A little over two months ago, I became a marathoner.
The experience was one I will always remember. It was simultaneously the most challenging and most wonderful day of my life as of yet. I was truly miserable for much of the time, so miserable that miles 16-22 are a haze of radiating pain and intestinal fury.
You may have noticed that I never really gave a true “recap” of the race. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why. Part of me felt that it was a very personal experience, and I didn’t want to share. Most of me knew that I could never do the experience justice. And yes, part of me was disappointed. Most of me is fiercely proud, but somewhere in there, a small piece of me is ashamed.
All of those things people say about running a marathon? They’re all true. I’d heard them many times before. I devoured marathon recaps in the weeks before the race. I had read ’em all, but when you are the one in the midst of it, it feels so much more vibrant and intense than anyone can describe. It’s like the difference between watching a black and white silent movie and a high definition blu-ray. All of those things people say make more sense, you feel it in technicolor, in every molecule. Why repeat what everyone else has already said, knowing that it pales in comparison?
I toed the line that morning knowing that I was undertrained. I registered for the Air Force Marathon back in April, before I had even run a half marathon. Even back then, I was already in this running thing for the long haul. But between April and September, life had other plans. I lost my Daddy in May, moved the very next week, planned a wedding, and started a job that had me out in the blazing heat for 40+ hours a week. For awhile, training for a marathon was far too taxing, both physically and emotionally.
I ran (and continue to run) through the pain, but tackling a training plan of that magnitude was just not what my mind needed at the time. I planned to drop down to the half marathon, knowing that I could easily finish a half, probably even PR. The universe had other ideas, though, and the half marathon sold out in July. It was decision time.
I wavered for a week or two. Finally, one morning I woke up and decided that not running it at all, much less running a half marathon, was weaksauce. In early July, I recommitted to marathon training. Over the next few weeks, I ran 15, 17,18, 20 miles. Each run was abysmally difficult. The heat index was suffocating, and getting up at 4:30 am to get runs in before getting to work at 7:30 was taking its toll. I skipped more than a few runs during the week, but at least I never skipped a long run. I topped out at around 28 miles a week.
For the first time, I was about to start a race without any idea whether I’d actually finish.
Long story short, I finished. Barely, but I finished. The first half went well, but like a true newbie, I started out way too fast. By mile 16, I was in a world of hurt. The peroneal tendons in my left foot had started hurting at mile 4, and by that point they were screaming. I was dealing with stomach issues so bad, that I thanked every spiritual being I could think of when I stumbled across a port-o-potty. No less than 8 of them were graced with my presence, and I quickly caught on that every time I ingested anything other than water, I would need a bathroom break no more than 5 minutes later. My technique was to “run” until my legs verged on collapse, and walk until I regained feeling in them. I was in bad shape.
Around mile 22, though, I miraculously caught a second wind, and started running with a man in his 70s who had run a marathon in every state – twice! He was amazing, and we ran and chatted for about a mile and a half, until my legs couldn’t take it anymore. How I even ran a mile and a half nonstop at that point, I have no idea. I had planned on taking my last GU at mile 22, but I couldn’t bear the discomfort and the thought of yet another potty break, so I skipped it. A horrible idea, I’m certain. Of course, miles 24 to the end were interminable, but eventually I finished.
6 hours and 4 minutes after I started, I finished my first marathon.
I have no excuses for taking that long. I was undertrained and utterly unprepared for what I was about to do, both mentally and physically. I didn’t have my fueling under control, as evidenced by my 8 potty breaks. The only thing I can say is that I did hydrate well, and when the going got tough in those lonely miles between 16 and 26, I didn’t stop. I may have moved painfully slow, but I relentlessly pushed forward.
Surviving this race profoundly changed me. Since then, my running has progressed by leaps and bounds. Mentally, I am stronger. Physically, I am stronger. Having come through the other side, I know what it takes to be successful in the marathon. I know what it will take to train properly, and I’m working toward a solution to my fueling issues. I am immensely proud to be a marathoner, and wouldn’t trade my first marathon for the world.
But, I seek redemption.
I know, with 100% confidence, that I have more to give, that I can crush that 6:04 marathon time. I see this first 26.2 as a turning point in my running life. Since then, I have learned to push myself. I’ve become more comfortable with discomfort. I’ve learned that pain is inevitable, and I’ve learned how to embrace it. PRing at the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon showed me that I have been truly underestimating myself. It will take time, and it will take work…
26.2, I’m coming for you.