Fort Worth Marathon Race Report
By Stephanie Cole
Race morning. Sonja and I managed to laugh our way through the early drive to Fort Worth. We parked without issue (for a $5 fee), got all our gear situated, pinned bibs, took pictures, and walked easily up to the starting area. One of the best perks of small races is the accessibility of everything important. We even had the use of indoor restrooms! We found some other RRC members (Larry and Mary), chatted, encouraged, and generally waited with one eye on the approaching clouds.
We had been anxiously watching weather forecasts the entire week. Winter storm Brutus was sweeping in a bit north of us, and while behind it was going to be a much-needed cold front, the storm itself might result in a canceled race.
There were almost too many things to contemplate: Would my knees hold up? Would the 70-degree starting temps, 18 mph winds, and humidity be too much? Was my 18-mile long run really long enough? Would I finish??
After a moving tribute for Veterans’ Day, the horn sounded and we took off. Immediately I knew this wasn’t going to be my best run. I felt exhausted starting out. But I didn’t care—I was going to finish, and finish strong. I wasn’t going to allow myself to be mentally defeated, but I knew I had to be realistic about my expectations. A month before as I raced Tyler half to a significant PR (2:08), I knew what it felt like to have a good run in me, but it was also thirty degrees cooler that day.
We immediately went up a hill and were greeted with the (thankfully temporary) smell of raw sewage. Someone nearby joked about being hungry, and Sonja grumbled at me about this being a supposedly flat marathon. We proceeded onto about a mile and a half of gravel trail. I probably should have paid closer attention to the course features, but this wasn’t kind to my overly flexible ankles. Once we reached a straightaway by the river, at least we had smoother ground to run on. The winds, however, slowed us from a 10:30 clip to 11:30 overall through the next five miles. I started looking uneasily at all the vacant buildings to our right. I had left my phone in the car because of the threat of weather, but it was clear from the small size of the event that perhaps I should have brought it, albeit heavily shrink wrapped, anyway.
By mile 8 we reached an overpass/dam area with a steep decline, low bridge across the river, and then sharp incline to continue the marathon on the street. As we were descending, a course monitor on a bike said something—either bike up, or good job—and I thought I needed to look up at him to see if he was indicating something important. I learned a very valuable lesson the hard way: I can’t look up while running a descent. When I did, I tripped hard. I caught myself, but I had twisted my foot. At the moment I was only concerned about my knee.
We ran by some neighborhoods and then past a nice park area. The heat and humidity were getting to both of us. I didn’t realize that Sonja was starting to have problems with her stomach as can happen with her on hot runs. I just knew I couldn’t slow down without hurting. We parted ways by mile 11, but Sonja was a fighter and never fell too far behind me.
By the time we reached the very encouraging—and much needed—Moms Run This Town water stop, however, I knew I was in big trouble. My left foot was hurting with every step. Seeing friends along the way was a huge mental boost, and they got me through a few miles out and back. I reached the turnaround and realized I felt nothing like I felt at my last two halves: I was exhausted and hurting. I knew it was going to be a long 13.1 back, but I had to keep going. It took me almost two years overcoming various injuries to get to my marathon, and who knows how long it would take me to recover from this. I was out there and I had to finish.
The advantage of an out-and-back route was that I could register progress with each landmark on the way back. By the time I got back to the dam, the cold front had come in. I wished for rain with it; the effects of the heat and humidity were barely dented by the drop in temperature. It was here, however, that I began to get a little concerned about the security of the course.
It was a gorgeous course—the scenery almost made up for many other things. But there was a steep drop-off within feet of the running path. What if a runner passed out? Who would see? The runners became fewer and further between. The bike course monitors were not seen as frequently. At least two water stops had packed up and left already. One water stop had run out of cups, and I thanked God for a tip-off from a friend that I needed to have my own water bottle for this event.
Then a boost: I saw David and Brent, Sonja’s husband. David had finished his 20-mile run in preparation for his marathon, and he jogged easily next to me, encouraging me and telling me I looked strong. I needed to hear it. I didn’t feel strong. He told me he would see me at the finish, and I fought off happy tears as I dug deep to start pushing again. It was a peaceful run, but the vacant buildings were eery as people who were obviously not runners ambled past us in the other direction. And then the path ended.
There was one person in front of me. There was construction, an overpass, and a detour sign. I was tired and hurting. By now I had to intersperse walking with running to give my left foot a break from the nauseating pain. I prayed that the person in front of me was a marathoner. By the grace of God, she was, and I was still on the course. Mile 20 came and went.
Mile 22? One of the water stops was a group of college kids dressed as clowns. The only time I was actually irritated on the course came from watching them jump up and down and make exaggerated running motions as I approached. I argued with myself to give them a break—they were probably bored out of their minds, tired and ready to pack up and go on with their day. But part of me wanted to yell Seriously? I’m finishing a marathon on a hurt foot and you are MIMING a runner? You get your *** out here and try this!
By mile 24 I was in agony and I was frustrated. I knew I had more in me, but the pain in my foot was so nauseating I could hardly stand it. And once again, I wasn’t sure where to go. I knew the first two miles had been a blur, so I could hardly remember where I was supposed to go. First a bridge, and then another bridge, and then a turn onto another bridge—Please God let this be the way! Once again, I followed someone that I hoped was a marathoner. I couldn’t see a bib and there were several other people just out for a run (after the cool front came through, of course!).
Finally I saw the last water stop before the finish a mile and a half away. I regrouped, but it didn’t last long. And then I saw David again, and behind him, our running group. They had made signs and were cheering us on. At this point I was caught by surprise and the emotions overwhelmed me. I got a lump in my throat, but unfortunately, being asthmatic, when I get that emotional on a run, I start wheezing. David ran in concerned silence next to me for a few seconds while I wheezed through it. I got myself back under control, and we joked and laughed the last half mile together. He was exactly what I needed: not only was he able to tell me where to go—and he commented on the lack of signage at this point—but having him next to me made everything hurt just a little bit less. We walked the final incline, and then I raced to the finish.
I walked out a little bit and was greeted by an excellent post-race party. There were definitely some drawbacks on the course, but the Fort Worth Marathon knows how to throw a party. We had plenty of food and beverages afterward. It felt like the celebration it truly was.
I made it in 5:16, a 12:04 pace. That was a far cry from the 10:45-11 that I was hoping for, but it was a finish in spite of adversity. I’ve heard that a first marathon is about finishing, and now I know why. Until I reached the distance, I really feared it. I wasn’t confident in my ability to conquer it, and through that, conquer myself. It may take some time for my foot to heal, but a marathon finish will stay with me. And that sense of struggle and accomplishment is what it’s all about.
“Winning has nothing to do with racing. Most days don’t have races anyway. Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism, and never, ever, ever giving up.”
― Amby Burfoot, Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life
P.S. A HUGE thanks to MRTT for providing me with the opportunity to run this race!