The Story of my 1st Marathon – Big Sur, April 2015 Guest post by Alejandra Chavez
I went to bed around 9pm the night before and got up a couple of times as I always seem to do before race-day. But then eventually, one of the times I looked at my phone and it was almost 3:20am — it was time to get up! The shuttle would be picking me up at the hotel at 4am. I thought it was a great sign when the bus that I got on was a Pajaro Valley Unified School District bus (the school district I attended in Watsonville and where my mom currently works).
I tried to nap on the bus, but I could hear the runners around me so I was in and out of sleep. Some of them were making the mistake of paying attention to the route – a big no, no. I looked at my watch when it was finally time to get off the bus – 5:22am. I guess we had been on the bus for awhile.
There was a lot of time spent waiting for the race to start. However, before I knew it – it was time to start gathering in the corrals. As I was making my way to the corral, I finally saw some familiar MRTT faces in the sea of runners: Wendy, Josephine, and Ann. We exchanged hugs and good wishes. I made my way towards Star, the 4:45 pacer. When they started to sing the Star Spangled Banner, I remember closing my eyes and just having a moment – wow! I’m really doing this! I was already feeling overwhelmed and I began to cry tears of joy. It was crazy to think that I was taking on my first marathon.
I had everything I needed for race day, including prayer cards that sweet Maria Trees made for me, 1 bible verse for every mile. Eventually it was go time! The first 2 miles seem to fly by and they felt nice. I remember small groups of people along those early miles – near the Big Sur campgrounds. They came out to cheer us on. There was an older woman who was out in her bathrobe playing her guitar and singing a cheezy song.
I was in a happy place those first few miles. One of the most memorable moments came when we turned a corner after mile 9 and we got our first glimpse of Hurricane Point. It was a sight to behold, not because of the incline but for its sheer magnificence and beauty. It was breathtaking. You had Hurricane Point in the distance and you could see the Taiko drummers at the bottom. I was still in a happy place and honestly wasn’t that scared of Hurricane Point. Our pacer did a great job of getting us up that hill by running for 2 mins/walking 1 minute. The whole time we were going up I channeled my time on the switchbacks at Rancho. I drew on that training and pretended that I was just back at the switchbacks with Patti, Suki, & Monica during one our regular runs. This made it so much more do-able. And then we came to the Bixby Bridge which was another magical moment, with a gentleman playing the piano on the side of Highway 1!
The first 14 miles felt awesome! I was feeling great and really enjoying the experience, the scenery, everything. I was feeling so good that I wondered, should I try and go faster? But everyone had warned me about those hills! I couldn’t break away yet. At that point I thought, maybe I can speed up at mile 20 (ha, ha, ha).
It was after we had crossed the half-way mark that my legs probably felt the consequences of Hurricane Point. Even though I felt fine going up, they were starting to get a bit tired. Sometime during mile 15 I decided to put in the headphones and listen to my music. The music helped and I started to get lost in the miles. I made mistake of choosing an old playlist, but it created quite a moment as Florence & The Machine’s Dog Days came on. As the chorus came on I reflected on how the dog/or dark days are over for me – the old me that wasn’t exercising and didn’t have as much joy in her life – she is gone. That life is gone. I cried tears of joy as I thought about all the changes that had taken place and now here I am – running a friggin’ marathon!
At mile 20, I was still hanging in there. I remember a little girl on the sidelines saying “only 6 more miles to go!” 6 miles actually didn’t sound that bad. It was at mile 21 that things got a bit hazy. I hit the wall somewhere around mile 22/23. It is hard to put into words what my legs were experiencing at that point, when all I wanted to do was walk. Please can we just walk?! Legs…..are…..so….tired. At mile 23, my legs were so ready to part ways with our pacer, Star.
But I couldn’t leave Star, the pacer, who became my running coach. She kept us entertained during the early miles with pacing stories and now she was proving to be a heaven-sent running coach. I needed her words of encouragement: She told us that we had the strength within us, to believe in ourselves, and that this was the day we got to cash in on all of the months of training. She told us to think about our loved ones waiting for us at the finish line who believed we could do this and to draw on their strength. I had to stay with her! And I did think about my friends and family who believed I could do this, when I was not even fully convinced. My mind said you have to stay with Star – you have been with her for too long to quit now and her words are helping! You can still finish this race in 4:45.
When I saw the 25 mile marker – I thought OMG I’m at mile 25 and OMG there’s another hill!!! But after I climbed that hill I finally felt like I could break away from Star and pick up the pace. It was UNBELIEVABLE to see the finish line. And when the finish line was near I could hear my son, “Mommy! Mommy!” I caught a glimpse of my family and blew a kiss.
It was amazing to cross the finish line, to have powered through the pain, to come out on the other side and to know I had not quit. It is incredibly empowering to get to the point where it is no longer your legs carrying you forward – you are running with your heart and your mind. You come into contact with a strength and power that had always been within you, but that you’d never tapped into before. That is the power of the marathon.
God willing, I’ll get to have a new 26.2 journey as I take on the NYC Marathon this fall.
About the Author: Alejandra has been running since 2011 and she joined MRTT in the spring of 2014. She is a mother of two boys: ages 10 and 6. She works for a local nonprofit that is working on issues around homelessness in Santa Clara County.