You Never Have to Go It Alone – What I Learned from My First Virtual Marathon

On Saturday May 9th, I completed my 8th marathon in a time of 3:24:31. It was my first full marathon in New Hampshire and my first virtual race. It was the “Virtual” Maine Coast Marathon. 

When I signed up for this race, I remember thinking that I wanted to complete a marathon and really enjoy and embrace the training process. After achieving a life long goal of qualifying for the Boston marathon last fall at the Chicago Marathon, I wanted to reconnect with my love for running and not be tied to a time goal. I wanted to enjoy the marathon training journey as much as possible.  I thought I had it all figured out – like I already knew what I was going to learn from this training cycle. I envisioned myself running along the Maine Coast and taking it all in during the race. I had completed the Maine Coast Half Marathon with my sister in 2015 where we crossed the finish line hand in hand. Little did I know…

Mid-training, life changed. It changed for all of us.

Working from home full time. No gym access. Orangetheory workouts flipped to at-home workouts daily posted on YouTube. No time spent with family and friends. Social lives on zoom meetings. Races cancelled.

I tried to make training as “normal” as I could. I started every morning with a walk or run. I settled into the day with my morning oats and a cup of coffee right before facing the day full of meetings and remote work. I tried to remind myself to walk around throughout the day, even if sometimes it was just around my living room. I would fit in ab workouts or Orangetheory at-home workouts, missing my 2x per week sessions. I took it week by week as I normally did for marathon training, but I soon came to realize how much I clung to that training to keep my head on straight, to keep me feeling balanced and to simply “feel ok” every day. 

Nothing was “normal”. No matter how hard I tried, the world had forever changed. Coming to terms with that was very challenging. 

I needed to embrace the cold and unpredictable New England weather more than ever since I couldn’t opt for the treadmill on cold, rainy days. I didn’t think that this would be a big adjustment, but I guess I didn’t realize how much I often avoided the rough weather conditions. I found myself constantly reaching for the Chicago Marathon jacket I had received as a gift from my friends from my last birthday to avoid getting soaked. Some days were more difficult than others. During a particularly challenging speed workout where it took everything in me to get out the door, I found myself crossing over the sidewalk on a bridge along the water. It was cold, it was windy, and it was POURING! 

As I pushed through, I passed a construction worker along the way doing road work. He yelled out “you must be dedicated to be out in this weather”. I was a bit delirious, but I think I shouted “thanks, you too!” After I had passed, even through the rain, I found myself tearing up. That week, I had found myself questioning, “why on earth am I doing this?” “Who cares if I miss a workout when it’s pouring out?” “Does this marathon matter for any reason?” It took the air out of my tires and the wind from my sail that had been doing its best just to make it through each day. But somehow, the encouragement of a perfect stranger was just what I needed. I pushed hard that last mile and I reminded myself that, yes, I can do hard things. This marathon matters to me and that’s all I need to focus on right now. 

As someone who had been used to getting up at 5am, I will admit I did enjoy the extra time to sleep. It was important to try and see the positive sides, or any “silver lining” that presented itself to me. 

I broke down quite a bit, but I tried to hide it away from the rest of the world. Overall, that training was helping me keep my mind off the uncertainty of the world and focused on a goal where I felt in control. 

The week leading up to that day was a taper week and I focused on recovery. I tried to prepare for the big day just as I normally would. And just like that, it was May 8th, the Friday before the scheduled race day. 

On Saturday May 9th, the forecast showed snow, rain, ice and “gale force winds” but somehow that all only seemed fitting. I went through my normal marathon routine. The night before the race, I made my pasta dinner and I drank plenty of fluids. I stretched and I foam rolled. I studied my route that I had shared with friends and family. I added friends to Garmin LiveTrack and planned to meet my fiance at mile 15 for a new water bottle and pair of gloves as the ones I had would be soaked. I went to bed with a little trouble sleeping, but overall nothing out of the ordinary. 

In the final minutes before leaving my home, I felt an extreme rush of panic come over me. I went back and forth between the right amount of layers to wear. I stared out the window in utter disbelief. I had kept telling myself that it was going to be fine, but the wind snow and rain looked brutal. With a quick pep talk from my fiancé and some positive self-talk, I was out the door. 

The first mile, I squinted and pushed hard against the wind. I couldn’t believe I had 25.2 miles to go. How was I going to get through it? I had a pity party and questioned why the weather had to be so horrendous on the day of my first solo marathon. I needed to remind myself that I chose to do this. I GET to do this. I needed to embrace the fact that, with everything going on, I was spending a Saturday morning running in the fresh air and conquering 26.2 miles. The hard work and training was all going to pay off. Little did I know that along the way I would be met with friends, keeping their social distance from one another, but holding signs and cheering for me. At mile 3, I was met with cheers and encouragement. I was relieved to know that my LiveTrack was working and I could be tracked. 🙂 As someone who is used to doing all of my long runs alone, I needed the support that day. 

Around mile 7, I heard the honks of cars, and saw two friends standing with signs. It felt incredible. I was FULL of emotions. I was freezing and getting pummeled with freezing rain and snow, but I felt empowered with all of the love and support. It was absolutely unreal. Tears were frequent as I passed by loved ones along the way, but tears of joy thinking “I can do this. I need to do this”. 

 When I finished, I thought how incredible it was to complete my 8th marathon as my first full marathon in New Hampshire, amidst a pandemic, in terrible weather conditions, but completely overwhelmed with the love and support from my fiancé and friends. 

It was the exact opposite of what I had envisioned for this race, but I will always cherish and remember this memory. It was the reminder that I needed that, no matter what and no matter the physical distance we are from the ones we love, we never have to go it alone.

I am thankful for every training run I completed, and I do think it was important that I fought through those miles alone, but I also need to keep telling myself that it’s okay to reach out for support when we need it most. 

As far as virtual racing goes, I think this experience left me very excited to look for more opportunities for virtual races. While we may be physically distant, I am so grateful to have the support of the running community. I find myself reaching out to virtual running groups on platforms like Facebook and Instagram to give support and receive it too, a lot from people I have never actually met. 

Yes, we’re challenged with the state of the world right now, but remember now, and through any challenges in life, we never have to go it alone (even if we are 6 feet apart). If you are interested in running and maybe it’s been a while or you haven’t ever considered yourself “a runner”, maybe now is the time. Remember, if you run, you’re a runner. Running is for everyone and there’s no requirements other than to lace up your shoes and put one foot in front of the other.

If you aren’t sure where to start and are interested in working with a coach, feel free to reach out to me at runfreeordienh@gmail.com or visit http://www.runfreeordienh.com/coaching/ and fill out the new runner intake form. You can also DM me on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/runfreeordienh/ to talk about all things running 🙂 Happy running! Congrats to all who have completed virtual races and best of luck to you if you are currently in training for a virtual race. You got this!

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