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?