Today is September 15, and I am two weeks away from the starting line. Before I started running, I had always heard that runners are really friendly people, and I have found that that is more than true. The runners I have met both in person and online are always more than willing to help out, share advice, and encourage me (even when they don’t know they are doing so, sometimes!).
As I get closer to my big day, I want to steep myself in the community of running, and the best and most exciting way for me was to really interact with some of the runners who have inspired me. Today, I’m not going to speak very much in this blog. Instead, I’m going let those runners talk. I asked some of them specific questions based on what I know about their running history and tendencies. I asked them to tell me about their first marathon. I asked for advice. And I got it. I hope the following comments—from running bloggers, a friend from high school, and even an Olympic marathoner—inspire you like they already have me.
First, I’ll tell you a little about each runner featured in this post. Then you can click the name to jump to that person’s comments, or just scroll down.
Kevin at 5ksAndCabernets: Kevin lives in hot Texas, is currently training for his third marathon, and he’s run loads of races. Kevin has run some really rough races and training runs, and I enjoy reading his posts because he seems to be very dedicated to analyzing his runs, their successes and failures. I need to do that more. (Kevin also treats readers to both cute and soul-bearing posts about his adorable son. As a parent-to-be eventually, I love the insight into a parent’s mind.)
FrayedLaces: FrayedLaces is, in my book, pretty amazing. She started running and ran her first marathon despite a serious medical malady (read her comments below for details), then, a mere 8 months later, ran a marathon when she was planning on doing a 10k and ended up placing 3nd out of the women.
LifeStudent: LifeStudent was the first running blogger that I started reading last year. She was in the thick of marathon training, also for the first time, and I loved how real her blog always was. She also writes about her love for food—cupcakes specifically (are we seeing a trend here?)—her cute dog Wrigley. She even introduced me to SomeEcards.com!
Mac: Mac and I have been friends since we were in band together in high school. We took research class together and Mac taught me to solve the Rubik’s Cube. In 2001, Mac ran the Marine Corp Marathon along with a bus full of his West Point colleagues, and he shares his experience in this blog. Since then, he’s run a half-marathon, and is currently serving our nation, making the world safer for runners and non-runners alike.
Vanilla at Half-Fast: Vanilla’s funny! Funny and running is a good mix in my book. He writes poems, offers dating advice, and even searched for an arch nemesis (there was a battle for the ages, but did he ever find one?). He’s even a very special guest author on the Complete Running Network.
Zuzana Tomas: She realized she was a runner while watching Rosa Mota win the 1988 Olympic marathon in Seoul, and now she herself is Slovak Olympic marathoner extraordinaire. She has run 5 marathons, most recently competing in the Beijing Olympic marathon on August 17. It wasn’t her easiest race, but she finished, and I, along with many other people, believed in her and am proud of her.
Beth: My best friend since the 4th grade, Beth was much like me: Not an athlete until the college years. (In fact, Beth is the reason I realized I could run a marathon!)
Brandi: Brandi and Beth are friends and pretty much trained together for the 2003 Chicago Marathon.
Kevin at 5ksandcabernets
You’re a wine drinker and I’m a beer drinker (who is, coincidentally, living in Bierland!). Did you ever drink the few nights/week before a marathon? Do you advise it? What about drinking afterward? What do you recommend? During training for my first marathon in 2005, I would drink wine two nights a week, the night after I did my long run and the next night. (I ran long on Fridays, so my drinking would be Friday and Saturday night.)
In training for my second marathon, in 2007, I drank three to four nights a week until the final week, when I drank just once – six days out.
Even though I ran more mileage in 2007, I had a better marathon experience and faster time in 2005. I’m not so sure it was just the drinking that made things worse, but there you have it.
What do I drink and what do I recommend? I drink red wine. Love the red wine. Cabs, Syrahs, Zins. Yummy. How much should you drink before or after your marathon training? You know, I’ll give you the advice that I was once given: Running is an experiment of one. What may work for me may not work for you and vice versa. [Love this advice!]
You’re a veteran marathon runner. Any race advice for this novice? My race advice? Take it easy the first half. After all the training and your taper, you will feel pretty good on marathon day. You’ll feel so good that morning that if you were running any other race that day, you’d no doubt PR. But you aren’t running any other race. You are running, well, you know what you are running. Since this is your first marathon, run the first half at the same speed as you ran your training runs. See how you feel at the halfway point and pick it up a little bit if you feel better. If you are still feeling good by mile 20 or 21, pick it up even more if you can. But if not, hold back or drop your time. Things will get hairy late in the race and if you go out to fast, you may not have enough in your tank to make your time, or, gawd forbid, finish the race.
Topher at I’ll Run for Donuts
There is a Dunkin’ Donuts at kilometer 34. As the eminent running blogging donut lover, do you recommend that I stop for a maple-frosted cake donut (my personal favorite), or should I just persuade my loving husband to hand one off to me as I pass? Should you suggest the latter, I think my husband might need some persuading. Any tips in that area? What? Are you seriously asking that question? Of course you have to go into the shop yourself! None of this “Mr. Man, would you hold a donut for me while I run 34K (however far that is)?” No no no. You have to carry some cash and slip off the course to get your own donut. I’m thinking about doing the same at the LaMar’s Donuts on the KC Marathon Route (since there aren’t any Dunkins in KC). In fact, you need to convince someone in line to buy your donut since you’re running a marathon. You should save your money for other things, like chocolate.
Could you give me some race advice or something you’ve learned while training for your first marathon? Oh, this is so hard to narrow down to a few words. I’m such an expert on what not to do that I don’t even know where to start. I suppose the freshest thing is to keep running. As you know, I took an entire week off to eat birthday cake and practice tapering. Dumb. I’ve figured out that even if it’s a short two or three mile run, running at least every other day is important to maintain my running fitness level. I’ve read multiple places that speed isn’t important in one’s first marathon, but endurance is king. I’ve stuck with that and not worried as much about running fast, but learning to maintain a comfortable, consistent pace over a long distance. I’ve also had to figure out balance. To stick to the plan 100% would have caused problems since life happens. I’ve had to miss some runs, I’ve had to rearrange my running schedule by either running really early or really late in the day. I promised my family that although this is an important goal for me it would not interfere with any family time. Oh, and find humor in the pain. That’s really come in handy as I come closer to the 20 mile mark. Blisters and chaffing can be funny.
Congrats on your first marathon coming up! I hope it is an amazing experience—you’ll never forget your first! Make sure to enjoy every moment of it, and party like a rockstar when it is all over.
So… on to your questions:
You finished your first marathon even though you ran what were, before the starting gun, stress fractures in your pelvis into full on broken bones. Even though I don’t plan on “aspiring” to that level of endurance and dedication, I expect to face some pain during my first marathon. How did you get through that pain to the finish line? Well, to my credit, I didn’t know I had stress fractures going into my marathon. I thought it was a pulled groin, and was too stubborn to go to the doctor. I figured I worked too hard to not run the marathon. [Linden’s Note: I’m stubborn too.] I even remember saying “Hey, if I hurt my groin so bad that I can’t walk for the next two weeks, it will be worth it.” Well, I was right… almost. I was crutch-bound for 1 month and sans running for 3. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Even though you won’t have to suffer a cracking pelvis during your marathon, you will experience some suffering. That’s what makes the challenge of a marathon so enticing. Expect the first 10 miles to be fun and exhilarating, the next 10 to be somewhat of a challenge, and the last 6.2 to be pure hell. Well, not exactly, but every muscle and brain cell will be screaming at you to stop. The best thing to do is just to focus on all the hard work you have put in, and focus on putting one foot in front of the other. When I ran my last marathon (not the broken pelvis one), I started getting tunnel vision and cramping around mile 22. I just sort of reasoned with myself that the marathon is suppose to be a challenge, and that I CAN get through this. I pulled my hat down low over my eyes so I wouldn’t see how much more I had yet to run. Instead, I focused on each step. Each step I took got me closer to the finish, closer to having a successful marathon under my belt, and closer to the massage table, fridge full of beer, and giant post-race BBQ.
You’ve now run two marathons. Could you give some race advice to this first timer?
Slow down and enjoy it. I wish I had done that with my first. Because I was in agony, my mind blacked out the majority of the race. So, instead of having that glorious first-timer feeling, I have a huge void. Also, at the finish… raise those arms high, baby, and smile! Going into the race, just be as prepared as you can. Don’t eat anything funky the night before (I actually eat very little for dinner the night before since I tend to have GI issues) and be prepared to have to take some pit stops. Also, make sure you hydrate well. If you’ve been training with a fuel belt, use it in the race. Your first marathon should be all about finishing comfortably and happy. Oh, don’t forget to be liberal with the BodyGlide or Vaseline! And wear sunblock, but don’t put any on your forehead or above your eyes. Otherwise it will drip in your eyes, no matter how waterproof it claims to be.
Hope this helps! GOOD LUCK!
[FrayedLaces just posted her third marathon race report, the Maui Marathon on September 13.]
LifeStudent at A Marathon Leap
I woke up one morning with the vision of “becoming a runner”. And if I was going to be a runner, I figured I should go all out. I decided I would run the Chicago Marathon, and as a non-runner 26.2 miles was quite a lofty goal.
My first training run, a 3-miler, was one of the hardest things I had done in a long while. For my first running attempt I found the motions foreign, and though I spent hours on the elliptical I struggled for air as I slowly moved toward my 3-mile goal. At the end of the run I was sure I had accepted quite the challenge, and it was one I was not positive that I would be able to meet.
As months went by and the mileage increased, each long run was challenging but never impossible. In fact, as my training progressed I was amazed by how relatively “easy” these distances were. Through my training I learned that I could accomplish any feat. I also learned about hydration, form, running shoes and gear. I was so confident in myself and the training and knowledge that I had accumulated over my 6 months with Team in Training that I never doubted I would complete 26.2 on 10.6.07. And that’s where I was wrong…
I woke up on Sunday, October 6, filled with excitement and anticipation. I was ready! My friends and I gathered when it was still the dark and took our time using the restrooms, stretching, and participating in excited chatter. Before long it was race time and we found ourselves at the starting line.
Many already know the outcome of the 2007 Chicago Marathon, so I will not repeat the details. I’m not going to lie—IT WAS HOT! As we stood around waiting for the race to start I was glad I wore a hat (something I rarely did in training) to protect my head from the sun and to keep sweat off my face. Though I was hot, I never once thought the heat would be an issue. Many of my training runs were done in high temps. In addition, it was 90+ degrees for two of my longer races that summer.
I began the race with confidence but did eventually start to panic (much like everyone else). What caused the change? The first time I had any water was at the THIRD water station—almost 6 miles into the race. I skipped the first station (which is pretty customary in a marathon) and found the second station deserted upon arrival. Not having water until mile 6, I knew I was in trouble. I had been sweating at a high rate was already dehydrated. By the 8th mile, runners were begging spectators for water and faces began to show signs of panic. By mile 13 I was dazed, cramping, and primarily walking.
Just before mile 16 a volunteer yelled to passing runners that the “race was cancelled”. She was the only one saying anything and most people didn’t hear her. I noticed some people were walking, but most were still running, so I continued. Murmurs started within the crowd and I began to hear more mentions of the word “cancelled”. At 16.5 miles the course was diverted from the scheduled route. Police barricaded the street—but they stood silent as runners passed. Many were still running, perhaps not noticing the diversion or perhaps just refusing to acknowledge it. Not a single person provided any official information until we were herded back into Grant Park 2.12 miles later and were congratulated on our participation in a “fun run” over the loud speakers.
It was a bitter end to six long months of training. Runners were confused, many were crying, and many were angry. The majority felt that race organizers had betrayed them through insufficient support along the course and inadequate communication as the event turned chaotic. In the weeks and months to follow the race organizers never accepted any blame in the “marathon meltdown” and often chastised new and novice runners. Fueled by anger I thought about the time I wasted during those six months and how race organizers had personally screwed me.
It took a couple of weeks to cool off (and wise up). I registered for the December 07 Las Vegas Marathon. Together with many from the group I trained with I successfully completed my first marathon. In addition, we had an awesome time in Vegas… one that I will never forget. While the Chicago Marathon is an experience that has strongly impacted me, the Las Vegas Marathon was my “first”. I will never forget either event, each holds a place me beyond words I can place on the blogosphere.
Here is what I remember about the Marine Corps Marathon:
I boarded a bus at West Point to take me to Washington the day prior. There were perhaps a hundred of us. I don’t know exactly how many. We were dropped at some motel in DC, I believe, nothing special. I remember walking quite some distance to get dinner. For dinner, my friends and I purchased large plates of pasta and then ordered out for another pizza when we got back. We wanted to ensure our systems were loaded with carbohydrates when we woke the next morning.
When I woke up race day, I remember mostly that we were making fun of each other, my roommates and I. We stumbled onto the bus where we were driven to a staging area. It was uncomfortably cold. While we waited on the bus, a jar of Vaseline circulated… I had to have it explained to me what it was for. I had never run so far before. There were also band aids available. I applied band aids and Vaseline to all the correct locations.
The race started with us all corralled into gates. They were arranged by speed, though I don’t recall which speed I chose. I remember it being very crowded.
Once we started running, people were taking off clothes. There were hundreds of sweat shirts, sock hats, things like that littering the first two miles of the course. Also, in the cold, there were people off the sides of the course everywhere urinating after having run less than half a mile.
The rest of the race was just good fun. I took a camera and took lots of pictures. At mile marker 13 there were energy gels available to us. I had about a dozen of them. Whereas, for a while, I was afraid I might have inadvertently destroyed my pancreas, I never walled. I, instead, was jittery with energy most of the rest of the race. I don’t know what it’s like to hit the “wall” but I am glad I didn’t. I understand it’s not a good thing. [Hmm… a promising strategy…]
After the race, we all walked around for about 30 minutes to try to stretch out. Then we got back on the bus and rode for several hours.
Though I recall some stiffness resulting from getting straight on a bus after the race, the big things I remember discovering once I got back to school were 1) My knees were in horrible pain that made it very difficult to climb stairs. The pain only lasted until I went to bed, they weren’t bad the next day. and 2) Several of my toe nails fell off or partially fell off. I had some straight ugly feet after the marathon.
Besides that, it was a great experience. I had a blast and I want to run another. Hopefully I’ll do so soon with my girlfriend when I get home from this war.
Vanilla (Ian) at Half-fast
I, like you, have a favorite running hat. And like you, it has sweat stains like tree rings. I saw that you debated whether to wear it in your big face off against Viper, but I need to know how to make that crucial decision. Any advice? In determining whether or not to wear a hat, you’ll need to consider the expected weather conditions. I wear my hat when it’s going to be sunny in lieu of sunscreen because I burn quicker than a hippy’s draft card. I don’t like to run in sunscreen because it makes me sweat more and stings like crazy when it gets in my eyes. If only they’d test that stuff on innocent little bunnies first (kidding!). If it’s going to be really hot, then I don’t wear the hat because I figure (wildly unfounded scientific speculation ahead) that you lose a lot of body heat through your head and the hat prevents this from happening. It is imperative that you be able to cool down if you want to run well and run long. To recap, don’t wear a hat if it’s going to be hot, but do wear one if it’s going to be sunny. Also you can wear it if it’s going to be overcast but then it’s just for looks, not for function. Of course, these things are all secondary to the most important issue you need to consider, which is what does your hat say about you? Does it say “I’m a Red Sox fan,” which is always appropriate, or does it say “someone gave me this free Microsoft Vista hat at a convention and I’m not cool enough to realize I shouldn’t wear it in public,” which is something you’ll want to avoid. [Hmm… my running hat is a Dr. Pepper hat I got by drinking 23 Dr. Pepper 1-liter bottles and mailing in the labels. I’m good with that.]
I know you haven’t run a marathon yet (no hard feelings, nor I am trying to one-up you, I promise), but could you give me some race advice? This is only my fourth race and you’ve run lots. I don’t know that I’d say that I’m experienced. I think I’ve run eleven races, roughly. They didn’t all start out roughly, but they all ended roughly. Be prepared for the fact that you’ll have to dig deep in the later stages. Make sure you know what your race strategy is and don’t abandon it. I speak as one who is experienced in creating Teflon race strategies; I never stick to them. In the early miles you’ll probably be feeling pretty good and you’ll be tempted to think you should speed up, but don’t do it, it will cost you in the long run. (In the long run, get it? These are the jokes people, they don’t get any better.) Generally speaking, we runners know what we’re capable of. We have a good estimation of how fast we can run the race, but then we start running and we feel like world beaters. The runner’s ego kicks in and says “maybe you were wrong, maybe you can totally run a 3:30 marathon,” and you fall for it hook, line and sinker, despite the fact that you’ve been training for a 4:30 marathon. [According to McMillan’s Running Calculator, I’ve been training for a 5:30! I really wanna hit exactly 5 hours, so we’ll see how it goes.]
What is the most important race day preparation that I need to be certain to take care of? According to my mother, it would be to make sure that you wear a clean pair of underwear without any holes, just in case the paramedics treating you need to disrobe you. [My mom would probably agree!] I’m not sure if it’s more disturbing that she would plan that far ahead, or that there are paramedics who are checking out your skivvies instead of, you know, stopping the gushing blood. Either way, you can’t afford to think like that. What are you doing thinking about paramedics treating you on your big day? That’s just begging for failure. No, the most important thing you can do to prepare for your race is to remember to put on your bib and timing chip. Really your bib and timing chip are the only necessary things you need to race. Everything else you can do without, but they won’t let you run without your bib, plus the paramedics can ID you a lot easier from your race number.
My first marathon was actually my favorite one. It was the only marathon in which I managed to do a negative split, which means I ran the first half (which was a downhill) a lot slower than the second half (1:26 and 1:21:45). It was great to feel stronger and stronger as the race went on. I got too ambitious in my second race, setting a PR in the half-marathon in 1:16:57 and paid for it big time in the end (see more discussion of the conservative initial pacing bellow). It is interesting how real the first marathon stays for you—if I close my eyes I can still see the course and feel the atmosphere… I guess the build up to it is so intensive that it makes the experience very memorable.
I will offer three pieces of advice-one on marathon training, one on racing, and one on recovery. A lot of people train for the marathon the way they trained in college for 5k races, only they bring up their mileage and do a long run. I think it is important in one’s marathon preparation to do more marathon-specific workouts, such as marathon pace runs (running at the marathon pace for up to 13-15 miles), doing a lot of not-too-fast repeats with very short rest (e.g. up to 20x1000m with 1 minute rest). I think this approach helps one not only to prepare best physically, but you also know mentally that you can handle the marathon having done so much marathon pacing in your training. (Don’t panic here if your approach has been different—few people train this way, but it has worked wonders for me. Perhaps, it is something you may choose to try in the future.)
As for the actual racing, I’d like to share the advice of my former coach, Brian Appel. He once said that “a marathon is a 20-mile run and a 10k race”. In other words, there is just no starting too fast in a marathon as it will always catch up with you. You must feel like you are running within your (marathon) comfort zone during the first 30-32 kilometers and then go as hard as your body allows you to. While perhaps such a conservative approach is not for everyone, it is, I believe, effective for most runners. You can look up splits of the top ten marathon runners at any major marathon and you will find that their first few miles are always a lot faster than their average time, meaning, they tend to slow down considerably in the last 10k of the race. I would imagine that the splits of a majority of less competitive runners would probably also show a considerable slowing down in the second part of the marathon. By holding back the pace a little in the first twenty miles while appropriately fueling your body with fluids (preferably not just water, but something containing enough sodium) and gels, you will feel stronger in the last quarter of the race. It is a lot more empowering to be catching up to people ahead of you and passing them then being passed.
Finally, not many people prepare you for how to deal with the post-marathon emotions. Whether you end up having a good race or a bad race, you may find yourself feeling quite down. This should not be too surprising because your marathon has been such a big goal for such a long time and suddenly it’s all over which can result in feeling a little empty. Different strategies work for different people. What helps me is to take a day to reflect on the race, but then it’s necessary to move on and not dwell on the race too much. This does not mean you should start training right away. In fact, you should give your body the break it deserves (I take two weeks off completely, then start running every other day). What I mean, is mentally refocus on the next goal. This could be a marathon or a 5k or a triathlon or whatever will “do it for you”. Write up a plan leading up to the next race. Even if you may not be able to start training for it for a while, it will give you something to look forward to and work toward.
Running the Chicago Marathon in 2003 was one of the greatest achievements of my life, and one of the most fulfilling experiences from beginning (training Day 1, 18 weeks out) to end (crossing over the Finish Line).
While there are many stories to recount during the marathon, my memories center more strongly on how I felt emotionally during the race. I recall how proud I felt to even attempt such a feat, and even better about seeing it to its completion. Before training for the marathon, I did not consider myself “athletic” or as an “athlete” even in the most generous of descriptions. Running was so against who my self-identity was, I did not even tell my family (also non-athletes) until I was over 75% into the training because I was afraid of their legitimately surprised response: “But Beth, you aren’t a runner!” or I was afraid that I would tell myself that very same thing, and then come to the defeated acceptance that I was in fact not a runner, not athletic, after all.
As it turned out, I am a runner, and it was not until I was in the middle of the marathon that I realized that running was a part of my identity.
My very strongest memory is not just of crossing the finish line, but the final mile and next few hours. I was exhausted physically, but mentally I was manic. I had done the unthinkable! The unfathomable! The incredible! I had run a marathon! I was moved to tears multiple times from the moment my eyes saw the finish line and my dream was playing out as I had visualized it over and over again. When I was done, I was emotionally overcome with a mixture of pride, relief, and accomplishment.
The race represented much more than pounding out 26.2 miles. It redefined Who I Am. I doubt you will find any runner who will tell you differently about their first marathon.
My advice to you, Linden? Enjoy every minute of it! Running a good race physically is important, but enjoying yourself is more so. Don’t be afraid to cheer other runners on and talk with strangers along the way. Reflect on everything it took to get you to this point in your life, and revel in the accomplishment you set out to do, and that you did it on your own. No one runs those miles for you in the end, and when you are done, no one can take it away that You are a marathoner. :)
I am not a runner. October 14, 2003 I completed the Chicago Marathon. It was not fast. It was not pretty. I did not hold pace with the best of the best. I finished and proved to myself that I could reach any goal that I set.
Deciding on a whim that it would be a “fun” thing to do, a college friend and I researched training schedules, read tips on distance running and registered for a marathon six months away. After our first two mile run, I realized that the “fun” in this endeavor was debatable. Four and a half months into my training I had developed a stress fracture in my foot, bilateral tendonitis in my knees and was advised to stop running by my orthopedist. More frustrating than the advice was the fact that I couldn’t run. I tried but my body did not cooperate. I continued my training by swimming laps and weight lifting. The morning of the run, I realized as I laced up my tennis shoes that I had not ran over two miles in six weeks, but I was determined to finish what I had started. I knew I would have to do this on my own. I would not be able to keep the same pace as my training partner and so, I started in the back of the pack of forty thousand people, praying that my body would hold up for the next 26.2 miles. It did. 5 hours, 43 minutes and 43 seconds later I crossed the finish line. That is not a time to broadcast or brag about to runners. The good news is that I am not a runner. I now only run 2-3 miles at a time and am usually motivated by the sense of necessity rather than that of enjoyment. Regardless, I can take that experience and remind myself that as long as I remain committed to my goal, put the effort in and believe in my ability to achieve, I will be successful. I am not a runner; I am a finisher.
“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” Andrew Carnegie
My goal is to be a phenomenal pediatrician. I love children. I am intrigued by the way they grow; the way they learn; the way they love. While running does not come to me naturally, I was created to interact with kids. Like finishing a marathon, my pursuit of excellence will not be an easy task. It will require dedication, sacrifice, an ability to learn from mistakes, perseverance and time. I believe whole-heartedly that the role of the pediatrician in a child’s life is not only to maintain health, but also to promote wellness and education, ensure safety, and serve as a role model. Professionally, I can find no greater calling. Personally, I can imagine no greater joy.