How I survived my first marathon

Marathon Finisher Swag

Training = Sacrifice + Post-Run Coffee

I signed up for a 26-week training program leading up to the Houston marathon. From July to January, it had me running five times a week, with a day of cross-training, and a day of rest. In order to still be available when the kids came home from school and keep family time on the weekends, I ran when everyone was still asleep. On the Monday and Wednesday short runs, the group would meet at 5 AM and be done by 6. Some weekends, especially when the distances got longer, we would start at 4 to be done by 7. It definitely made it easier to be with a group, and to have a consistent running partners. One early morning it was cold and pouring rain, but because there wasn’t any thunder or lightning the group ran anyway. I must say, I would not have done that had I been running on my own, but because there were six of us, I stuck through it. After the Saturday long runs we would all sit and have a coffee. I looked forward to the weekend runs because I knew the post-run get-togethers were a fun and relaxing time to hang out and talk about the running and non-running aspects of our lives.

Marathon Finish Kit
Marathon kit: Cap, snacks, water bottles, throwaway gloves, pain relief

You Are Not Alone on Race Day

Knowing I was not going to be running with my group (many signed up for the half-marathon, others were in a different marathon race corral), I had to prepare myself for running by myself.  I was glad to have figured out a very conservative finish time and found a pacer group running at that pace. I did not have the Nike Running app going and this was what I had been using during training to give me feedback on what my pace was. I needed to be in a group that was going to run a steady race so I wouldn’t make the rookie mistake of starting out too fast, and then running out of energy later. It felt slow in the beginning, but they kept me at a consistent pace so that by the halfway mark I still felt good.

I also chose not to run with my music and earphones on. There were so many spectators throughout the whole race course, it felt good to give a waving child a high-five, or give them a thumbs-up to someone calling out your name from the race bib. There were bands and DJs, and crowds waving pompoms and hand-made signs. It was encouraging to see so much support from the community, I think I would have missed it had I put my earphones on and tuned it all out.

Marathon Finish The Wall
That’s me in the pink shirt

The Wall and Making It to the End

Everyone talks about it, from magazines, blogs, to running books—you will hit “the wall” or “the bonk”, where suddenly all energy is gone due to the depletion of glycogen (sugar stored in the liver and muscles which is the prime fuel for distance running). I had followed what my running friends had advised me to do, which was to make a point of taking a cup at every station, be it water or Gatorade, and not to wait until I felt like I needed it. I had also grabbed orange slices and bananas along the way offered by spectators. I think this is what kept me from truly feeling like I just couldn’t take another step when I passed mile 22 and started to feel the exhaustion of the race.

The last four miles I credit to the mind and heart.  Many things were racing in my head—the medal, the free breakfast waiting for the runners, finally being able sit down after 4-1/2 hours of running. I just had to push through the legs that felt like lead and the feet that felt so sore I thought for sure they were bleeding in my shoes. At that point I knew the end was in sight, I wasn’t injured or dehydrated, and I could surely finish the race.

Marathon Finish Fans
Losing a few seconds of time, but had to say hi to my biggest fans—my family

Recovery and Reflection

It’s been three days and the soreness in my legs is slowly going away. I can almost run, but haven’t yet. Being forced to not run has given me time to think back. What could I have done different? I probably could have eaten better. Just because I was burning all those calories didn’t mean I could eat so much Halloween candy. I probably could have pushed myself a little harder.  There were times when I wouldn’t get up at 4:30 on a Monday morning to go run with the group.

The medal is now on a hook in the laundry room, and the finisher’s shirt is folded and put away in the closet. Will I do this again? The training was hard and time-consuming, there were times when I thought it senseless to put my body through this kind of pain.  I think back to one lady spectator that was holding up a sign at mile 24—”Run to be your children’s inspiration.” That was one of the signs I will always remember. My kids are so proud. They tell everyone that their mom ran a marathon. To be able to show them that with self-discipline, hard work, and the support of family and friends, you can do something something crazy and impossible. That is why I do it. Would I run a marathon again? In a heartbeat.

If I could do it, you can do it. There are many training programs available. A friend who has finished multiple marathons and triathlons recommended Hal Higdon’s when I first started. They range from a 5K to full marathons, and from the novice to advanced runner.

Are you planning to run a 5k, 10k, half- or full marathon? How are you getting ready for it? If you’re a marathon vet, what advice do you have for first-timers?

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