5:30 am: My body jolts awake. I can’t take the suspense any longer, I have to get up. I’ve been lying awake in bed for the past hour, anxious about the upcoming day. My mind swirling around, trying to process what I am about to go through.
Will I be mentally prepared?
Will I enjoy the experience?
Will I even finish?
I know I should be trying to get as much sleep as possible, but my body is in full fight or flight mode and I can only hope it chooses flight. I lay awake until I hear the blessed sound of my alarm. Beep…Beep…Beep
6:00 am: I finally decide to get out of bed and start preparing for the event. I chew on a chocolate chip bagel and guzzle down two liters of water. My body starts to shiver with excitement and I have a surge of energy as I slide on my running tights, lace up my shoes and strap on my camelback. Before I take my first steps outside I take a moment to reflect on the past 5 months. I think, “I’m I really about to do this?” I snicker to myself. I’m really about to do this.
7:00 am: Walking outside I feel the full crispness of the fall air. With every breath, I can feel the cold air filling my lungs. Running up and down the street near my apartment, I’ve never seen so many people lining Court Avenue. Mothers, fathers, significant others, siblings and friends proudly wave their home-made signs in support. I find a quiet place and start stretching my body. Warming-up in the same way I use to warm-up for track events in high-school. The music buzzing through my headphones is calm, trying to match my heartbeat with the beat of each song.
7:45 am: Squeezing my way through a crowd of neon socks, hand-warmers and smartwatches I finally arrive at my starting position. Constantly moving to keep my muscles warm and nerves at bay. I’m surrounded by people, but I can only focus on myself.
“Oh say can you see, by the dawns early light”
I set my Apple watch to 26.2 miles.
“And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air”
Anxiety fills every cell in my body.
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
9:00 am: So far, so good. The crowd has thinned out and everyone is deep into their race mentality. I’m steady with my pace and don’t feel tired at all. To pass the time I focus on each passing sign spectators hold up in support of the runners.
“Run like you stoled something”
“This is a lot of work for a free banana”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, you’re a 13.1”
I soak in as much positivity as possible and enjoy every second knowing I won’t be as energetic in two hours. I’m coming close to the toughest part of the entire race. I’ve run the stretch in my training many times, but I don’t know how my legs will feel after. Until then, I push feelings of doubt and fear out of my mind and focus back on the smiling faces cheering me on.
10:00 am: Halfway there. My fiancé and his family meet me every two miles to encourage and remind me of why I’m putting myself through this crazy experience. Each time I high-five my fiancé I’m filled with positive reinforcement knowing I am capable of anything. I struggled with a lot of anxiety the years leading up to my first IMT half-marathon. I didn’t think I was capable of much and I had a dim outlook on life. After completing my first half-marathon I was hooked on the feeling of accomplishment. I felt truly invincible. Running gave me back the confidence of knowing I could rise to meet any challenge. As I head into steep terrain my mind flows into a meditative state. I focus softly on my feet as they make contact with the ground in front of me.
12:00 pm: The roar of the crowd is far behind me as the race route leads us into the forest. The only noise I hear is the sound of shoes pounding on the ground and the occasional supportive grunt. This is the toughest part of the race. Mental strength is the only thing keeping me from laying on a park bench and giving up. I remember the promise I made to myself. It doesn’t matter how long it took me to finish, the only goal I had was to never stop running. I finally emerge back onto the crowded streets of the race. I’m filled with a second wind passing marching bands, acrobats, and singers. I put my head down and grind until the next mile marker.
1:00 pm: I feel on fire.
Every part of my body aches.
My toes are numb.
I love it.
Only 3 miles left and I will have achieved the hardest task I’ve ever completed in my life.
1:30 pm: I turn the corner and Court Avenue embraces me with the sound of celebration. I sprint as fast as I can seeing the end in sight. I hear, “Here comes Tessa Heitkamp to the finish line,” over the loudspeaker. Four hours and thirty-two minutes flash before me as a kind white-haired lady wraps a medal around my neck. My fiancé picks me up off of the ground and starts chanting my name. Wearing the biggest smile but too tired to speak, I think to myself, “I did it.” After a few seconds of recovery, I head over to the celebration tent and grab as many cookies as I can possibly hold. I spend the next 4 hours participating in fun IMT activities wishing the day would never end.
10:00 pm: I lay in bed. As awake as I was at the begging of the day. I reflect on how fast the day came and went. I don’t want to fall asleep because tomorrow is just another Monday. I replay the race over and over in my head like a lullaby. I sluggishly turn off my lamp and think one last time of what I accomplished. Today I achieved a goal I never thought I could.
I ran a marathon.
I ran a marathon and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year.
Until next time,