Around this time one year ago, I was days away from running my first marathon. I remember the anticipation, the fear and the giddiness I felt knowing that this monster of a race I had spent months training for was almost here.
Though I had run a few half marathons already, I really had no idea what to expect in running 26.2 miles. Looking back now, there were several surprises that came up along the way.
Becky: “Yeah, we just ran a marathon. Ain’t no thang.” Me: “I can’t get this beer open fast enough.”
The community I trained with last year is getting ready for the Des Moines Marathon again this weekend. After running the Des Moines half in 2013 and the full last year, I am a little sad not being a part of that community again this time. However, I know I’m not in it because I’ve chosen to work toward other goals and have joined other communities that I am just as happy to be a part of. Yet, I will never forget the experience I shared with the IMT Des Moines Marathon Training Group last year.
With that, I compiled a list of things I learned and realized from my marathon that I hope will give some perspective to the folks out there who are completing their first marathon this fall. Making it through training is victory in itself; the actual race is the celebration.
Things I Wish I knew
- 26 miles is a great deal longer than 20 miles. This is painfully true. Most plans don’t have you run much farther than 20 miles in training with the reasoning that if you can run 20 miles, then you’re ready to run 26. And while you might be thinking, yeah, what’s six more miles? What’s roughly one more hour of running? Let me tell you, after running 20, six more miles is absolute hell! This is true at least for my experience! Some people have this thing down and maybe they can power through the last six, but that was easily the most painful six miles I’ve ever experienced. If and when you hit that wall, it will take every last bit of you, mentally and physically, to push to the end. Be ready for this! Here are a couple fun lists of 26.2 mantras to use during your marathon:
- Anything can happen. You may not have experienced any problems training–no injuries, shortness of breath, or other scary bodily functions. No matter how perfect your training was, Race Day is a completely new world to the body, especially if and when you hit that wall. Conditions are different; there are hundreds of other runners surrounding you, your adrenaline and nerves are in full force, and things just happen.
As an asthmatic, I’ve been surprised how much running has helped my breathing. Not once during my marathon training did I have to use my inhaler, and I eventually quit bringing it with me on runs. Come Race Day at Mile 23, a place my lungs had never been before, I had a full-on asthma/panic attack (I think it was a bit of both, nerves and pain mixed in with lungs crashing), and no inhaler on me.
For another example, Becky, who I ran the marathon with, just went to her second marathon in Chicago last weekend. (You go, girl!) My friend didn’t get to finish because she got a stress fracture in her foot. You just never know what will happen! Do your best to be prepared. Luckily, I pulled through that asthma attack and Becky and I were able to finish our first marathon. But if something happens and you don’t get to cross the finish line, don’t beat yourself up. Like I said earlier, the months of training is victory in itself.
3. You can’t control your body. I spent much of my training time trying to figure out what foods work best for my body before the run, on the run, and after the run. I ate gluten free, dairy free, blah de blah. My diet was clean as could be, but as I’ve said, Race Day is different. Race Day does things to your body you can’t explain. The entire day before the marathon, I was either on the toilet or on the couch with a heating pad. I was miserable with stomach pain.
Nerves and anxiety are literally such a pain. Don’t be surprised if your body does something weird, just try to relax and breathe through it. During Race Week, try doing gentle yoga or meditation to calm your inner stress. You might not even think you’re that anxious about the upcoming race, but your body thinks differently.
Things to Look Forward to
- Random strangers become your BFFs. Last year, Becky and I kept running into this older fellow, I believe his name was Mike. It was his first marathon, too. We talked to him a little bit then we passed him, but he caught up with us later after our porta-potty stop. He cheered for us and we cheered for him. There were many people like that. A marathon is a bonding point. All these hundreds, thousands of people are out here after this huge goal. The respect among runners and the comeraderie is what I miss so much about it. Make some friends while you’re out there!
- Seeing your family and friends. The cool thing about the actual race is that so many people line the streets to cheer you on, motivation you don’t get during training. My favorite parts of the marathon were the three or four times I spotted my fiance, friends and parents on the street with bright pink signs for me and Becky. Knowing I’d see them again miles later, but not knowing exactly when, was the motivation that kept me going. Becky’s group of friends were so spirited, too; it was so much fun every time we ran into them. Enjoy these moments of the race, and if you can’tfind your personal cheerleaders, there are plenty of strangers who are just as excited to see you, too. Slap high fives whenever you can, and be grateful when kids sit out on their sidewalks to hand you oranges.
- Post-race meal. I know, you’ve been thinking about the slices of greasy pizza and giant cupcakes you’re going to devour since you laced up for your first training run. Gosh, there is nothing like eating crap after running a freaking marathon! It’s mostly a mental high, since your stomach is pretty much rocked from the run (maybe that was just me again), but do enjoy whatever it is you decide to reward yourself with. I had Zombie Burger after the race, complete with a S’mores milkshake. It was perfect.
Smores milkshake from Zombie Burger. This is 90% of the reason I ran 26.2 miles.
Most importantly, you don’t know where your running is going to go once you cross the marathon off your list. You might sign up for another one, like Becky did, and get just as excited as you were the first go around to see if you can do better. Or, you might say, hey, that was a good time, and hang up your running shoes for a while, like I did. I’ve run a couple half marathons since last year’s full, but my heart hasn’t been in it. My goals revolved around running for a long time, but now I know it’s the right time for me to focus on something else. Enjoy the race for what it is–a celebration of how far you’ve come as a runner and as a person. It takes so much effort to get to that finish line, and who knows when you’ll cross another one. Be grateful for every step of those 26.2 miles.
I sure as heck still am.
To my friends running Des Moines, good luck this weekend! I’ll be thinking of you!