On Sunday, I completed my first marathon, side-by-side with my dad.
What was it like?
The first half breezed by, pain-free, doubt-free. I hadn’t felt that good running in a long time. I enjoyed chatting with other marathoners, hearing their story while distracting ourselves from the miles that lay ahead. That was actually one of the best parts of the marathon: the connection with like-minded people, each with their own interesting story to tell.
Our long training runs were completed at around 12 minute/mile pace. During the marathon, the first few miles slipped by at under 10 minute pace, and we completed the first half at just over 10:30 pace. The first hill at mile 12 didn’t come close to living up to it’s internet legend. But my legs took a pounding going down that hill, and coming back up it the whole game changed. It felt like every muscle in my legs were seizing; it was pain like I’ve never experienced. I didn’t let myself walk up the hill, but with the pace I was going I might as well have. Somewhere in the haze of miles 18-20, it got really dark. There were tears. And strange whimpers that I’ve never made. And pain. PAIN. PAIN. PAIN. I can’t describe the pain. So we walked a ways, and our slowest mile crawled by at over 16 minute pace. At that point I had to decide: Is this worth it? With all this pain, do I even care? Weedy, negative thoughts entered my head. I wanted to think them. It almost felt good to think them. But deep down I knew I couldn’t let them spread. I had tried to rehearse this point of the race in my mind. I had quotes on stand-by. I knew what I would tell myself. But it was worse than I had imagined, my self-talk wasn’t working.
Ultimately, it was a combination of wanting to be a marathon runner, wanting to beat five hours, and the reality that walking hurt just as much as running did that gave me the strength to run on.
We didn’t see mile marker 20. And right around this time I was swearing off marathons for the rest of forever.
At around marker 21, we knew we needed to pick up the pace to beat 5 hours. I wanted to. But for 5.2 more miles? It didn’t feel physically possible. At first it was all I could do to keep shuffling at the same pace.
Mile maker 22: 4.2 miles still seemed so far. Five hours was in sight, but slipping away. I shuffled a little faster.
Mile marker 23: 3.2 miles? Seemed easy enough, until I did the math: 36 more minutes of running. Yet, we kept moving, now on pace to reach our goal.
Mile marker 24: The end was finally in sight. That mile we ran for each other. It was the fastest mile of the second half.
Mile marker 25: I remember thinking “that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” Yet we needed to increase our speed. We ran that last 1.2 miles for ourselves. We stretched from a stumble to a real run.
Mile marker 26: We sprinted to the finish, which I swear was more like 0.35, instead of 0.20 miles later. It was going to be close. I started to feel the high of finishing, and I accepted the idea of running another marathon someday.
The finish line: 4:59:41. And we became marathoners.
I wanted to sit down right there as they handed us our finishers medals and visors, but the photographer gave me an urgent look that said “you’re in the way!” Didn’t he know I couldn’t breath? Or walk? My dad coaxed me to the side. He NEVER lets me sit down right away, always making me walk it off. This time he didn’t say anything when I fell into a chair and stayed there. I think my tears and whimpers on the course softened him.
…At least that’s how I remember that scene of crossing the finish line. But I must have been doing alright, because when I look at my finisher’s photo, I’m smiling and lingering in front of the photographer to give a “thumbs up.”
Today, in line at the grocery store, wearing our shirts and medals, the checker congratulated us and expressed how she “couldn’t run.” It was surreal, because I actually couldn’t relate anymore. I never used to consider myself a runner. In fact, have distant memories of thinking the same thoughts as that checker. Memories of huffing and puffing and feeling “pain.” But after completing a marathon, I can’t fathom feeling that way anymore. Almost anyone can run. Maybe not fast, but that doesn’t have to be the point. Movement. Health. Feelings of achievement. That’s the point.
Over the course of three months of training, and a five hour event, I have transformed, physically stronger, but even more mentally. I now see opportunities where I used to see impossibilities. My confidence in myself to do hard things has grown. I’ve experienced the worst pain of my life and survived. I survived and I want to do it again. It might have taken a marathon for me to really believe it, but I believe it now: I am a runner. To me that means that I can do hard things. Not just once, but as many times as it takes for as long as it takes. And I have faith that I will come out stronger, happier, and more alive.
So, if you’re reading this and have even the slightest hopes of running a marathon one day, I truly believe that you can do it! It will take a lot of training and discipline. It will take hard work. Maybe even a little suffering! But it can be done and it will be worth it. You’ll see.
Since finishing, I have indulged every food craving. The toll? Half of a Red Robin chili burger and half of a jalapeño cheese burger, one and a half servings of Red Robin fries, two waffle cones piled high with real Tillamook ice cream (one scoop of chocolate peanut butter and one scoop of cookie dough), and one Dick’s cheeseburger with half and order of fries. Riding home in the car feeling sick and unable to digest the second ice cream cone and cheese burger, and sitting here feeling bloated, I am reminded why I like vegetables and grilled chicken.
Feeling sick with indulgence, we started plotting our next marathon. Criteria: Well organized, relatively flat, relatively scenic, nice weather, not conflicting with Cougar football, not too soon or too far, and close enough to drive would be a plus. We have tentatively decided on Portland, whose website boasts “The best organized Marathon in North America!” which sounds delightful after the very poorly coordinated Coeur D’Alene marathon. I want to run in a large, energetic race; there’s something about the idea of suffering with thousands of other runners that just seems right.
Perhaps, after reading about the worst pain of my life, you’re left wondering why I am considering doing it again? To put it simply, and you may have already guessed, it’s the post-marathon high. If you haven’t experienced it, I’m not sure I can explain, but I’ll try. It’s the sweet fatigue of a job well done. It’s the story that you get to tell for the rest of your life. It’s the overwhelming relief that you’ve killed yourself for months and it’s over. And, from my experience with other exercise highs, it’s fleeting. You have to chase it again.
But the one thought, almost a fear even, that lingers in my mind is, will the second marathon high be as good? Or am I on a slippery slope of endurance addiction? Always needing a heightened challenge to feel it? I suppose that’s why everyone is trying to run farther or run faster?
As amazing as completing a marathon was, and at the risk of putting up self-imposed limits, I think a marathon might be far enough for now. So faster it is, then!