Things getting real as I received my race bib on Friday afternoon.
Things getting real as I received my race bib on Friday afternoon.

I did it! 26.2 miles completed. After months of training and working toward my goal, I started and finished my first marathon at the 2016 Montana Governor’s Cup on June 11. I went in with a goal of finishing in under 4 hours and crossed the finish line with six minutes to spare, finishing in 3:54:12, placing 31st overall and 3rd in my division. Not to bad for a first timer.

The starting time (6 a.m.) didn’t seem all that bad, until you factor in that the buses to the start line left at 4:45 a.m. Cue the 3 a.m. alarm to get up, eat breakfast, drink my coffee and wake up. Fortunately, I live less than a mile from the finish line, so it could have been worse.

The marathon began at Marysville (5,200 ft) with a steady downhill through mile 7, losing almost 1,000 ft elevation. Temperatures were perfect in the low-50s and overcast. This stretch went by very quick. The key to endurance is not to head out too fast, which is made even more difficult when running downhill. Fortunately, I stuck with my routine of starting farther back than I needed to and slowly making up ground. I talked to a few folks away and soaked in the easy run through quite hills and wooded highway.

Even though she thinks I'm crazy for running, Dairy Carrie might win the prize. Glad to have a cheerleader on my side all week as we met for a meeting in Great Falls earlier in the week. I have to stop picking up strangers at airports.
Even though she thinks I’m crazy for running, Dairy Carrie might win the prize. Glad to have a cheerleader all week as we met for a conference in Great Falls earlier in the week. I have to stop picking up strangers at airports.

Around mile 4, I caught up with a gal who really wanted to talk. She was visiting from Pennsylvania and really excited about visiting Montana. She wanted to know if we had to worry about predators – bear, cats or wolves. It didn’t take her long to mention her vegetarian diet when I responded that I work with ranchers in the state. Instead of heading down the road of advocacy, I smiled, snuck in a few remarks about how ranchers contributed to these great open lands we were running past and encouraged her to have a great time as I departed to get back on track. I just wanted to leave a good impression for someone who came to enjoy our great state.

Mile 7 to 13 is what I had prepared for. Gentle rolling hills, but nothing too steep. I’ve done a lot of hill work this Spring, so the rolling roads were great for momentum downhill and I took the uphill in stride as others worked to maintain oxygen supply. I had to keep my training in mind. Upright, good form. Keep looking ahead, not at the ground. Steady, deep breathing. I let out a big cheer when I passed the halfway mark and the guys manning that checkpoint. My first half split was an 8:33 pace – nothing spectacular, but I wasn’t running too fast.


Montana Governor's Cup Marathon
My Garmin Stats from the Race

Mile 13 to 17 – This is where I had to work. The road began to flatten out. Thankfully a breeze began to blow (it was humid from raining the previous night), then it became a stronger cross wind. This wasn’t anything terrible, but I definitely knew from training, I had to keep my mantra in mind as I tried to pass or catch up to runners – Run Your Race. Keep The Pace. I kept an even stride and maintained my form.

Carrie made sure my phone was full of cheers when i made it to the finish. The rest of the Mess family even made an appearance! That's what great friends are for.
Carrie made sure my phone was full of cheers when I made it to the finish. The rest of the Mess family even made an appearance!

Mile 18 – this is where my feet showed up to the party and told me they were tiring of the pavement. Thank goodness we soon hit dirt road.

Mile 19 – I regretting taking the extra gel instead of something more solid to eat. I knew better than this.

Mile 20 – Yes! This is where people worry about hitting the wall, but I had made sure to consume enough calories and water to avoid that.

Mile 21 – Smiling to myself. This is the longest I’ve ever covered running.

Mile 22 – Ugh, my legs showed up to the party and began getting a little heavy.

Mile 23 – Crap. My legs are heavy. I’ve covered this stretch many times in training. I know what’s ahead. I can do this. But my feet hurt and my legs are more difficult to move.

Mile 24 – Dude, you have time to spare. Take a few walk breaks. Climb this steady grade to the finish line in Downtown.

Mile 25 – The girl next to me yelled when I took one more walk break. I think she scared me out of my thoughts and I looked at my watch. Come on man! 1.2 mile to go! You got this! No slowing to the finish.

Mile 25.9 – WHY WON’T THESE PEOPLE MOVE!!??! I hit the wall of 5k/10k walkers as we all converged toward the finish line. Seems these people have no clue what “ON YOUR LEFT” means. (Do me a favor, look up this phrase before your first/next race, and make room for runners coming up from behind when you hear this shouted). I really hope I don’t knock one of these kids over when they don’t move out of my way. Why did they make this finish chute so long and so narrow?

Team Beef made it to the finish.
Team Beef made it to the finish.

Mile 26.2 – DONE. Where is the food and a place to lay down to my legs can go ahead and die?

Once I found a pint of milk (even though it had coffee crap in it) and a chair, I realized how dead my legs felt. Pretty sure I would have been better off to just keep moving. I did it. I had my medal and I am now officially a marathoner. Even though my second half split was significantly slower than the first, I beat my goal and made it to the finish line of my first marathon.

I really didn’t have many thoughts going through my mind sitting at the finish, other than the fact that there was an ice bath waiting for me at the house. I thought about sticking around for the awards ceremony, but since I didn’t have my phone on me, I had no clue of knowing where I finished.

So, I slowly made my way to my pickup. I now understand the jokes surrounding marathon runners not being able to walk. I had to look like I’d just been plowed over by a semi. Once I made it to the pickup, I couldn’t help but smile as Patrick and Carrie had made sure to send me texts of encouragement and cheers when seeing I had finished as they stalked the online results.

Really, I should have led with this part – I couldn’t have done this without support of many great friends who have poked, prodded, and maybe just given a simple like to photos I’ve plastered across social media during the previous months. But I really have to give it to Carrie Mess who isn’t afraid to tell me just how crazy I appear to the rest of the world, or who checks on me persistently after I share just how tough training became during a few stretches. That’s just what great friends do.

Cold water has never felt better! And once I was actually able to look at the race results on my phone, I couldn’t believe that I had actually placed 3rd in my age group. And yes, there were more than 3 in the division. Not bad for my first.

The great part? I spent the next 3 days eating anything within arm’s reach, even as I headed north to work with a few ranchers in Saskatchewan immediately after the race. ALL. THE. FOOD. Of course, plenty of beef included.

While my last few miles and appearance at the finish was less than stellar, I have a PR in the marathon. Actually, I can’t wait to repeat the entire ordeal next month at the Missoula Marathon! Am I crazy? Likely. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Consider me an addict waiting for the high from the next round of torture.

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