By Katie Nielsen
When I signed up for my first full marathon I thought to myself, “ this will be easy.” Five very fast moving months later, it was one week to the big day and I was starting to question myself; the nerves were setting in. For the past 5 months I had been strength training 5 days per week, and running almost every day, whether it be sprints and run drills at my Crossfit gym, or running the paths on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It wasn’t until about 6 weeks to the big day that I started concentrating more on distance than a leisurely 5 or 10 km run. I was pushing 15km here, 25km there, but nothing close to the 42 that I was about to endure.
Prepping For Race Day
The night before the big race as I sit on the couch after a nice long Epsom salt bath, eating pasta, I can’t help but think about the “What Ifs; What if I don’t make it? What if I let everyone down? But I snap out of it, and instead fall asleep focusing on the image of me crossing the finish line.
The morning of the race I wake up and eat a large, energizing breakfast filled with oats, peanut butter, banana and toast. I chug a few more glasses of water, and I am out the door by 7am with my amazing and supportive boyfriend, Taylor. As we drive into the city I am surprisingly calm and we talk, joke and laugh about things not pertaining to the race (I think he did this on purpose to distract me).
Ten minutes before my start time I say goodbye to Taylor and he gives me a huge kiss. He has the most encouraging look on his face and I know this is it. Do or die time! I hug him and I disappear into the crowd of anxious runners.
The horn blares and I’m off! I can see the 4:00 pacer ahead of me and quickly devise my plan to stay with, or ahead of this pace bunny. As I start to run I look to my right and there he is, standing up on a concrete block, holding on to a tree looking deep into the crowd for me. I yell his name, and we catch eyes one last time until the half way point at 21km and that’s 2 hours away.
First Half Is Easy
I am flying with the wind, I am ahead of the 4:00 pacer and feeling unstoppable. The sun is shining, the crowd is loud, and I feel amazing. “KATIE!!” I hear from my right. It’s my sweet and most supportive friend Sue. She took the train to the city and is standing here in the cold just to see me pass by. I feel the love push me like a force.
As I approach the 19th kilometer and see the half-marathoners start to veer to the left it starts to sink in….I am only half way. I reach for my phone and tell Siri to call Taylor all while keeping pace, and when he answers I tell him I am almost at the half way. He tells me he is there waiting and sure enough as I turn the corner, there he is. To see his face gives me more energy than any of the gel packs I am carrying in my belt and arm band.
Kilometer 23 and I am starting to hit a wall. My knee is starting to hurt and I can feel my energy depleting at a rapid pace. I think about my dad and I start to feel a push, I feel lighter, and my knee pain starts to fade away. I think about when he ran his marathon back in the 70’s. I feel his presence and I feel warmth over my cold body. I feel his love. His strength carries me to the 30th kilometer mark where I start to feel my second wind coming on – thank you dad!
The Final Stretch
On one hand all I can think about is how much I’ve accomplished and how I only have 5 kilometers to go, and on the other hand every 100 meters feels like a kilometer and I am almost ready to fall over and cry. I am holding back tears and I can feel myself getting more vocal with my breathing.
I am huffing and puffing but I will not give up.
It’s the final 100 meters and I am running up Bay Street. I can hear my name being called by on-lookers and realize they are reading it off my bib. The crowd is loud and is so encouraging. All of a sudden I can’t feel any pain. The leg cramps are gone, my breathing is calm and I am picking up pace. I want to look strong for these people. I want a strong finish. I look to my right and there he is 100 meters before the finish line smiling and yelling my name. His smile is all I can focus on. I then hear my first and last name being yelled from another direction. I glance to my left… It’s my mom and step-dad, jumping up and down, screaming and holding up their phones to film my finish. I smile and I shed a tear. I don’t even remember crossing the finish line.
As I exit with the other amazing finishers I see my family and friends. It is overwhelming, emotional and exciting, and although I want to fall over I am overjoyed by their love and support. In that moment I know exactly why I did this. I don’t know if I can verbally express it, but if you’re a runner you know what I mean.
I dedicate my first race to my amazing father who passed away from a heart attack 10 years ago.