Super excited to finally tell you about this! For starters, on May 14, 2017 I completed my second marathon. If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad – you’d have to be an absolute stalker to know. I didn’t want to say anything until my Guinness World Record was certified (it took me a bit to get all the evidence in, and then they had so many attempts that it took an extra long time to certify, but now I have my official certificate!) So (drumroll…) I currently hold the Guinness World Record for Heaviest Person to Complete a Marathon (Female)
Want to know more? Well, then it’s choose your own adventure time:
For the short and sweet (and professionally edited!) version: check out this piece on espnW:
For the minute by minute race report (and my usual flair for typos), as well as more of the backstory of how I ended up training for this IRONMAN in the first damn place, read on!
To just look at the pictures, scroll to the end.
Just after Kelrick and I completed the Seattle Marathon I learned that I could have set a Guinness World Record for heaviest woman to complete a marathon. Unfortunately you can’t do it retroactively. I thought there would be a lot of cool things about getting a Guinness Record, but that marathon was miserable and I was having a really hard time psyching myself up to do another one.
So I started listening to audiobooks about endurance athletes to try to get excited. Several of the books I listened to included people who had done IRONMAN Triathlons. I had done my first marathon as part of a challenge to push outside my comfort zone and try a sport that I wasn’t good at. The IRONMAN seemed like the ultimate culmination of that goal. I realized that I could do a marathon as part of my training and, hopefully, have a second marathon, a Guinness World Record, and an IRONMAN at the end of it all.
The first marathon I planned to do was the Los Angeles marathon. But they changed the course and time limit so that people who finished after 6.5 hours would use a different route and, while they would receive a medal, they would not be guaranteed an official finish. The good folks at Guinness are VERY specific, and an unofficial finish would put the record in jeopardy, so that marathon was out.
After some other swing and miss options and a ton of research, I chose the Sanford, Maine marathon from Mainlymarathons.com They are an organization that puts on races all over the country. They are looped courses in predominantly rural places and they incredibly slow-person friendly, they even have an award for the person who comes in last place (ask me how I know!)
I chose Maine because it was supposed to be cool and reasonably shady, and a paved flat course, plus I had a friend nearby who is a fat fitness trainer who could help coordinate the required weigh-ins. Then, a couple months before the race they were calling for temperatures in the 80’s and sunny (which I knew because I was checking the weather obsessively) and which I was not happy about at all (heat is the enemy!) But as we got closer it started looking like I was going to get more cool weather than I bargained for – in the 40’s, 18-20mph winds, and rain. But we’ll get back to that later.
Guinness has very strict rules – I had to have a camera on me at all times, I had to be weighed in by a certified healthcare professional and my weight had to be measured to the nearest gram and calculated using the gravitation pull specific to the race location, before and after the race, there had to be 2 witnesses at all times, but no witness could work more than 4 hours in a row and they couldn’t be personally connected, and literally everybody had to fill out paperwork, etc. Julianne had a marathon of her own to do just coordinating all of that!
For one of the cameras I decided to wear a GoPro. The marathon is 12 loops, and the GoPro batteries only last about an hour so we borrowed 2 GoPros, 12 batteries and 12 SD cards – I would switch out the camera each lap and Julianne would switch out the battery and SD card while I was running the next loop. We also had a backup camera for the finish line, 4 batteries for that and an SD card, witness statement forms, and witness logs, and had people there filming. The race officials were all aware of what was happening and they were very supportive – I was not the first person to use one of their races for a GWR attempt and so they were also very helpful. Then there were all of the clothes. The forecast at that point was a chance of rain, so I went ahead and got a raincoat (I live in LA, it’s not exactly required gear.) It was ridiculous. We ended up with four suitcases and 2 backpacks. I have never appreciated Southwest’s 2 free bags per person policy more!
The Days Before
We left on Friday morning, with the marathon on Sunday. I switched from sleeping to being nervous to trying to visualize myself finishing the marathon.
We arrived, got the rental van, and got to the hotel around midnight. I was pretty wired so we watched TV for a while and finally went to bed. I woke up feeling hella nervous so I started running errands to distract myself – I needed to get groceries (we got a hotel room with a kitchen so that I could eat what I know works for me for dinner and breakfast before the race.) On the way to the store I got lost and accidentally found the ocean! It was overcast and the waves were big and crashing on a rocky shore and so I stopped for a few minutes just to look at it in the hopes that it would calm me. After a while I felt a little better and headed to the store. Then I engaged in some retail therapy and went a wee bit overboard buying snacks for Julianne and the crew for the next day,
The last errand was getting us some lunch. Soup seemed something I could keep down, but as I waited for our order in the lovely seaside restaurant, I started to panic – thinking of every thing that could possibly stop me from finishing the marathon and getting the record. I texted Kelrick
I’m freaking out.
My phone rang immediately. He was in Best Friend Mode, talking me down, reminding me that I had done this before and could do this again, reminding me that all I had to do was keep moving forward and I would eventually cross the finish line and that I could do that no matter what. It did the trick and I started to relax. He really is the best Best Friend.
I headed back to the hotel and had lunch with Julianne, then it was off to the race site for packet pickup. Everyone was so friendly! I got my t-shirt and the main part of my medal. The way that Mainly Marathons works is that they do marathon series – five to seven marathons in different states on consecutive days. You get the base medal, and then another medal for each of the marathons finished in the series.
I got back to the hotel and busied myself getting everything organized for the next day. Julianne would be spending a very long, very cold day in our rented van, which we had named “The Mothership” (in a nod to Dean Karnazes,) switching out batteries and coordinating witnesses.
I started to feel that with all the stress of preparation, actually running the marathon might feel like a relief.
I made my pre-race dinner but was only able to eat a few bites. I had to be up at 3:30am so I went to bed around 8pm which just gave me the opportunity to be wide awake and freaking out in a prone position instead of a seated position. I tried relaxation exercises, I listened to a running meditation – twice. No joy. So I walked back out into the living room where Julianne was awake and working. We turned on some TV and I sat out there for a couple of hours, then went back to bed and listened to my running meditation again. All told I probably got about an hour’s worth of sleep before it was time to get dressed. I’ve heard that missing sleep the night before the race doesn’t affect you, as long as you’ve gotten good sleep the last couple of nights. That never seemed right to me, but I decided that I would fervently believe it.
The alarm went off and I could hear the wind and rain against the windows. Not good. The forecast called for rain all day with up to 20mph winds and gusts up to 40mph. I got dressed except for my running shoes and good socks (Guinness requires that you weigh in without shoes and I didn’t want to get my good socks wet until I absolutely had to!) I made my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I wasn’t even a little bit hungry, but I thought that no sleep and no food would definitely be pushing it so I choked it down and drank some water.
We got all the stuff into the van and headed out for the 30 minute drive to the race site. We got there and met our weigh-in team and first witnesses. Guinness also requires that you weigh in without a jacket and just to be sure I also took off my long sleeve shirt. It was freezing cold and we got the weigh-in done as fast as possible!
I got back in the van and put the Body Glide on my feet, put on my good running socks and shoes and, with a kiss and a few words of encouragement from Julianne and the weigh -in team, it was go time.
The race had been billed as paved and flat. We’ll deal with those one by one. It was definitely paved except for the very first/last part of each loop which was gravel and dirt that was quickly becoming mud. As I left, Julianne called out that my friend from our weigh-in team wanted to remind me to be careful that I didn’t trip.
As I went down, I thought of that scene from “The Matrix” where The Oracle says “Ohh, what’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?”
This could only happen to me. I stood back up. My ankle was a bit tender but serviceable (my ankles are hyper-mobile so it’s not out of the ordinary for them to give out on uneven surfaces and then be fine,) so I headed to the start line, rolling my eyes at myself.
At the start line we learned some new information – the course would be 14 laps, not 12 as it said on the web. This was bad. Our entire plan for the cameras was built on 12 laps and I wouldn’t even be able to tell Julianne until the end of the first lap. I didn’t have much time to panic because they were about to start. I hit shuffle on the playlist that I had created and they started counting down:
Mike Tyson once said “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face.”
Steve (my coach) had developed a race plan for me. We had decided to do this race MUCH less aggressively than I would do the marathon for the IRONMAN, and he set up timed walk/run intervals. As usual I was going to walk the first 10 minutes (20 if my calf cramps acted up) and then move into my run/walk intervals with a goal time of under 9 hours. I will need to be faster at the IM but the goal here was to finish without being injured so I could keep training. So I headed out with my plan firmly in my mind.
The path started on a slight incline through the mud and gravel, then onto a road with a sidewalk (there were people who ran on both – I chose the sidewalk) then we turned onto a paved trail.
The first thing that I noticed was that, even though we were a small group, there were people at a lot of different paces and (unlike other events I’ve done) everybody did not sprint off the line so I wasn’t left in the dust. The second thing I noticed was that the first 10 minutes of the trail were undulating – not big hills or anything, but almost always an incline or decline with very little actual flat.
Not a crisis, just not what I expected. The second half of the “out” portion of the out and back was a surprise. It was comprised of three decent sized hills. The top of the third hill was the tunaround cone and camera. So each loop we went up, down, up, down, up – then around the turnaround camera (resisting the ever increasing urge to flip off the turnaround camera) then down, up, down, up, down.
At this point I started panicking. Mainly Marathons is more informal than some marathons so the course elevation map isn’t posted, just a description of the running surface and the basic elevation (in this case, paved and flat.) The definition of flat varies more than I was aware (but now I know, and knowing’s half the battle!) My idea of flat is the beach path that I train on – and it is pancake flat. For reference, my IRONMAN marathon has 358ft of elevation gain. Per my Garmin, this marathon ended up having 4,058ft of elevation gain.
I had been hit in the face, there was no way I could finish this using my race plan – I wasn’t sure at this point if I could finish at all, but I was trying to be optimistic (or at least, not panic.)
I made the executive decision to switch my running plan to “walk the bigger uphills, run the bigger downhills, do intervals on the rest.” On the bigger downhills I tried to get some of the speed back and let my legs go so that I could bomb down the hills which felt nice. At least at first.
As I finished the first mile things were ok, and I was a little faster than the planned pace. This might not seem like a big deal but my walking the 10 minutes (luckily I didn’t have any cramping) can dig me a bit of a hole, in this case running the downhills seemed to help which was nice.
I finished the first loop. In Mainly Marathons, you mark each loop by grabbing a rubber band at a table at the end of the loop to put around your wrist. Then you go though the aid station that has tons of food as well as gatorade and water. (For the first lap I grabbed some Gatorade. A charming thing about the event is that you label your cups for Gatorade and Water with your name and then you keep them for the whole race. Waste not, want not!) Then, if you’re not trying to set a Guinness Record you head back out. If you are trying to set a record, you run over to the Mothership and switch out the cameras.
I got to the Mothership and Julianne was holding up a surprise – a huge sign that said “Cross Finish Line, Get Medal.” I would find out that she had created a sign for each lap (except the last one!) with the input of my friends and family (the pictures are in the album below.) I nervously explained to Julianne about the 14 laps and she cheerfully said that it was no problem and she would take care of it – she is the best! I got my new camera and headed back out.
I had prepared a number of phrases to help me through the event. The phrase I used right now was “ticking off the miles” I had heard another runner use it to describe a run that feels like it’s going by really fast. I made it through the next two laps easily. Everybody on the course was SO DAMN SUPPORTIVE – saying encouraging things to each other and to me, smiling as we passed each other etc.
I actually felt great. I had been soaked through since about 1/4 mile in. The trees on the path guarded against the wind a bit, but there were open areas when the wind whipped across and as the cold wind hit my soaked body it was like running through an ice bath, which is still better than being hot! Also, a course with a lot of loops is my favorite – I can break everything down into smaller parts (half-way through the first half of the first loop, three-quarters through the first half of the first loop etc.) and I feel like I’m getting somewhere each time I finish a loop instead of just hurtling into the abyss for what seems like forever.
As I finished the hill section of the fourth loop I went through my first dark phase. At that moment I was basically on pace, but couldn’t imagine that I could continue to do these hills and stay on pace (or, you know, continue moving forward) for ten more loops. I started to think about all the resources that I had devoted to this and how absolutely devastated I would be to fail. I didn’t want this to spiral, so I started a little self pep-talk. I reminded myself that, while I had a time goal, the truth was that there was no time limit so all I had to do was not quit and I would, at some point, cross the finish line.
I also decided to stop thinking/worrying about future laps and just deal with where I was on the course in this moment. Two more laps went by without incident. Coach Steve had told me to “try to have some fun” so as I was climbing the final hill before the turnaround I would take the time to really look at the beautiful surroundings and think to myself “This is finally my marathon day, I’m doing my marathon.” and sometimes I actually smiled.
On the seventh lap I went through another dark phase and this time I used the phrase “let’s just put it on autopilot,” which is to say that I stopped thinking about everything – my form, my pace etc. and just ran and walked based on feel for a while. My new race plan made that even easier since I didn’t have to track time. My phone (which seemed to be a little bit psychic all day) switched to Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and I put it on autopilot.
The end of loop seven was a big deal for me psychologically. During the first half of a race I’m always counting up, during the second half I’m always counting down and it always seems to go by much faster. The bad news was that I checked the distance on my watch for the first time (I had kept is on a separate screen so that I could see it if I wanted to, but wouldn’t see it if I didn’t want to.) I was at 13.6 miles – that meant that I had already run an extra half mile. I made a mental note to try to be better at picking the shortest course through the loop each time.
During the first big hill on loop 8 I started to feel a little pain in the front of my left ankle. I was cognizant of the fact that it was the ankle I had sprained just before the marathon. But it was just a tiny pain and I thought that I might be able to help it by changing the lacing of my shoes or the position of my calf compression sleeves, but I also realized that I was over half way through and I didn’t have any blisters despite having been soaked (including my shoes and socks) the whole time, so I was reticent to change anything at all. I decided to monitor the pain and make changes only if it got worse.
The uphills were taking a lot out of me and the impact of the downhills was also hurting, and despite the excitement of being halfway through, I was also a long way from done. I repeated one of my mantras “I just have to not quit, I just have to not quit” and put is on “autopilot” for the rest of the loop. All of a sudden during Blink 182’s The Anthem (don’t judge – whatever music gets you through the day is the right music), my headphones shot to ear-splitting full volume. I ripped them off my ears and tried to turn it down, but they turned themselves up. I noticed that some water had made it’s way into the baggie that my iPod was in. Damn. I was not prepared to complete this event without music so I shifted the headphones to behind my ears (luckily I wear over the ear headphones and not ear buds) and kept going.
The next few loops dragged on. The thing that made them better was the people who were out there. People were still being super encouraging (and not in that saccharine sweet, over enthusiastic way that fat people sometimes get,) people were treating me like every other runner and they were treating every runner well. There were some people I learned by name, others whose faces I just recognized as we commiserated about doing a long run on a rainy day.
There was a woman who was massively powerful and just a machine, she may have been doing the 50k because she was out there a while despite the fact that she was really moving. Every time she passed me she would say something nice about how I looked strong or was doing great and I would return the favor. Another woman came alongside me and chatted for a bit – apparently it’s something she’s famous for since she yelled to another couple “I found someone who doesn’t know me to talk to!” and they yelled back good naturedly “She’ll learn soon enough”) I didn’t want to spend too much energy talking so I let her do the talking for both of us. Another gentlemen who I met on the turnaround taught me the secret three turnaround puns that make me a Mainly Marathons veteran. In truth, almost everyone I’ve interacted with who actually do races – from 5ks to marathons – are nice, but I’ve never experienced such an outpouring of positivity during a race.
Finally I had just one more loop to go. I checked my watch and saw that I be over by almost a mile and a half. I left the watch on the distance screen so that I could see when I actually completed the marathon (vs. when I completed the course.) As I started out, one of the race staff – George Rose, who actually wrote a book about Mainly Marathons that I bought and read as soon as I got home – started with me. I asked him if he was planning to run the entire last lap with me and he said that yes, he always runs with the last person on their last lap to pick up the cones. He asked if I would prefer to run alone and I told him that yes, I kind of would. Looking back I can’t believe I said that out loud, apparently I had left my manners back on the course somewhere.
He was very kind about it and said that was fine. He went ahead of me, grabbing the cones as he went. I hit 26.2miles and hit my watch – nine hours and thirty six minutes. With all the time wasted running to the Mothership and changing out the cameras I was decently close to my goal despite the hills. Apparently running extra is a frequent problem because if you pick the wrong course through the loop you do it over and over again, it really ads up. Mainly Marathoners have a name for the distance you run after you’ve completed the marathon, it’s your “victory lap.”
When we reached the turnaround he was there and reminded me that I would never see it again. He even offered me the chance to kick the cone after I finished going around it, but I declined – it wasn’t the cone’s fault after all! I also realized that I was now going to be running the course with the cones removed and I am an absolute failure at navigation – I once screwed up a 5k course – and the last thing I wanted to do was to run extra. So I sheepishly asked George if he would run with me to the end. He very kindly agreed and we had a lovely conversation about baseball (he’s a baseball historian) and Mainly Marathons. He also taught me how to choose the shortest course through the race – which it turns out I could not have done a worse job of if I had tried. I would have had to zig zag the entire time in order to have run more. Seriously, this is just not my sport.
As we got to the last 1/4 of a mile or so George let me know that he was going to cut back through the course so that I could have the finish line to myself. I rounded the corner into the open and got blasted by the wind one more time. My psychic iPod switched over to We Are The Champions and I ran to the finish line to the chorus of the song and the cheers of Julianne, the weigh-in team, witnesses, race officials, and even some competitors who were hanging out and drinking hot chocolate. I ran past the finish line camera, hit my watch and, in true Josh Lyman fashion yelled to Julianne “IT’S DONE AND I DID IT!”
I got my medal for finishing, I also got the Caboose medal for finishing dead last. Thanks to the hills, I also got the chance to do more than I thought I could do, which is a cool experience.
Distance Traveled: 27.4 miles
Time: 10:03:11 (previous marathon time 12 hours, 20 minutes)
Elevation Gain: According to my Garmin 4,048 feet
Weight: 288.689 lbs
Guinness World Record: 1 (Heaviest Person to Complete a Marathon (Female) 288.689lbs)
There was no hot chocolate in my immediate future because I had to do my Guinness post-race weigh in. So Julianne, the weigh-in team, and the film crew headed over to the little basketball court where we could get the scale level. I took off my shoes and jacket (soooooo coooooold) and got on the scale. I was freezing, and my ankle was really starting to hurt, but the film crew wanted to get my reaction on camera for posterity. They had been outside for 10 hours in the freezing cold and I was incredibly grateful to them so it was no problem. I hope they got it recorded because I don’t remember what I said at all.
We got in the car and headed to get mashed potatoes (which, despite the fact that I had only eaten 4 pieces of banana during the entire marathon, was really the only thing I thought I could keep down.) The more warm I got, the more my ankle hurt. We got home and I iced it and took some Advil, watched some TV and snuggled with Julianne – the hero of the day – then went to bed. When I woke up the next morning I got out of bed and, like a sitcom, fell immediately on my ass. My ankle couldn’t take any weight. Shit.
Those of you following the blog know the rest of the story, which is that I had probably done almost half the marathon on a torn ligament. The fact that I was freezing cold is likely the only thing that made it possible. The torn ligament led to a cascade of injuries ending with achilles tendinitis that seems to have finally resolved (knock on wood!) In happy news, though I had a little bit of chaffing, I didn’t have any blisters (after my first marathon I had huge blisters on the balls of both feet and could barely walk) and my muscles recovered much faster.
So I got the Guinness World Record, but I also screwed my chances for an IRONMAN last year, and made it more difficult this year. Given the choice to do it over knowing what I know, I’m not sure if I would or not – facing the fourth year of my two year IRONMAN plan while dealing with injury is a rough road, but I’m grateful for the experience of the marathon. Completing that marathon and getting the Guinness World Record is an achievement that I’ll always be proud of and nobody can ever take away, so in the grand scheme of things, it was worth it.
For those who are wondering why I went for the record – It was definitely a little bit because it sounded like a fun thing to have. But a lot of it was about fat visibility and celebrating slow. Fat people – and especially fat women, trans and non-binary people – are often left out of sports, or told that we shouldn’t try something like a marathon. So while I’m willing to bet that there are women fatter than me who have completed marathons much faster, up until now there has only been a record for male marathoner. I established this record in the hopes that it will be broken early and often. I also hope that someone will apply for a record in the non-binary category.
Meanwhile, slow athletes of all sizes are often discouraged from participating in organized races at all. I wanted to do this to show that there’s no shame in our slow game. Nobody is obligated to participate in fitness at all, let alone organized races, let alone endurance distances. But if you want to race, find an event that will accommodate your time and go for it! Again speed confers race victories, not moral victories.
Huge, massive, ginormous thanks to:
Julianne, who is not only a wonderful and frugal fiancee, but always has my back 100% on these ridiculous adventures.
The weigh-in team, the witness team, and the camera team – it wouldn’t have happened without you!
Coach Steve – Thanks for your expert advice, your sense of humor, and your constant support in this marathon and all my other questionable endeavors, he shares credit for my successes, but the failures are all on me.
Everyone at Mainly Marathons – the race officials, the volunteers, and the other runners – y’all make me wish I liked running marathons so that I could travel around the country and run with you!
The people at Guinness, especially whoever had to watch 10 hours 3 minutes and 11 seconds of video from the perspective of my waist (so, basically, watching my arm move back and forth and listening to me breathe.)
Now, onward to the IRONMAN!
Here are the pictures, and Julianne’s signs:
Julianne’s amazing signs (with help from Ericka, Marilyn, and Les)