NASHVILLE (WTVM) - Five hours later, it was an exhilarating relief to finally run across the finish line. I am now a first-time "Marathon Finisher" – I even was awarded a jacket with those words on it.
Four months of training led to this moment, but I was still dealing with a roller coaster of emotions right before the race, nervous and excited and focused.
Let me take you through what it was like during those 26.2 miles, including an injury, but first we've got to talk a little food and Tennessee.
We arrived in Nashville on Friday, picked up our race bibs. My number was 25149. Then we headed downtown to check out the Music City.
The night before my first marathon, I was happy to carb-up, scarfing down three large slices of pizza and a share of spaghetti and meatballs. Those carbs are stored for the last half of the long race.
On Saturday morning, our hotel had a special early breakfast for runners. Since we're supposed to eat 2 hours before this marathon, I met my running partner Jimmy Davis at 4:45am for oatmeal, waffles, fruit, and coffee.
It rained and rained during our walk to the starting line, so we looked fashionable wearing trash bags, to keep our running clothes somewhat dry. The lightning delayed the start of the race by 40 minutes.
The rain finally stopped, and after waiting some more, the St. Jude Rock 'N' Roll Nashville runs began. It was a crowd of 30,000 participants! Most were either in the half marathon or 5K.
Fewer than 3,000 ran or walked in the marathon with me, and thank God it stayed dry all along our route.
We were alongside the half marathoners the first 9 miles, before they split off from us, so it was a game of passing and dodging for awhile.
There were 17 water stations, some with Gatorade, on our 26.2 miles. We skipped the first couple, but took a quick swig or 2 at most. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
We were halfway done with the marathon in about 2 hours, 18 minutes. That's a pace of about 10 minutes per mile, which included quick water breaks and stops at medical tents every 5 miles to rub Icy Hot on our quads or knees.
Our families and a friend were strategically at mile 18 to cheer us on and give us a banana. After that, there was a turning point in our race, because of an injury my running partner had been dealing with for at least a month.
Around mile 19, the more experienced marathon runner Jimmy gave me a heartfelt speech, telling me he wouldn't be able to run much more, with the MCL sprain in his knee. It took a lot of guts for him to go this far, at this pace, through all that pain!
Jimmy finally convinced me to run on without him. Less than a mile later, my fear became reality, and my quads started tightening up, sore off and on for those last 6+ miles. The good news that was the really the only thing that hurt me during my longest run ever.
I was running by myself, telling God "you're my running partner" and "get me through this." My pace slowed. I would run for a 1/3 or a half a mile, then walk a little. That repeated for more than an hour.
I tried to ignore the pain, but my mind was playing tricks on me. The miles seemed longer. Others around me, some younger athletes, were limping on the race course.
There were people cheering us on, all along the way. And there was a live band playing great music, every couple of miles during this Rock 'N' Roll marathon.
I had worked so hard to get here. When the finish line was just around the corner, then in sight, I was happy to know I'd made it and could stop running very soon!
Jogging across the finish, looking up, I saw my wife and kids in the distance, taking pictures and smiling proudly. I lifted my hands in victory, then quickly downed a bottled water!
I finished 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 59 minutes but with the course being 26.5 miles, my official time was closer to 5 hours, 3 minutes. My "coach" Jimmy crossed the finish line 25-30 minutes later, his knee hurting and swollen.
The more important number is I have now joined the ranks of 0.5% of people in the U.S, who have completed a marathon. That's 1 out of every 200. And in any given year, approximately 1 out of 600 Americans run a marathon.
For the 2 days after, I was limping. I'm feeling better now, but my quads are still a little sore.
I'm not done yet. After resting for the next month, not running at all for the next 2 weeks, I'll be looking for the next race. And I've already signed up for the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida, which is in January 2017.
Looking back, this first marathon is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. Everybody has their own races or challenges they face. What's yours?
"Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." - Hebrews 12:1