My First Marathon
For anyone who doesn’t want to read through everything, I finished. I’m incredibly proud of myself, and I fully intend to make marathons a regular part of my year. A full account is after the jump.
The night before was a rough one. In just about every marathon guide, they say not to worry about sleep the night before your first marathon. You’re going to be excited, you’re going to toss & turn – just try to sleep up the week leading to the marathon and you’ll be fine. I went to bed early (after taking a hearty nap during the afternoon), but my son’s sleep-avoidance antics meant that I didn’t sleep too well. On top of that, I developed a bit of a cough around midnight (cue the foreshadow).
My alarm was set for 5:00, but I got out of bed a minute or two before it went off. I went downstairs and started myself a cup of coffee before hopping in the shower (yes, I showered before a huge run). The shower wasn’t so much for actual showering but for, um, manscaping. Hair, in certain places, tends to rub the wrong way over long distances . . . so I had to remove said hair. Plus, a lone tree always looks taller when there aren’t shrubs right around. I’ll leave things at that. Ahem.
I finished my manscaping, ran into the bedroom to put my running clothes on (running tights and lightweight shorts below the waist, a compression mock turtleneck and a wicking shirt above), and then to the kitchen for breakfast. I made myself a big bowl of oatmeal with honey, drank my coffee, and just relaxed with my thoughts. As 6:30 approached, I went back upstairs and packed my bags (I needed two bags here – the first was simply “dry clothing” that I could put on after the run: t-shirt, sweat pants, nice, thick hiking socks, and sneakers (because I run in my Vibrams) and then the bag for the piano recital: corduroys, a nice shirt, dress socks, and dress shoes), kissed my family goodbye and worked my way over.
I parked in a nearly empty parking lot at Harrisburg’s City Island about an hour before the starting gun, worked my way to the registration tent (which was set up in an empty municipal parking garage), got my registration kit, checked my check-in bag, visited the port-a-potty before the pre-race line started. With the better part of an hour to kill, I hung out near a space heater with a few other runners. We talked about everything – from parenting to marathon strategy, to the cost of marathon registration, back to parenting…and all of the sudden, we had 10 minutes to go.
I worked my way to the latter 2/3 of the crowd at the start, heard the gun, and started running probably two or three minutes later. I’ll admit that I let my excitement get the better of me early. I ran at my typical pace (as I’ve written before, I really only have “stop,” “walk,” and “run.” I ran. We started out through the roads of Harrisburg. I made some very early mistakes, though. If my pace was just slightly faster than a runner ahead of me, I’d pick up just a bit to move in front – but then, well, I’d be just slightly faster than the next person in front of me . . . you see where this leads. For the first four miles or so, I just tried to find “my pace,” which I did by measuring myself against others. At the five-mile mark, I was running at 45:00 . . . 9 minute miles . . . much faster than I was planning.
So, I slowed down – yeah, I started out too fast, but it’s my first marathon, that’s only to be expected. The problem was that I was running “Run Keeper” on my iPhone as I ran, and whenever I’d look down, it would tell me my current pace. After the five mile mark, we ran on a gravel trail – which doesn’t exactly feel good in Vibrams . . . and, seeing a pace of 12:00/mile on my iPhone, I pushed myself again. I should take note that this gravel trail had a lot of twists & turns . . . so I shouldn’t have taken note of the pace time on my iPhone.
After the second water stop, it was back to city island, which was pretty darn cool. Most of the race was a pretty lonely run, but city island was anything but. There were two “sidewalk bands” playing inspirational music, the streets were lined with crowds carrying signs, kids everywhere were sticking out their hands for high-fives. Again, I pushed myself . . . simply, I couldn’t help it. The adrenaline had me, and I was loving it.
After city island, we had a beautiful run down by the Susquehanna river. It was truly a gorgeous run with the sun high in the sky, a cool breeze coming off the water. It’s days like this that you just want to keep running and running and running and running. I continued to run. I crossed the 10 mile line and my time was 1:31. Yes, those are still 9 minute miles. “Go slower, go slower,” I told myself.
After the 10 mile mark, we started running through a residential zone . . . there were a few people out on their front porch to watch the runners, but since all of the “elite” runners had passed, the main cheering was from the volunteers (I really cannot say enough about how great the volunteers for this run were). The weather was still beautiful, but the allure of the run was fading . . . the early run went through some very boring parts, but it was the opening of a marathon, so who cares? Then, there were crowds, so yay! Then there was truly majestic scenery, so double yay! Residential zone, though? Meh. After the residential zone, we hit the halfway point . . . in an industrial zone. 13.1 miles and my time was 2:02. With 31:00 passing from miles 10 to 13.1, I knew I was now running 10:00 miles, closer to where I wanted to be. And, honestly, I was still feeling pretty good. But, we continued running through the industrial zone – the crowds grew increasingly sparse. There were glimpses of runners coming the other way, which is always a little discouraging. I’ll admit that, in this area, for the first time, I was looking forward to the run being done.
I passed mile marker 16 thinking “just 10 more miles, just 10 more miles . . . that’s a simple training run”. Then, we reached the Harrisburg Area Community College parking lot, where there were people again, and I started to work myself up a bit . . . I was feeling better. But, after we left the HACC campus, we hit the park.
I knew the park was coming. I knew it was hilly. But, this is why I trained on hilly courses. “Just push through it,” I thought to myself. Then, as I worked my way up the first hill, I tripped over my own feet. I never hit the ground, but I stumbled around for a bit. I started trying to run again, but I just wasn’t “feeling it.” I pushed myself too hard in the early going. My goal was to cross the finish line powered by only my two feet – I’ll continue that . . . just take a nice walk in the park, get my legs back under me, give up a few minutes per mile now, and then finish strong. That was my goal. So, I walked through the park . . . the very, very hilly park.
There was a water break at the end, and just as I started running again, a volunteer with a stereoscope approached me “number 40, can I have a quick word?” Well, it turns out that a volunteer saw my quasi-stumble and asked if I was ok. I was listening to my music and didn’t hear, so said volunteer radio’d ahead to say “number 40 may be dehydrated.” After a quick vitals check, the volunteer asked if I knew I had bronchitis – I said that I had a cough overnight, but I didn’t think much of it. He said “if I can hear it with a stethoscope, it’s bronchitis” and went into a whole thing about how he was going to have somebody check me at the next water station. This guy (Jeff) knew it was my first marathon, and didn’t want to stop me from finishing, but the next guy (Mark) thought marathon runners were a little bit crazy, and might try to keep me from crossing the line if he found an excuse. “Listen man, you’re doing great, it’s your first, don’t overdo anything and just walk things off a bit,” was his advice, and I walked back through the residential area, getting to mile marker 22. Mark sat me down, my blood pressure was a little elevated (to be expected during mid-workout) but I was doing ok. He made me drink some water and a vitamin drink, then asked me to eat a gel packet. Well, he handed me a chocolate flavored gel packet and saw me gag. “I saw that, what’s up?” he asked.
“I just don’t like chocolate,” I responded.
“What kind of asshole doesn’t like chocolate?” he snorted back (at this point, as he was joking around, I erased any last doubt that continuing was a bad idea . . . if he was joking with me, I was ok to continue).
“This kind of asshole,” I said, and finished the gel pack, somehow managing to not upchuck it right back.
I started to run, but my feet were hurting, and my knee was hurting, and I hadn’t been running for quite some time, so I just couldn’t get “that gear” going. So I walked for another few miles, telling myself that my goal was to finish – simply to finish. Other marathons, I’ll care about time. The thing about me walking, though, is that I walk faster than most anybody else . . . and there were people who were running that I actually walked right past. I continued walking until mile marker 25, when I started to jog. By this time, the volunteers were calling me by name “go John!”, and I certainly had my second wind.
I crossed the finish line in about 5:20 and got a final medical checkup before putting on my comfy socks. My feet were really, really sore, but I only had a single, minor blister on my right big toe.
My post-race treat was a tower of onion rings (mmmm, salty) and a breadbowl of clam chowder . . . but no beer for me, as I worked my way over to a benefit concert at my mother’s church.
I changed clothes in my truck, walking into my mom’s church a few minutes before the concert started . . . drank her tea and just rested (I should note that my feet felt so comfortable in my hiking socks and sneakers that I kept those on). After about a half hour, my body started sweating again, which tells me that I may have actually been a bit dehydrated at the finish line. This concert had four acts – the first was an a capella quartet, then a phenomenal violinist, then I played (I kind of made up what I was playing as I went along – there was video taken, and I’ll try to post things if you’d like to see – for anybody who has never seen me play, here is the link to my Youtube channel), then a Native-American/Danish singer/songwriter played. I had a few cookies afterward and worked my way back home.
Of course, overnight, the bronchitis got worse. I woke up with sore legs (a badge of honor) but a cough that just would not quit. I called off work. As I finish this post the Tuesday after the run, my legs are nearly back to normal – I have a little bit of tightness both my left knee & my right hamstring, but I’m now able to walk stairs normally, and I swear I’m feeling better by the minute.
All in all, I had a truly marvelous time, and I’m quite proud of myself for finishing. I fully plan to run future marathons . . . and in any future marathon, I’ll abide by my own rules: take it easy at the start, run my own race, don’t care about times. If I follow those rules, each marathon will be enjoyable, even if I may have abandoned them for a kickass “half marathon” time this time around.
So, I think my next run will be May 1, for the Inaugural Gettysburg North-South Marathon. Who’s with me?