Running my First Two Marathons
Exactly a year ago I signed up for my very first marathon, Wineglass Marathon in Corning, NY.
Getting to run my first marathon after so many years of having it only be a distant bucket-list goal was one the most wonderful things that I've ever done for myself. And because I read about other peoples' marathon experiences before I signed up for mine, I wanted to share my own experience, too.
I chose The Wineglass Marathon because of its proximity to Toronto, its beautiful setting, and the time of year (spring and winter marathons aren't ideal for me because given the climate where I live - I can't train during the winter). I wanted it to be somewhere that friends and family could come if they wanted to and make a nice cottage weekend out of it too, in the beautiful Finger Lakes of Upstate NY (wine country)!
Even though I've always enjoyed running, immediately after I signed up the whole running experience changed for me. I felt stronger and more inspired. I talked about the effects it had on me in my post, Commit to Something.
In the year-long preparation I stuck to an enjoyable training schedule that gave a sense of control in my life at a time when so much of it seemed out of my control. I loved that each day the one thing that I could reliably look forward to was my morning routine.
I'd get up just before sunrise, have a coffee and read, journal, have my pre-run snack of an apple and peanut butter and then step out at 0630. During those calm hours I reveled in the positivity and hope that comes with the dawn of each new day, and on the longer runs, a chance to spend time with God.
I loosely followed a training schedule based on a Masterclass by Joan Benoit. Essentially it was this, a 5k every morning I could get out (which varied based on my hectic work schedule), a 10-15k every weekend, and one long distance run, about 20k+ once a month.
After a year of preparing, one 30k run, a Terry Fox 10k fundraiser, massages and acupuncture appointments, and a 7-day taper before the race, I started making the drive down with my family to a cottage in Watkins Glen.
New York State is beautiful. Small-town America. Quaint, well-kept homes and perfectly manicured yards. Clearly proud - with a flag hanging on every house. The bib pick up was at Corning Glass Museum and had such a fun and positive energy. Seriously - to be in that room again (and I will)... a room full of runners at their peak, all trained up for their big marathon the next day, brimming with excitement.I had a pasta party at the cottage the night before the race. Which, I noticed, is a big part of running culture - and I love that.
In the days and moments leading up to the marathon everyone kept asking me if I was nervous. I couldn't wait! I was excited to be surrounded by that overwhelmingly-positive energy that I had heard about at the start line. I was excited to put my body through something so wonderfully rewarding. And honestly, naively, I thought it was going to be easy.
I'd loved all of my runs up to that day, even my 30k run, which had already in itself made one of my top experiences. I was looking forward to the sheer length of the marathon - hours unplugged, no traffic lights, no appointments or tasks to be done, no other choice but to focus on my body and my place within the universe. Those are the times, I think, that we get closest to God, and I was looking forward to that opportunity.
The morning of the race was everything I hoped it would be. Beautiful surroundings in the mountains, a bus full of marathoners (and snacks), all of them excited and willing to offer up advice. They introduced me on the bus as a first-time runner, and I met a 73-year-old named Jim who was running his 45th.
I met one runner that had run only two marathons - the first was The Wineglass Marathon, in which he qualified for Boston! Wow! I couldn't let that not influence me. He said that marathon running was a game of the mind.
The most popular advice I seemed to be getting though from seasoned runners was to pace myself. Jim cautioned me about going too fast at the outset. He said it was going to be hard to keep to a pace in the beginning because I'd be feeling so good.
Just before it was time to make my way to the start line, I put my drop bag in a UPS truck, which would bring it to the finish line for me. It contained my warmup sweater and lots of apples, bananas, and granola bars for after the run. Then I made my way through the runners to the different pacers. I got in place with the 4:15 runners. My original guess was that I could run it in 4 hours, but I was finding it hard to make my way any further ahead.
The time came on that beautiful, sunny, picturesque NY morning when the horn went off and off we all went on our journey. Our own individual journeys that we embarking on side by side. 100 meters after the start line a bagpiper played Scotland the Brave.
Bagpipers used to march with the Scottish army. They would join the soldiers on the frontline to inspire them to fight. And that is certainly what it did for me. In those early marathon moments I was so content and inspired that I could barely avoid crying at the start of the race.
As I began I was trying to remember what I set out to do, which was to have a nice, enjoyable run and simply complete the marathon. At the same time, I knew about the Boston qualifying time of 3:30 and couldn't help but wonder what if.
With all of the different advice in my head going into the marathon I did find it hard to strike the right balance between pushing myself, having a nice time, and avoiding burning out.
The first few miles I spent steadily passing runners trying to find my spot. I felt like I was running behind of a bunch of grannies and enthusiasts, and people heavily panting beside me. I felt that wasn't the place for me.
I passed by a couple of women that were having a full-blown conversation. They were talking about their entire historical background as runners and how next year in the 50+ age group they could qualify for Boston, because it would give them an 5 extra minutes.
I was thinking, this is not social time! I wasn't going to stay and keep pace with two people having a Sunday morning chat... I could go further.
I kept making my way past runners until I found a nice pace just in front of the 3:40 group. I was enjoying myself there. I liked gradually hearing the pacers voice becoming more distant behind me.
Everything felt really good. The runner's high that they talk about? It's real, and if there was ever a time that I was experiencing it, it was then. Positivity and love surged my whole body. I got my chance to talk to God and ask the questions I wanted to ask (and I'll go more in-depth about this in another post).
Everything was what I hoped it would be, until about the halfway point, 13.1 miles down and 13.1 left to go. It was around there that I started to feel small pains starting to creep up in my legs. I had fallen and injured myself pretty badly a few days before - and worried that it was going to come out now to stop me.
The funny thing is, in talking about the parallels of my life and running a marathon, my therapist made the analogy that what I was experiencing personally was like "running a marathon and in the last two miles, falling and scraping your knees badly and skidding across the pavement. You can't believe that just happened, but you're still going to finish."
That actually did happen, only it was a couple of days before the marathon. But, she was right. It was going to be hard, but I would do it! Maybe it wouldn't go as quickly as I thought. Maybe I wouldn't qualify for Boston on my first race, but I was going to finish it no matter what. I knew that God was still there.
My feet started to feel really tender, and I kinda started to feel like I was carrying cement. I still kept ahead of the 3:40 pacers until about 2/3 mark. I had to go to the washroom. I stopped in one of the porta-potties (which they have conveniently set up all along the race - along with water stations, gatorade, and energy gels).
When I got into that bathroom it felt like I was on a boat. It was rocking. I knew that stopping was taking a couple of minutes off of my time, but I also knew that I couldn't go the rest of the race like that (having to go to the washroom really slows you down - in my experience).
Unfortunately, after that short break in my run, the rest of the distance was considerably harder. From that point forward, people were passing me. The only ones that I could pass after that were people that were injured or had to stop.
A runner named Alicia from back on the bus caught up with me. She remembered that it was my first marathon and asked me how I was doing, if I was okay, and told me just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. She said that in a couple of miles we would pass people again. She said it always helped.
She was right, and one of the things that I loved so much about that marathon were the fans. The signs they made, the encouragement, the cheering. It really does make the world of a difference. I think that if I ever retire from running, I want to be a part of those people on the sidelines, helping the runners along and giving them strength and energy.
Alicia ran ahead of me, she was keeping a steady pace. I kept on. During the last two miles, every single step hurt. Finally I made it to the homestretch, through historic downtown Corning. That moment. There's nothing like it.
Running a marathon is extremely difficult, more difficult than I had ever anticipated. And that was precisely what made it such an amazing experience. There were moments on the run that I questioned why I decided to do such a thing. It made me remember that sometimes things in life are hard, but it doesn't mean that you're not going to make it through.
At the finish line, I was greeted by my mom and sister, and serendipitously, I saw Jim. He said, 'there's nothing like that, huh, that feeling crossing the finish line?' He told me that if I kept at it, I could really work on my time, and that I could take beautiful trips around the world running marathons.
Making our way back to the car, I overheard something so hilarious - two runners walking away from the event and one saying to the other, "You have to slow down or I'm going to pass out," then the other saying "I'm afraid if I slow down I'm going to throw up." If that's not supreme bliss, I don't know what is.
It only took me a short half hour of cooling off to get the idea that I wanted to run marathons again and again and again. Maybe even that I could just stay trained, using one marathon as my last long-distance run in preparation for the next.
I started researching all of the runs I could do in North America and in the world. Athens - for the original marathon. Tokyo. I wanted to run one in the short-term in California, too, since I was moving there soon and thought it would be a good celebration.
2 weeks after I got back, I was sitting in a dentist appointment with my mouth being worked on when I heard my dentist talking to his assistant about The Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
How in all of my research had I overlooked that Toronto's marathon was happening on that very weekend! I drove home and signed up right away. Was it crazy to run two marathons in two weeks? Maybe. But I found out later that it was possible.
I went into it already kind of sore. I was still recovering from The Wineglass Marathon - I took the first week off and then did a few 5k runs before Toronto race day. In the morning before the race, I had a pain in the bottom of my foot that I tried to work out.
The Toronto marathon was a lot bigger than the one in Corning. There were 13 thousand runners, and it began on the beautiful University Avenue in Toronto, and ended at City Hall. There were the rows of porta-potties, as you see at the start of marathons. Ahead of a marathon the runners basically use the washroom, and then get in line to use it again.
There are so many nerves and you also want to make sure that you don't have to go during the race. I was wiser this time. I went twice before running, but I was also a little more careful with my pre-marathon eating. Only one coffee, not too much water (there's plenty along the way) and I kept to only simple carbs and protein before running - not too much fibre.
In the first five kilometres of the race, I started to feel a pain in my left leg (opposite the pain in my foot). Oh no I thought. Actually, this time I was feeling really unsure that I'd be able to pull it off. I knew it wasn't going to be the time to push myself for speed if I was going to finish it.
If the first marathon was hard after the first half, this one was hard from the first 5k. Because I was still recovering and because I was no longer ignorant to what a marathon was.
Through Toronto we went, and again the crowds made all the difference, moments of pain and happiness and tears. When I passed those crowds, the pain seemed to escape my body for a few moments, and it was replaced with strength.
It was lovely to see Toronto in that way, in the fall, with the Gardiner blocked off for runners. Despite all of that the run was kind of hellish, to be honest. I was sore, I was tired, and I didn't have that year long anticipation going into it that I had in Corning.
It was interesting too that this marathon was a circuit, rather than Point-to-Point like Wineglass Marathon had been.
All of the Half-Marathon and Full Marathon runners started from the same spot. I heard people at the 20k mark saying to each other "come on, you can do this, we're on the final stretch," when I still had more than double the distance left to go.
Again, I made it to the end. None of the pains that I was experiencing developed into anything painful enough to stop me. My time was 15 minutes slower than my first marathon, finishing at 4h10, but my pace was a lot more consistent. I finished it off with a donut from Bloomers.
Next time, I'll give myself a couple of months between. That is, before Carlsbad Marathon in January.
If you're thinking about running a marathon, this is your sign. You can do it. It's gonna be so hard, and you're going to love it.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6