Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Reasons to Run: My first marathon

Published: Thursday, May 26 2011 7:00 a.m. MDT

Four hours, 30 minutes was my goal for my first marathon.

For a first-time marathoner, I was warned that my only goal should be to finish, but I'm stubborn and my long training runs were averaging a 9:30-minute pace, so I kept 4 hours, 30 minutes in my head.

The week leading up to the marathon was not ideal race conditions. I got little sleep and worked too hard, but I ate well and was excited for the Ogden Marathon. The day before the Saturday race I was stressed and tired. It all melted away by the time I got to Ogden with my aunt and friend Brittany.

Our hotel had signs welcoming runners. The restaurants along historic 25th street passed out fliers advertising carb-loaded runner's menu specials. Residents wished us "Good luck." The expo was packed and fun.

Once I picked up my bib number with "Amelia" printed across it I got butterflies in my stomach: This was my race, and I was ready.

I stopped at the Clif Bar Pace Team booth where the marathon pacers were answering questions and their reassurance made me feel even more confident about my goal.

My sleep that night could not have been better. I slept like a rock from 9:30 p.m. until 4 a.m. I laid out all my clothes, energy gels and iPod the night before so I spent my time that morning rolling out my legs on a foam roller and eating breakfast, which was a peanut butter and honey sandwich.

I tried not to panic when we got to the buses and I realized I forgot my banana and I couldn't find my training partners Candice and Melinda. I tried not to panic again on the seemingly endless bus ride up Ogden Canyon.

"I'm going to be running this whole thing?" I thought.

The start line was a cool 50 degrees and the fire pits were a warm way to stretch. Although we boarded the buses two hours before the race was supposed to begin, 7 a.m. crept up on us. When I went to line up with my pacer, I spotted Candice. She was in the 4 hour, 15-minute section, which made sense for our training pace, since mile splits for her projected time would be about 9:45 minute miles.

"Why not?" I thought. "Better to push myself than to run slow."

The first 13 miles flew by. We ran along the river high from the rain and snow melt, past farms with horses galloping along runners and by smiling residents groggily watching the race and around the sparkly blue Pineview Reservoir. The volunteers at the aid stations ― particularly the ones at Mile 7 wearing '70s costumes ― were full of enthusiasticand shouting our names. Candice and I were a pair of Chatty Cathys. We talked the whole time.

Our pacer Casey was like running with an edition of Runner's World. She gave us tips: "Bend your water cup to drink while you run!" "Save your energy to sprint ahead the last 1-3 miles!" and encouragement the whole way. We joked about the infamous hill at Mile 14, the only hill of the course. Runners often complain about it, but we mocked it.

At Mile 13, my husband and daughter were waiting for me with a pair of shoes and some Motrin. During training, I switched between a pair of minimalist Nike Frees and a padded pair of Asics, but lately the Asics had aggravated an injury, while I couldn't feel any pain in the Nikes. I was too nervous to run the entire race in the Frees, so I switched into them at the halfway point. I got a burst of energy from the lightweight shoes.

Candice and I surged forward to the hill. It looked a lot bigger than we anticipated. On the course elevation map, it looks like a tiny blip in a downhill run, easy to miss, but in front of us, it was like we were scaling a mountain.

I lost my pace group on that hill. I also lost Candice. I had to walk up parts of it and and at the top I had to use the bathroom. I wasn't discouraged though. For the first time since we began I put in my headphones with a catered marathon playlist. I had Candice in my sight.

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