Friday, May 13, 2011


I’m gonna come right out and say it, this post is going to be nothing more than a chance for me to toot my own horn a bit. But I’d say completing a 26.2-mile race warrants a little horn-tooting, don’t you?

That’s right, last Sunday I completed my first ever marathon! Called the Maas Marathon (after the river it runs along), race started and ended in Vise, Belgium (about ten minutes away by train), circling up to Maastricht along one side of the river and back down along the other side.

This was a perfect first marathon for me: fairly low key, but still a big turnout (over 600 people ran the marathon, with many more competing in a half marathon, 5k and 10k on the same day) with lots of local support; pretty cheap as far as these things go, only 40 euro to enter (a little less if you do it early enough, but I registered the day before. This also meant my name wasn’t printed on my bib number, but they still announced my name as I crossed the finish, which was cool!); and no real traveling involved. The race started at 9, not too late but not too early, and getting on the first train from Maastricht to Vise at 8:09 got us there in plenty of time. Here's some scenes from the start (Note: pictures courtesy of my mom):

I'm not sure if the ferris wheel was there specifically for the race or not, but it made for an extra festive atmosphere (see the people drinking beer? It was like 9 in the morning!).

There were bands like this at several points along the course regaling the runners...

Spurring them on to their final destination, the Finish Line! But first...

You have to start! Look how excited and not exhausted I am in the starting corral!

And we're off! I may already look exhausted, but it's just a really bad picture (good running pictures are pretty hard to come by, I've found. You almost always look like you're dying even if you feel great.)

 It was just my parents and me at the start, since (and this was another great thing about this race) Todd was biking down to Vise separately. Each runner was allowed to have a biker ride along with them, joining up with the runners at the 13k mark. It was awesome to have my boyfriend with me for most of the race. He not only provided much needed encouragement when the going got tough (and boy did it ever!), he also performed reconnaissance; as he informed me at 13k, I was in second place overall for women! Every once in a while, Todd would drop back and time how far away the third woman was, and once it became clear that I was a solid second I felt much more comfortable slowing my pace.

This became important during the second half of the race on the way back to Vise; the day was hot (in the 70s for most of the race, I think) and there wasn’t a lot of shade along the river, as we mostly ran on bike paths and back roads through wide-open countryside. My pace started out pretty good, but soon the sun and heat took its toll, and by 30k I was completely wiped. Luckily the race was very well-supported, with aid stations every few kilometers offering water and sometimes food*. This was my first time ever needing to drink anything during a run. My longest race previously was a 20k, and even during that run I didn’t need to take any water, but I was certainly glad for it during the marathon (I got it all over myself of course, but that actually felt really good).

*The food on offer at the aid tables was unusual to say the least: there were the usual suspects – bananas and orange slices – but then there was also gingerbread, raisins, and what I think were marshmallows. If I wasn’t afraid of some, um, gastrointestinal issues I would have grabbed some just for the sake of research.

All this to say, I pretty much blew up, as the saying goes in running circles; my calves completely seized up and I ended up having to walk a little in the last 5k (I never stopped moving forward though, and in my defense I passed people walking a lot earlier than I ended up having to!). Again, big, huge thanks to Todd, who was basically solely responsible for keeping me going. Without him I might have been tempted to drop out, but with him next to me and knowing my parents were waiting at the finish (and that if I just kept going, I would definitely come in second place), I pressed on. Thankfully the last 400 or meters were all downhill, so with gravity’s help I was able to pick up the pace considerably and crossed the line not looking like a complete disaster. Here I am headed toward the finish:

I don't think I have ever been so glad to stop running. Todd was tired too, after biking almost the whole race plus an extra 6 or 7 miles down to Vise (and he biked back too!). Don't we look like happy campers?

We decided we needed to refuel, stat. And what better way to do that than with frites?

Yes, French fries, mayo and Fanta are totally acceptable recovery foods, trust me. 

We waited around for a while til the awards ceremony (which took place in a tent where they were, of course, serving beer) and sure enough, my time of 3:08:45 was good enough for second female runner, 37th overall out of 614 finishers. Not bad for a first go-round in a heat wave, huh? I was called up onto the stage to receive my gift basket*, where I stood awkwardly for a few minutes waiting for the first and third place women to show up for pictures, but I guess they went home, so they let me go. 

(That kid on the steps looks bored to tears, doesn't he?)

Along with the gift basket I received a little red ticket, which it turns out was a receipt for my prize money: 750 euros! Can you believe that?? I’m glad I had no idea there was that much money on the line, I would’ve been freaking out the whole race.

So yeah, all in all a pretty successful, though very tiring, day. Now Todd and I have to decide how to spend this money once the check clears. H&M shopping spree, anyone?

*In case you were wondering about that gift basket, it contained an assortment of French gourmet foods, including:
- a little can of Kusmi tea, which I am unfamiliar with but which was, according to the label, founded in 1867 in St. Petersburg and is now made in France (my jar is called “Green Zoubrovka” and is described as “green China tea with scents of buffalo grass.”
- a jar of “Caviar d’Aubergine,” a.k.a eggplant spread
- a mini jar of fig chutney
- a little packet of apple-pear syrup or stroop (which is actually from Liege in Belgium)
- a can of foie gras, which I donated to my parents to thank them for their support (and because there’s no way Todd and I would consume it, he being a vegetarian and me not desiring to eat several ounces of duck liver by myself)
- a bag of "Focaccine con Pomodoro e Origano," Italian crackers, translated on the package quite adorably as "Breadshorts with Tomato and Oregano." I'm thinking of calling all crackers "breadshorts" from now on.

A lovely little basket, most of which will be accompanying me and Todd (along with the smoked gouda from Amsterdam, some brie and some Bishop’s mill spelt bread) on the train to the Friesian islands, where we will be taking a mini-vacation to this weekend. 

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