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Angela Bekkala: The Toughest Race I’ve Ever Run

Angela Bekkala writes about her first marathon, in which she dealt with stomach issues in rainy, miserable weather

The hardest race I’ve ever done was ironically my first and (so far) only marathon.

It was May 2013. The entire 16 weeks of training were almost perfect. I was feeling strong, hitting my paces for every workout and just enjoying running despite horrible winter/spring weather.

The Vermont City Marathon is in Burlington, Vt.—about four hours from where I live in New Hampshire. As we were driving there the day before the race, rain was coming down in buckets and it was even snowing at one point. Perfect Memorial Day weekend weather, right? Thankfully the snow stopped, but it continued to rain heavily throughout the night and on race day. In addition to the weather, I was also dealing with a sick toddler. One of the perks of being a mother runner.

I barely slept the night before the race. I talked myself out of having an “A goal” race. I just wanted to have a good run.

The rain was coming down so hard that waiting for the race to start was miserable. I was completely soaked. When it was finally time to start, I jumped into a coral not even paying attention of what the pace was. I just wanted to run to get warmer!

The first 14 miles were uneventful. I was running slower than usual but feeling comfortable. The rain was still constant. I still had on my throwaway shirt just because I could not warm up.

Things started to slide soon after climbing a mega hill at mile 15. My stomach began to do flip-flops. I felt nauseous. I made the first of three emergency pit stops off into the woods. I momentarily felt better until it hit me again a few minutes later. With all the stopping and going (literally and physically), my legs were not happy. I started to get severe cramps in my calves, quads and hamstrings—the kind that seize the muscle up into one big knot and throw your gait off. Stretching didn’t help so I resorted to running as much as I could before another cramp would come up.

The last nine miles of the race were a blur. I was in a really bad place. I was thinking of ways to get out of the race. I didn’t even care if I finished. I just wanted to be done. I kept repeating to myself “One and done!” When I saw mile marker 25, I willed myself to run as much as I could, even if it was a shuffle. I could hear the crowds and even begin to see more people. I was going to finish what I started!

As I entered into Waterfront Park, the crowd support lifted me up enough to keep moving through the muddy grass as I crossed the finish line. As a volunteer placed the finisher���s medal around my neck, he said “Congratulations! You ARE a marathoner!” That’s all it took to open the floodgates of tears.

After the race, I was exhausted, angry and disappointed. I had high expectations for myself and I didn’t meet any of them. I couldn’t see past the horrible experience and just be happy that I finished a marathon. After licking my wounds for a couple of days (and finally getting out of Burlington—it’s a long story. Read it HERE), I realized I was in no way “One and done.” I know I can do better than that. I know I can finish with a smile on my face. I want that more than anything.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit