Your First Marathon
To all those about to enter the unknown
Fall marathon season is here whether your race is today, next weekend or next month. Being between your training season and your first race certainly will have you feeling nervous. Here are my thoughts on the whole matter as far as my experiences go.
Disclaimer: when I speak about quitting, I'm not talking about if you have an injury. No race is ever worth permanent damage to your body, you can/should quit in that case.
First thing is that you made it. You completed the training cycle. You've already won and shortly it will be time for you to take your 26.2 mile victory lap. I think the hardest part of going into my first marathon was not knowing if I could make it the full distance. I was uncertain, scared and haunted by my inexperience. Here's the catch. I might have been all those things at the start line of the 2013 Detroit Marathon but I was not those things once I took one step over that start line. What happened to me over those 26.2 miles changed my entire self physically and mentally. As the miles progressed and got harder it was never "Am I going to make it?" it was "Should I have another energy gel now?". My thinking shifted from "uncertain, scared and haunted by my inexperience" to thinking strategically about how I was going to get my body over that finish line. That is what the marathon teaches you, to persevere. You will find the biggest, strongest burst of fire inside you when you are in the darkest mile. That fire that you never even knew existed - but it's there and it always has been.
How bad is it going to hurt? This depends on a lot of things. How your training went and for how long you trained. Basically, don't worry about this. Yes it will hurt but you are prepared for it. You've put in the long runs and have experienced the soreness that comes with those. My first marathon hurt a lot. I also didn't get in what I believe to be proper training. I only had a few long runs and was just learning about distance running at the time. But, even with the lack of training mileage I managed to make it through the pain and you can too. Fun Fact, my legs were hurting so bad that towards the end I was really pumping my arms to get me through the last miles. My arms were so sore the next day. But, you get it done.
Don't be afraid to go to the bathroom or to walk. People who snarl at runners for walking during a race are the worst and you shouldn't pay attention to them whatsoever. I took a bathroom break and walked through a couple water stops during my first marathon and I still managed to get to the finish in a time I was proud of. If you feel like you need to walk try to make it to a drink station and start walking as you approach the table, grab a drink, drink it and walk, start running once you hit the end of the station. Then tell yourself that once you get to the next station you can walk again. This helps during the tough final miles. Don't feel bad about it at all.
Have a mantra. When things get tough it helps to have a mantra or a saying that you repeat or think about in your head. For me, it is "Keep it going, keep going". This saying stems from my mother. Her idea was that life doesn't always go as planned but no matter what you keep going. You can't fail if you never give up especially when it's something you're passionate about and you pursue it relentlessly. If you do end up getting injured and aren't able to complete the race - that does not mean you failed. There will be another day and another race and in the pursuit of dreams it is truly more about the journey.
I want to end this with a special note to my girlfriend. A few months after we met I told her I wanted to run a marathon in honor of my mum. She was supportive of me the entire way and now three years later she is about to embark on her first marathon. She witnessed first hand the effects of my training - the soreness, the nightly battles with the foam roller, the effects of obsessing over which GU flavor I should use and the appearance of my feet after long runs. But, she still decided to run a marathon. I think she saw what finding that burst of fire does to a person. Run strong, run happy, and I'll see you one step over the start line.