I commented on a post today that Sierra from Posh Meets Pavement wrote about her thoughts in her final week before running her first marathon.
Reading about all the things Sierra is feeling in the days leading up to the marathon and writing this response to her brought back a flood of memories from my first marathon. I ran the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama on February 15, 2009. It was an experience that I will truly never forget as long as I live. I didn’t have this blog at that time so I thought I would share some memories and experience from running my first marathon.
I’ll sum it up by saying this, my first marathon was the toughest physical challenge of my life and I was not prepared for all of the things that my body would do and feel during the race. I trained for this race mostly on my own with the exception of one shorter group run each week with my co-workers. I used Hal Higdon’s Novice Plan. My training went pretty well except for a bout with achilles tendonitis that landed me in physical therapy and sidelined me for quite a few weeks. It prevented me from getting in quite as many 18+ mile runs as I had hoped. Regardless, I still felt as ready as I could be for the race. I remember my physical therapist telling me she thought I could get through the race and that we’d get through the post-race aftermath together. Nice, huh?
I was not ready. Oh my god, I don’t know if you can be ready for the experience of running a marathon until you actually experience it.
I was living in Birmingham at the time. My parents and my best friend came to Birmingham for the race weekend. The marathon was the day after Valentine’s Day so I cooked a big pasta dinner and a chocolate cake for everyone the night before. I slept pretty well the night before – it was so nice to be able to sleep in my own bed and not have to get up super early before the race. Several of my co-workers were doing the half marathon and we all planned to meet up before the race and to run the half together. It was a double loop course so I would be solo after I broke off from them at mile 12.
It was so nice to have friends to run the first half of the race with. It was a great distraction to chat and really motivating to have friends running alongside of me. The crowd support was also great the first loop around the course.
I was all smiles when I broke off from my friends at mile 12. I met my family and friends to pick up my iPod since I ran without if for the first half of the race. At this point I felt like I really needed to find a restroom but it was a couple of miles before that happened. My stomach was really starting to churn at this point in the race.
By mile 15 my body was still hanging strong (minus the stomach issues) but my mental state was starting to slip. My hands were swelling and my fingers puffed up so I handed off my rings to my dad. I was pretty much running solo at this point since the majority of the racers were half marathoners. There were long stretches during the race where I was running solo through the downtown industrial streets of Birmingham. I can’t say it was the most beautiful scenery ever. Some words to the wise…
1) Don’t run a double loop course for your first marathon.
2) Run a race that is just a marathon if possible. It really messes with your mind to see all of the half marathoners finish when you still have hours and many miles left to run.
One thing that saved me was how much I was able to see my family on the course. They were AMAZING and managed to catch me at least 5-6 times. This is a benefit of a smaller race and a double loop course. This photo was taken at mile 20 when my mom started to run alongside me for a while. I was in uncharted mileage territory and my mom was cheering me on and saying all of those great things that moms say. Love her and needed the encouraging words but at this point all I wanted to do was find another bathroom. My stomach was freaking out. I took about a five minute stop in a local gas station and then was okay for the rest of the race. Oh how running causes you to share too much information.
For the final six miles of the race I was doing everything I could to keep my mind off the fact that I was dying. I just kept running and tried to walk as little as possible. I listened to BodyPump and did the choreography in my head and my friend Meghan called at mile 25 to congratulate me. Crying, I told her I was still on the course and that I was almost done. She talked to me for a few minutes as I kept plugging along.
And then I was finally in the finishing chute and it was amazing. I dreamed about that moment during every single long run. Anytime I visualized crossing the finish and thought about how it would feel, I would get tears in my eyes and chills. Crossing the finish line was everything I dreamed it would be. I got this burst of energy in the last .25 miles and finished with a smile on my face. Since it was a smaller race my family was right there taking pictures and videos of my accomplishment and yelling at me. My official chip time was 4:43:51. Slower than I had hoped but I was incredibly proud of my accomplishment.
As soon as I stopped running the impact of everything that I had endured emotionally and physically over the past four hours of the race and four months of training hit hard. I received my medal and had my timing chip removed from a very kind volunteer and then proceeded to completely break down. I could seriously cry right now just thinking about it. I can’t believe I ran a marathon. And that my friends and family came to support me and celebrate my achievement with me.
I was a complete wreck after the race. I felt completely terrible. I was shaking and cold, my stomach was a wreck and my legs were completely done. I could barely walk. We went into the post-race party where I got stretched out by a massage therapist but I didn’t have much in me to stick around too long. We headed to get food at a local deli and I couldn’t even get food down. I was so nauseated. I slowly took some bites of food but it was hours later before I could really eat. We went home after the race where I immediately climbed in bed and took a long nap. When I woke up I ate a big piece of cake leftover from the night before and then ate a good dinner with my family.
I knew that running a marathon would be very physically challenging but I was not anticipating the way my body reacted during and after the race. My stomach was so upset during and after and ended up sick the week after the race with a UTI that my doctor said was a result of the trauma of the race and dehydration. There were some other not so lovely side effects that I will spare going into detail on.
I said there was no way I would run another marathon after my first but of course I did. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon (click for race recap) two years later and improved my time by about 20 minutes. I also felt much better before, during and after this race physically and didn’t experience any of the stomach issues that I had with my first marathon but I have had issues with my right hip since mile 16 of that marathon. I had never had any problems with my hip before then and it continues to bother me now two years later.
I’m really not sure if I will run another marathon. I’m so on the fence about it. I’m really glad that I did it…twice…but it’s so hard on my body and I’m not sure if it’s worth it. I’m really happy right now running when I feel like it, CrossFitting, yogaing and all the other things I love to do. I miss having a big goal like a marathon to train for but I also don’t really have the time to dedicate to training at this point.
So anyway, not sure why I shared all of this with you today but hope you found it interesting!
Marathoners…tell me about your first marathon experience! Was it anything like you thought it would be? How did you feel before, during and after?