My first marathon
Published: April 10, 2017
Each year as the spring marathon season approaches I can’t help but think back to my first marathon, the Cleveland-Revco, which I did nearly thirty years ago. Funny thing about that day was the fact that I’d never run anything longer than a 10K, and other than a four-month crash-course in marathon training, I hadn’t run a lick in years. Today as a coach I can only look back at that episode as either a total lack of rational thinking…or a silly display of male bravado.
Okay, first let me offer my one and only alibi for such idiocy: I was a headstrong competitive cyclist who was in the midst of a burgeoning romance with a darned good marathoner. And as the “love is blind” cliche asserts, well, I definitely had them blinders tucked tightly around my oculars. Anyway, after a series of short December “romance” runs with Judy, I decided to shuck my cycling persona and commit to a spring marathon with my new girlfriend.
Yup, boy meets girl and the two run off into the marathoning sunset together, right? Not so fast. Only took a few weeks before that euphoric fog cleared out of my helmet-head for me to realize the task at hand - marathon training IS serious business. March became a month of running drudgery, and April deteriorated into a month where I seesawed between training compliance and training evasion.
Poor Judy watched my marathon vow slowly slipping away. Well, that lackadaisical, on-again-off-again behavior plagued me up to three weeks prior to the big day. Then something crazy happened; I had the training run of my life. I mean I felt awesome, devoid of fatigue, with spring in each and every step. And what’s more, Judy praised my seemingly innate ability to run fast and long with so few miles in my legs. That was it, confident and ambitious, I officially signed up for the race.
These days, I typically coach first-time marathoners to simply have fun and finish. Back then, as a non-coach, my approach was radically different. Yea, unfortunately I was still young enough to posses that bullheaded cyclist’s mentality, a trait that can likely get you into deep do-do if you’re running your first marathon. So I audaciously targeted a 3:28:00 finish time for the race, an eight-minute mile pace to be exact. Now if you’re an analytic person, you’ve probably already figured out the answer to this simplistic equation: Too few miles + Poor running base + Inconsistent training + Lofty expectations = Meltdown-squared.
Well, race day arrived and we started off spot-on with our eight-minute mile pacing. Then, spurred on by the crowds, the hoopla, and what felt like a ridiculously easy pace, I forged ahead of Judy at the five-mile mark. By ten miles I’d brought the average minute-mile pacing down to seven-forty. “This marathon stuff is pretty easy,” I thought, “what in the heck was I so worried about?”
Those “easy” miles continued from thirteen through seventeen. Seemed SO much easier than bicycle racing. Miles eighteen, nineteen and twenty went by with little difficulty. But something happened at mile twenty-one, at that point the longest run of my life. My legs were feeling tired and heavy, and my pacing had fallen to an eight-and-a-half minute mile.
Little Bighorn came at twenty-three miles, where with tight hips, calves and hamstrings, I limped through a ten-minute mile. Twenty-four was an eleven, and I didn’t even check my watch at mile twenty-five. It was a death march. By twenty-six all I could muster was a zombie-like walk. I finished in 3:38:15, trudging over the finish line barley able to put one foot in front of the other.
Yup, that was one heck of a lesson, in preparation, in discipline, in humility, a tough lesson I remember each and every spring. So my hope is that all of you who are getting ready for your first marathon, well, I hope you haven’t traveled down the same uneven, pot-holed road that I took all those years ago. Take my testimony and my advice as a coach: Be prepared, be humble and be honest with yourself with respect to your ability level. Do that and you’ll have a wonderful time.
Good luck and have a GREAT race.