I’ve completed my first official marathon, one not measured by miles delineated on a trail app. This was an actual race, a Boston-qualifier, even – but I didn’t attempt to qualify. I walked the entire distance.
I registered for the race months ago, intending to run. Then, an ankle injury kept me from running during the nine weeks leading up to the race. When race day came, I opted to walk rather than risk further injury.
Walking backpack-free for 26+ miles on a mostly-flat course would be a novel experience. I didn’t know how fast I could walk, or how long I could maintain my fastest pace. I’d never walked 26 miles without at least a few sit-down stops along the way. I hoped to complete the marathon in 7 hours.
I took the early start option, lining up at the starting line at 5:30am. It was light enough to see without assistance from my headlamp, but only just. I wore my hiking clothes, hiking shoes, and hydration vest. My race number was pinned to the front of my shirt.
I left the starting line with a pace hovering around 14:30/mile, quick but comfortable, a notch below my top speed. I didn’t want to push too hard too fast and flame out in the final miles. The distance wouldn’t be a challenge, but maintaining top speed over such a distance might be.
Aid stations appeared like trail magic. At the first station, I ducked into an outhouse, then resupplied with a cup of electrolytes and a sleeve of energy gels. The volunteers seemed surprised that I intended to walk the entire marathon. They enthusiastically cheered me on.
Near mile 8, my husband joined me on his bicycle. In the bike’s panniers, he carried four liters of water, two bags of potato chips, four energy bars, a change of socks, my sunglasses, and my silver sun umbrella.
I munched potato chips while I walked. At mile 14.5, I sat to change into dry socks. My average pace tumbled as a result of this break, so for the next mile I pushed myself hard to make up time. My husband refilled my water bottles, then left me to walk alone for the next five or so miles.
In mile 18, I spent a few minutes in another outhouse. Again my pace dropped, and again I pushed myself to make up lost time.
Until now, I’d maintained an average pace of approximately 14:30/mile, including the sock change and outhouse breaks. I’d had to work for this pace, but I wasn’t in danger of wearing myself out. Now I allowed myself to walk as fast as I could. As the miles ticked by, my pace hovered below 13:30/mile.
By now the sun was high, the temperature climbing. The last five miles of the course wound through long shade-less stretches. I retrieved my silver umbrella from the bicycle panniers and cruised down the road beneath it.
One after another, I overtook runners who’d slowed to walk, or walk-jog. They looked uncomfortable, or worse. I felt guilty for breezing by, feeling fantastic. And I was thrilled to feel so fantastic. I was at my limit – I couldn’t walk any faster – but mile after mile I maintained this speed, and doing so wasn’t difficult. Should I have let loose earlier? At mile 15, maybe? At mile 10?
I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 21 minutes – obliterating my previous speed record for that distance – and earned my first marathon finisher’s medal.
Thank you to the organizers of Running with the Bears for a fantastic event, and thank you to my husband Greg for serving as my support crew during this endeavor.