By Beth Nykerk
Sunday, September 13 was a special race day for many reasons. It was such an amazing day, that it truly is hard to articulate my thoughts and feelings in this race recap. But after one week of reflecting, I’ve finally found the words, and I’m excited to share my experience with running the Holland Haven Marathon.
First of all, this was my first time running a LIVE race since the half marathon I ran on February 1, 2020. In mid-February, I started training for a full marathon that was scheduled for June. Well, not to my surprise, it ended up becoming a virtual race. I was disappointed for a little while, but decided I wasn’t going to let my training go to waste. During the months of March-May, I actually ran more miles than ever. Running was my outlet, especially when COVID-19 became a reality and I was teaching second grade remotely from home.
Let’s flash forward a few months. I learned that the Holland Haven Marathon was going to be a live race, and I remained optimistic that it would actually happen. I ran the Holland Haven Half Marathon last year, and fell in love with the course. I was reluctant to register (in fear it would also go virtual), but once I officially registered, it was GAME ON. I live very close to the race course, so I was able to train on the course often, which was especially helpful for long runs on the weekend.
The race was in jeopardy of being pushed to a virtual experience in August, but race director Eddie Kline wasn’t going to let this happen. I want to give a major shoutout to the most dedicated race director I have ever met. Eddie is relentless and he wasn’t going to give up on this race experience! He never gave up on us runners, and there’s a reason the hashtag became #Letusrun. Eddie communicated with runners nearly daily via email, would respond promptly to questions, and went out of his way to make the race one that truly was unforgettable. There were many rules to follow and some of the “Safe Race Regulations” included:
- Only allowing 100 runners to start per hour – Eddie had 9 different corrals just for the full marathon alone – 33 runners starting in each corral.
- Runners in each of the events (8K, half, and full) would not encounter each other when racing.
- Drive-through packet pick-up
- Runners were required to wear a face covering until they crossed the start line, when passing other runners (if in a space where they are unable to keep 6 feet distance from other participants), and also as they crossed the finish line.
- There wasn’t a typical post-race party/celebration. Upon finishing, runners agreed to leave the event after receiving finish line food, water, and the race medal.
On race morning, as I was driving to the start line at Rosy Mound Elementary School in Grand Haven, I saw some of the runners from the early morning corrals on the course. I rolled down my window as I proceeded to cheer for them, and tears formed in my eyes. IT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING, a REAL race!!! Everything went so smoothly from start to finish. It was interesting only starting with 33 runners in the corral, but it didn’t bother me. In fact, it was less stressful than the usual pre-race craziness. There wasn’t even a line for the porta-potty!
Now as for the race itself…let’s just say that I pulled a rookie mistake, didn’t follow my race plan, and went out too fast. After ten half marathons and two full marathons…I know better than to start too fast. I knew what I was doing, but was feeling so fresh and enthusiastic as the adrenaline was pumping through me, that I still didn’t slow down. And boy did I pay the price later on.
I was feeling great for the first half, but then by Mile 16 I was already riding the struggle bus. This was something that I had not experienced in my first two full marathons in 2019. My stomach hated me by this point, and I was afraid of having more GI issues, so I didn’t take in any fuel after Mile 18. That sure didn’t help me at all.
My head and heart wanted MORE, but my body wasn’t fully cooperating. I had to do 10-second walk breaks more times than I care to admit. I had to dig really, really deep to crank out the last 10k on the course. You know that phrase, “The second half of the marathon starts at Mile 20?” Yeah, that was my reality for sure. But all things considered, I ended up crossing the finish line in 3:47:35, a full 10-minute PR from the Grand Rapids Marathon in October 2019!
Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely proud about this new PR. However, numbers only tell so much. They don’t tell the back story. I’ll be real upfront and admit, this was not the race result I was anticipating. I honestly had only told a handful of friends/family what my goal was. I felt like I had let myself down in some ways, not reaching the goal that I believed I was physically capable of.
Support from family and friends
But at the end of the day, the 10-minute PR wasn’t what it was all about. It was about the support from everyone — race director Eddie, the amazing volunteers, family, and my supportive friends who found me multiple times on the race course. My husband Ben truly deserves an award for secretly creating a Facebook event and inviting our friends to support me on race day. I had no clue he did this, until post-race.
Ben found me at Mile 9, when I was still feeling strong. Well, let’s just say when things started to get real around Mile 16, I was completely shocked when I saw not just Ben, but MANY of our closest friends cheering me on as I ran past Tunnel Park. They found me again at miles 20, 23, and at the finish line. Words can’t describe how much this meant to me, that they took the time out of their Sunday to come support me on race day. They deserve all of the recognition possible, for making this day even better and more special than ever.
Another major highlight was meeting some amazing Instagram runner friends in real life for the first time! Many of these friends I’ve chatted with regularly for months/years, and it was incredible to meet them in person. When I was struggling around Mile 22, Allison and Mary came literally out of nowhere to give me the nudge that I needed on the way to the finish line. To that, I am forever grateful.
Focus on the positives
And the bottom line is, I know that I gave 110% and all that I had on race day. So I’m going to be proud of myself, learn from my mistakes, and take that with me into the next marathon. I’ve shaved 36 mins off my marathon time since my first full (Bayshore Marathon) in May 2019. I’ll continue to focus on the positives, and not be disappointed in myself.
In June 2017 when I started running, I never imagined running a full marathon. And now here we are, three marathons down and many more to go. It’s exciting to think of what the future holds. And now one week post-race, I will admit that I am already missing the training cycle. There’s something so rewarding about seeing all of your hard work pay off. And as Des Linden says, “Running rewards consistency and resilience. So does life. Keep your heads up. Lend a hand to the people around you. If we act like champions, we will all win.” Running 26.2 miles is a humbling experience, and I can’t wait to do it again in 2021.