My fellow MRTT friend, Megan, and I road tripped up to Ohio. God bless Megan for driving us safely to Ohio and back home! It's about a 10-hr drive, but it wasn't too bad since we had great conversations and admired how the scenery differed from state to state - from the tall mountainous and rocky terrain of Tennessee to the green rolling hills and grassy pastures of Kentucky. We finally arrived in Ohio, had dinner at a world's famous rib joint, and Megan dropped me off at my hotel, the Netherland Plaza Hilton - smack in the heart of Cincinnati's downtown. She was staying with a friend at another hotel.
The great thing about participating in a TNT event is that you get rock star accommodations - the hotel is always really nice and you are within walking distance of the expo and/or race start line. The next morning I hit up the expo at the Duke Convention Center, which was just a few blocks away. Holy moly - it was the largest expo I'd been to yet. Taking my time, I perused the aisles and purchased a pair of cute leopard print Lululemon shorts that were on sale, a customized Flying Pig shirt, some wings for my shoes, and my pig charm for my marathon necklace collection (I collect a charm representing each marathon I run.) The race swag was out of this world too! We got a commemorative poster for the 17th annual run, as well as a tech shirt and backpack, in addition to a bunch of freebies! Hands down, one of the best expos I've attended yet! Cincinnati is such a beautiful city! I wished I had more time to explore, but after walking around all day and consuming a heavy lunch, I was ready to get back to the hotel and take a nap.
That night, I had my TNT inspiration dinner held in our hotel and was able to meet my other Team mates. There were a good bit of people there representing TNT from several states. Team Georgia alone, had 4 or 5 tables reserved. Go Team! These dinners are always pretty emotional. You get to hear from survivors and honored heroes, as well as meet survivors who are also participating in the event. After dinner, I went straight to my room, laid out my gear in preparation for race morning - making sure I didn't forget my customized grace band (from Races2Remember) that had names of honored and loved ones to which I would dedicate my 26.2 miles, read a few chapters of my book, set my alarm, and went to sleep. It was a restless night. My emotions were all over the place - it was a mixture of nervous jitters and worries that this was too soon to be running a marathon after running a mountainous, not hilly, but mountainous 21-miler (Big Sur) just 7 days before. What was I thinking?! Would my legs give out on me? Would I be struggling? Would this be a terrible experience? Why did I sign up for another hilly marathon?! GO TO SLEEP SEAL!!
My alarm went off and I was up. I threw on my TNT singlet and Skirt Sports 261 Fearless skirt and met up with my Team downstairs, took a group picture, did a group huddle wishing everyone a good race, and was off to the start line (which again - was only a few blocks away from the hotel). I found my corral and patiently waited for the race to start. Once again, the pessimistic thoughts started making its way into my head again. They wouldn't go away until after mile 4 or 5. I found my groove and had my sights on running up every freaking hill that came my way. I started repeating mantras like "come on, you got this!" "let's run up this bitch" (every time I had to run up a hill); and "let's do this!" and "mom, look at me!" Believe it or not, mantras help! They provide me just the boost I need when I feel like I'm struggling. Another thing that helped on this course was all the crowd support. There was only a little stretch that didn't have many spectators, but it was fine. My most entertaining moment was seeing the nuns on one side of the street and the DJ on the other side of the street playing some racy songs! It made me chuckle! Running past the nursing home was really cute too. All these cute old folks were holding up signs and were clapping and cheering us on. It was really sweet! There were folks with hoses and sprinklers or what they referred to as "hog wash" to spray runners down if they wanted. Volunteers and local residents were passing out Twizzlers, Swedish fish, beer shots, bacon slices, orange slices, jelly beans, and all kinds of fuel to get runners through these 26.2 miles!
Another thing running with TNT is that there are coaches throughout the marathon course to check on us. I had three different coaches run with me for a small stretch at varying miles to keep me company. Their task for the day was to make sure we had enough fuel, salt tabs, Glide/Vaseline, anything we needed and to give us motivation and inform us on just how many more hills we had to look forward to. It was great company and once again provided me with boosts of energy to get me by these miles. At about mile 19, I ran past a runner. She screamed, "Go Team!" I responded back, "Go Team!" and she began to tell me, "43 years ago, my parents were told that their daughter had leukemia and to start planning for a funeral within the next 3 months...and I'm still here." She thanked me and told me that I was making a difference. It doesn't get any better than that. You spend months on finding clever ways to fund raise, begging everyone you know for a donation...and to hear a survivor thank you while you're beginning to start hitting the dreaded wall, is purely overwhelming and emotional. I held back tears. This is my 2nd TNT event and the 2nd time a survivor has thanked me on the course. There is no greater feeling than that!
As I was running, I could hear the crowd yell, "Way to go 4:10 pace group!" I couldn't believe I was still ahead of them at this point. My best marathon was last year's RNR Savannah and I completed it in 4:14. With all the negative thoughts gone, I decided then and there that since I was feeling good - my goal was to at least run a 4:10 - don't let them pass me!! At about mile 24, the 4:10 pacer was next to me. I decided to just stick with them. When we hit mile 25, the pacer told us to start kicking it in if we still had it in us. I started to push my pace faster and was determined to get in before 4:10 if I could. For the first time, I noticed myself picking out rabbits on the course. Girl in the purple tank...let's see if I can catch up to her. Done! Next - guy in the blue shorts...and he stopped for water so now I'm past him. Who's next? I played this game up until I could see the finish line, or finish swine. I pushed it even faster (or what felt fast to me). The day before at the expo, I posed like I was flying through the finish "swine" with my arms raised like wings. I thought about that moment, and even though I was tired, breathing heavily, and making awful grunting noises (not on purpose), I managed to raise my chafed arms and run through the finish. I had signed up for text alerts and got instant notification of my time - 4:08!! Wait? What?! I couldn't believe it! I totally reached a new PR - and it was all so unexpected! I was so shocked by my time that I forgot to check in at the TNT event and I totally forgot to ring the PR bell that they have at the after party. Boo!!! I went to find Megan (who ran the half) and we headed to lunch. Megan's iRun4 buddy, Aiden, and his mom were there to cheer us on too. We all had lunch and then parted ways. Megan and I headed to my hotel, showered up, and hit the road home.
Running a marathon isn't too bad. Running a marathon and then being stuck in a car for 10 hours is pure hell. We got home around 1:30 am and my bed has never felt so good!
All in all, I would totally recommend this marathon. The expo kicks ass, the route is definitely challenging, but the crowd support makes up for it, and the city is full of energy!