On November 14th, 2021, I ran a marathon.
For me, this was no small feat. It was four and a half months in the making and decided upon a whim. Sometime in late June, I felt the need to work towards something. Maybe the ongoing pandemic and isolation of working at home made me antsy. Maybe it was the realization that I’ll soon be 34. Whatever it was, I had this strong urge to set a goal and achieve it.
I followed a training plan. In early July I started a 16-week training plan to get me ready to run a full marathon. I think it was geared towards beginners and at times it felt too easy for me with plenty of running experience. However, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. The furthest I had run in one go before was 13.1 miles and I have no idea how to condition my body for more than that.
During that time, there were a couple breaks. I took two-ish weeks off of training in September for our five-year anniversary trip to Hawaii. The first weekend run back; I think I tore a bit of my Achilles tendon. Only just now, does it feel mostly healed. Also, in early October, I took nearly a week off because I had minor surgery and I didn’t want to raise my blood pressure too much at the risk of opening up the stitches.
The ankle injury was my biggest setback of the season. But, being the stubborn buffoon that I am, I didn’t properly rest and let me ankle heal. I decided to wrap it up and run through it. For me, it was either suffer through it or give up on the marathon altogether and that isn’t something I wanted. This goal was set because I needed a goal. Today, the ankle bears weight just fine and I think is less sore than my other ankle, which is good. However, I have some lingering bumps on the tendon that I doubt will go away any time soon. I suspect they are scar tissue.
While I was training, I joked to people that my goal was to accidentally qualify for the Boston Marathon. Which, to my knowledge, required a marathon time under three hours for my age group. This was far beyond my reach and what I was even training for, but secretly it wasn’t a joke. I did want to qualify.
Now you might wonder, how can one person just run so much without it getting boring? To be fair, I was averaging 20-30 miles per week depending on the point in my training schedule. That’s a lot of time to be alone with the pavement. To combat this, I bought a pair of wireless earbuds and a phone holder. I loaded my phone up with fantastically free audiobooks from our local library. I kid you not, I worked my way through 19 books this way. I highly recommend it for those who want to make their training even more productive.
You know what training day was the worst? Hill day. Once every four weeks there was a hill workout and I jogged over to the only suitable hill in the neighborhood and put my body through hell climbing it over and over. I always ran better the days following a hill workout.
One of my biggest concerns while training was that the race start was set for 7:00AM. And I… uh…have a routine that would overlap with the time I would be running. I didn’t want to have any…accidents…while I was on the course. So, in addition to training my legs I needed to train my body. That involved listening to signs better and understanding how I can control those triggers. Race day came and went without any explosive surprises, fortunately.
So, what was the race like, for a first timer? It was everything. It was exhilarating. It was exhausting. It was cold. And hot. And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever put my body through.
I woke up after a very, very restless night of sleep at 5:45AM. I changed, hit the bathroom, and ate a small amount of rice and drank a couple mouthfuls of water (don’t want to overdo it). And then I waited just too long to leave and drive downtown to get to the start on time. I made it a couple minutes before the gun, but it stressed me out stashing my stuff and wandering to the starting crowd. I didn’t have my glasses on so I wasn’t really sure where I should be going.
I crossed the start line, knowing I’d be back here in a few hours.
When I crossed, I was in the thick of the starting crowd. I was back near the 4:30 pace group, much slower than I planned to run. It was so packed; it took me over a mile to break free of it and get moving. My first mile was one of my slower miles at just over 9 minutes.
The next five or so miles, I flew. I flew down the streets and I flew past people. I’d set my eyes on someone ahead of me and I’d just methodically catch and pass them. It felt really good. Every mile, I’d check my watch and do some mental math on where I was versus where I should be at that point. I had consistently been running 8-minute miles in my training and I thought that was a good goal to maintain. I kept getting faster, eventually peaking at 7:01 for one of my miles.
Miles seven through fifteen were a lot more solitary. I broke free of the crowd so the marks I was chasing were much further ahead. I slowly chipped away at their lead, but there wasn’t anyone around me. I have mixed feelings about it. I don’t pace myself well, so I couldn’t tell if I was slowing down or speeding up, or ideally staying steady. But I soldiered on.
Miles sixteen through twenty I started to notice something was going on for me. I was slowing down. Ellie had planned to meet me on the route near our home at the 16-mile mark, and I gave her an estimate on when I would be there based on my 8:00/mile average. I came up to the 16-mile mark seven minutes ahead of schedule. I can’t lie, I was disappointed I missed her because I was early, but it felt good to be moving so fast.
At the next mile marker, I grabbed a GU (which I think is pure sugar but in a thick paste form with flavor). I hadn’t planned on this and I’m still wondering if I should have but I was suddenly hungry enough to eat something. It was delicious. But I don’t know if it was the GU or if I was just starting to run on empty (likely), but I began to slow down. Over the next three or four miles, I saw more and more people pass me and I they were ones I remember passing much earlier in the race.
I did end up seeing Ellie between mile 19 and mile 20, and it gave me a jolt of energy and excitement. It was nice to see someone who was there cheering just for me.
Then mile 20 came and I hit my wall. I had to walk to rest. It was a hill and I was waiting for the GU to kick in and give me the energy I hoped it would. After the hill, I ran again. And then another hill slowed me to a walk. It repeated like this for the next five or so miles. I ran when I could walk when I couldn’t. I also drank more water and Gatorade in the last few miles than I did the rest of the race. Clearly, I need to work on pacing and hydrating.
Eventually, I made it to the finish line. I crossed alone, with a nice buffer before and after me. My 8:00/mile goal would have brought me in around 3:26 for the whole race and I ended up finishing in 3:39. Not quite what I had planned for, but I’m still happy for it being my first time.
After the race, I grabbed my medal and made my way toward the gear tent. I should, probably, point out that I was the second least clothed person running that day (that I saw). I had shorts and a t-shirt. It was 35 degrees the whole race When I finished, my body just shut down its heating mechanism. It was cold, I was tired, and gear was stored in what turned out to be a wind tunnel off the lake. I was miserable. I quickly grabbed my clothes, ate my food, and pocketed the post-race Michelob Ultra before stumbling my wait to the car.
Back home, Ellie had a stack of pancakes and a coffee waiting for me. I ate all but one pancake from the batch.
I learned so much training for this marathon. I learned even more running it. I have no regrets and while it was hard and my body took a toll, I think I’m going to do it again.