Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Marathon Follies

Let me warn you now, you may find yourself involuntarily shaking your head and muttering “Oh honey, no” quite often throughout this post.



To give you a little background, I started running a mile or two alongside my dad a couple days a week when I was in 5th grade. Through middle and high school I ran cross country and winter/spring track. I also did that racewalking thing during the summer. I wasn’t a complete running newb when I got it into my head that I wanted to run a marathon. But running a marathon is a whole different ballgame than 5 & 10k races.

Throughout college I stuck with running, and did about 60 to 90 minutes of it 6 days a week. They were casual runs through University City and Fairmount Park. I didn’t do special types of workouts, track my mileage, or any of that stuff. I just ran to stay fit.

On a whim, I did a half marathon towards the end of my freshman year. I swore I’d never run a race that long again.

It’s funny how we sugar coat the past in our memory.

My junior year I thought it would be cool to say I ran a marathon. The starting line for the Philadelphia Marathon was just a few blocks from my apartment and the race was coming up soon. How convenient. I registered for the race about 6 weeks in advance. I’d been running almost everyday of the week for years, so why not scratch this off my bucket list.

On race morning I rolled out of bed about 30 minutes before the start of the race. I threw on my beloved shiny blue tights that were at least 10 years old and a cotton sweatshirt. Before I left my apartment I had my typical pre-run snack, 2 slices of toast with peanut butter. I pinned on my number, tied my key and timing chip to my shoe, and it was go time. I fell in line with the crowd walking past my building and followed them to the starting line.

I had no idea what pace I should be running at, heck, I didn’t know the pace of my daily runs. I just started out at a speed that felt easier than a typical run. My only goal for the day was to survive.

Around mile 12, I settled in with a group of women who were also doing their first marathon. I hung with them until mile 18 when two of them stopped at a medic tent for band-aids and vaseline. There was no stopping for me at that point, I’d gone too far already.

At mile 19 I thought, hmmm, I should probably have some water. I had gone 19 miles without consuming any food or beverage. I had never tried to to eat or drink while actually running before, and was afraid my stomach would cramp if I did. Lucky for me it was only about 40 degrees that day.

By mile 22 I was feeling completely dreadful. My neck was bloody from the collar of the sweatshirt rubbing up against it. I was hallucinating. The painted lines on the road were wiggling in front of my eyes.

It was the closest thing to an out-of-body experience I’d ever had. I’d gone to a happy place inside my mind, and stared down at my tired, heavy legs like they were someone else’s. I had a half-cup of water at Mile 23 thinking that might help.

I did make it to the finish line in 4:01:57 and didn’t require medical attention. It was a triumph. I promptly swore I’d never run another marathon again.

I wish I had some pictures to share, but only a hard copy photo exists somewhere in storage.

Here's a fair representation.


I didn’t the want the under-ripe fruit and soggy soft-pretzels they had at the finish line. I wanted my favorite burger from a nearby pub. So I waited until I went home, showered, and got to the restaurant to finally eat after the race. Subsequently, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus for the next 2 weeks after all this.

Once I regained use of my legs, I lost my head again. I thought, hey maybe I should try to break for 4 hours next year. I trained differently (albeit not a whole lot smarter) and improved my time to 3:35 the following year, thereby earning my 1st entry into Boston Marathon. Pretty amazing considering my training plan was still rather “unconventional”.

Which leads me to a future post about a critical mistake I've been making for years (and I know many others have too). Why faster isn’t always better when it comes to training runs….

Anyone else have a crazy race story they want to share?




26 comments:

  1. what, where did you go to school! Philly marathon! That's awesome. 4:01 to 3:35? it sounds so easy!!

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  2. Oh my gosh, hilarious! But also quite impressive that your time was so good on minimal training.

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  3. I have nothing to add, because I could have written this! I also ran my first marathon my junior year of college, laughably unprepared (by today's standards!) and with no clue about pacing, fueling, etc.

    Unfortunately for me, THAT EFFING RACE remains my PR. (3:42...I didn't even know what a BQ was then.)

    Anyway, super fun trip down memory lane! And how great that the shiny blue tights have had such an illustrious history!

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  4. I've only run one marathon and I threw up four times afterward. Bleh. I hate throwing up more than anything so this sort of scared me for life.

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  5. That. is. nuts. And kind of depressing for me because your totally unprepared marathon time is 40 minutes faster than my prepared!

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  6. Wow! I don't know whether I should say that is amazing, or insane..probably both.

    I have no crazy race stories. I'm not daring enough to do anything to crazy.

    I'm looking forward to hearing about the mistake that that you've been making for years.

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  7. Wow!! I am impressed. The commentary in my head whilst reading this was hilarious.

    "No way!"
    "She didn't?"
    "Omg, she did!"
    "And she killed it!"
    "Then went on to beat that already impressive time with little training again?"
    "Unreal."

    LOL, you rock.

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  9. This was only something an impulsive 21 year-old could pull off. It's crazy looking back, and I thought nothing of it at the time.

    Shelby- doesn't it make you wonder what we could have run had we actually known what we were doing?

    I didn't know the significance of breaking 3:40 the following year either. Some guys were congratulating me at the finish line on qualifying for Boston. I had to go online when I got home to figure out what all the hubbub was about. Then I was like, "cool, let's take a road-trip to Boston".

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  10. This was just the post I needed to read today! Even though I am following a training plan, eating and drinking on long runs, etc I sometimes feel like a lost and naive new runners as I work towards my first marathon...

    Thanks for the smile this morning. I'm totally amazed at how fast your first marathons were in spite of your lack of "conventional" training. :-)

    My only crazy race stories are probably when I randomly decided I would run hurdles in high school. I stuck with them for a few years, but man it wasn't pretty.

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  11. Lisa- I'd run right up to the hurdle then be too chicken to go over it. I was always impressed watching others glide over them so easily. A few years a is a long time to stick with it. I'm sure it was much prettier than you thought!

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  12. Thank you for sharing this story. I have a friend who ran a marathon and we have been kicking the idea around to do it together, so I love reading your marathon stories just in case I ever grow the balls to run one.

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  13. Awesome first marathon story. I don't have any crazy ones to share since I just started racing a couple years ago and was already blessed by the nest with all of the "to-don'ts"

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  14. Love the trip down memory lane. Your first was far more successful than mine! I ran hilly Baltimore, and living in DC had never actually run a hill before. I think I may have run with a tape player or a CD disc man. I definitely was not educated on fueling, but I know I had one pocket full of gummy bears, and the other pocket full of pretzels, in case I needed a snack. Good times (and now I am craving some gummy bears)!

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  15. Famous last words, right? (not doing it again). My crazy story is from the Phila. marathon several years back. I was seriously dehydrated, bonking, hurting, delirious. Didn't want to finish so I just sat down at mile 23. A guy came by and tried to convince me to finish. I told him no, I was just fine where I was. He worked on me and worked on me until finally, I gave in and ran/walked the rest of it in. What a great guy--never saw him again, of course!

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  16. i was never a runner before 6 or 7 years ago. i've never actually felt like a runner until about a few months ago. i ran my first 10k in 2004 or so and thought this is awesome! let's do a full marathon. there's mud & obstacles in those races too, right? no. i didn't train well and finished at 5:28, with my friend literally pushing me to go as fast as i could (which wasn't very fast). i put in every thing i had w 200 m left and collapsed and blacked out. i came to in an aid tent with ice packs being placed on my limbs and food and powerade shoved down my throat. neither stayed down. i remember saying 'tell my wife i love her.'

    the next year i trained right with the SDTC and improved by nearly an hour. i'm down to 4:06:xx and will attempt to break 4 hours for the 8th time in May.

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  17. Whoa Ryan, and you've since gone on to complete 6 more? Runners are a crazy breed. Good luck next month.
    8th time is the charm...that's how the saying goes right? :)

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  18. I am way out of my league even reading this post. Awesome!

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  19. Hello - I had to visit your blog based on your comment on Amanda's blog about the barefoot running craze. it was like I wrote the comment myself - EXACTLY!

    then I came to your site and I see you are a racer. Ahhh - I must follow you! (also, I have family in Atlanta)

    I look forward to exploring your blog.

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  20. Welcome Happy Feet! Glad to have you on board :)

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  21. like happy feet, i came to your site from amanda's blog.
    I ran a half two years ago - i have no desire to do a full, but i love running. i'm not as avid as you though...just run because it works and makes me look good.

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  22. Welcome Happy Feet! Glad to have you on board :)

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  23. Whoa Ryan, and you've since gone on to complete 6 more? Runners are a crazy breed. Good luck next month.
    8th time is the charm...that's how the saying goes right? :)

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  24. i was never a runner before 6 or 7 years ago. i've never actually felt like a runner until about a few months ago. i ran my first 10k in 2004 or so and thought this is awesome! let's do a full marathon. there's mud & obstacles in those races too, right? no. i didn't train well and finished at 5:28, with my friend literally pushing me to go as fast as i could (which wasn't very fast). i put in every thing i had w 200 m left and collapsed and blacked out. i came to in an aid tent with ice packs being placed on my limbs and food and powerade shoved down my throat. neither stayed down. i remember saying 'tell my wife i love her.'

    the next year i trained right with the SDTC and improved by nearly an hour. i'm down to 4:06:xx and will attempt to break 4 hours for the 8th time in May.

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  25. Wow!! I am impressed. The commentary in my head whilst reading this was hilarious.

    "No way!"
    "She didn't?"
    "Omg, she did!"
    "And she killed it!"
    "Then went on to beat that already impressive time with little training again?"
    "Unreal."

    LOL, you rock.

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  26. Oh my gosh, hilarious! But also quite impressive that your time was so good on minimal training.

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