah,” I replied, “That’s actually where I’m going now…” “OH MAN!” he yelled, “Are you sure you don’t want a hot dog?”
Clearly, I did not want a hot dog. However, I also can’t remember eating breakfast (mistake #1… bear with me, these will come fast and furious). I ran out the door into the cold New York air to meet my running partner on the subway to head to Staten Island. On my way, I started thinking about how I ended up deciding to run a full marathon as a guide for a disabled athlete with Achilles International, only 3 months prior to race day (mistake #2). I, like many of you, was kind of dragged into it. Twist my rubber arm, I suppose. One day Katia, my running mate, said, “I’m running the NY Marathon. You should run with me.”
I’d run a few 5k and 10k races before, plus my first half marathon 6 months prior to marathon day, and boy did I struggle through training. I skipped runs, and not just a few… I skipped many. I skipped my 20 miler (mistake #3) because I figured the 18 miler was enough. My shoes were brand spanking new and I’d never run in them before (mistake #4). Despite all of this, I swore I was prepared. Katia arrived on the subway platform, and we boarded the next train, “ready” to tackle the race.
The Achilles athletes were provided a heated tent near the start line with breakfast, where I had a bagel and congratulated myself on my ability to carb load, after all I did have half a loaf of bread from Eataly while walking around the day before (mistake #5). As we stepped into the brisk November morning, Katia handed me some Shot Bloks. “Hmm,” I thought. “Delicious.” (mistake #6). Everything was unremarkable until mile 10. We were in Brooklyn and all agreed to stop to use the port-a-potty and then it hit me. You know what I mean… there’s no polite way to say why I had to run repeatedly to the port-a-potty, but I’m 99% sure it was the Shot Bloks.
When I emerged, Katia was there waiting for me… and our Achilles athlete was not. We lost our athlete (mistake #7). Panicked, we spent about 5 miles sprinting back and forth running and re-running parts of the course searching and searching for our team (mistake #8). We ran up the Pulaski Bridge, which separates Brooklyn from Queens, and completely ran out of steam just in time for the Queensboro Bridge and mile 17. We had long since given up hope of finding our original athlete, so when we spotted a teammate of hers, we limped up to him and joined his group.
It’s hard not to be inspired by athletes with disabilities, so when I heard something snap in my hamstring (man, I should have done more training!) around mile 18 there was no way I was stopping (mistake #9). I limped, I cried, I cursed, I almost jogged until mile 21 when we hit the Bronx. Notoriously empty compared to the crazy cheering that happens all up First Avenue, there wasn’t a soul around, and I wanted to die. Five more miles, I told myself. That’s 50 minutes (as I was running a 10 minute mile pace at that point). I’m going to die. That’s when I saw someone cheering on the side of the road. Much like the Grinch, my heart grew in size and I was so excited to pass them… until I did and they promptly yelled: “RUN FASTER!” I wish I had thought of that! Somehow, we all made it to the finish line, crossing as one big team.
I got my foil blanket, my medal, and had to walk uphill to get out of the park. I found my friends and boyfriend, and stumbled up to them lifting my feet like a horse. “Get. These. Shoes. OFF OF ME!” I never wanted to wear shoes again. I also never wanted to run another marathon… or walk another step, really. I went home, wrapped in my foil blanket on my couch and sobbed. For hours. Okay… it was for the entire next week. That’s right, I spent 7 days eating Ben & Jerry’s (Mint Chocolate Cookie), and watching one of Kim Kardashian’s weddings on E!, sobbing.
The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will be my third marathon, and definitely not my last. So what have I learned from my first marathon debacle? A lot.
1. You can’t skip most of your training runs and have a successful race.
2. You can’t eat weird things your body doesn’t know how to metabolize near, around, or during the race.
3. You can’t eat a loaf of bread the day before and call it “carb loading.” Darn!
4. You can’t ignore pain. Learn to live with discomfort, though.
5. You won’t die.
6. You are amazing.