Spending months pounding pavement and carrying a hydration pack doesn’t really set the tone for how your first marathon is going to turn out. I always thought, if I put the miles in and stayed hydrated, I’d be ready to go. Sure, it’d be a struggle. Marathons aren’t easy, there’s a reason people assume you’re crazy when you announce you’re doing one. It’s a benchmark for endurance. Think about it…running 26.2 miles. Heck, that’s far when you’re driving around in a car.
I’ve known since elementary school that one day I wanted to run a marathon. Even back then, I thought the idea was crazy. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to run, it was more of the idea that I wanted accomplished something amazing.
Fast forward about 22 years later, I’m still not fond of running. It’s just a great way for me to stay active and in shape. When I run, I’m not really focused too much on speed. I’m just trying to get from point A to B without falling over from pain and exhaustion.
When I signed up for the Columbus Marathon. I knew it was going to take months of training and eating right. Training for a marathon is tough enough. Add in family obligations and work, it gets even more difficult. Despite that, it was important that I did everything possible to achieve this goal.
So I spent several months training. While I was well aware that there is a lot of information online regarding marathon training, I pretty much ignored all of it. My thought was, if I put in the time running and I do enough strength training, I’ll be fine. In some aspects I was correct.
What I didn’t take fully into account is the mental aspect of running a marathon. You can have the endurance but if you’re not fully focused and your mind wanders, you’re in trouble.
On race day I woke up around 4 a.m., ate a breakfast which consisted of a peanut butter and jelly and a protein shake. I didn’t want to eat too much in fear of upsetting my stomach but then again it was important to have enough to fuel my body. I brought several packets of the energy gel to help me during my run.
By 5:00 a.m. we were off and headed toward downtown Columbus. Once we got downtown, traffic was brutal and it was even worse trying to find a parking spot. All of the parking garages were reserved. It was a half hour until the start of the race and we were still looking for a place to park. While at a stop I got out of the car and headed to the starting gate.
While walking to the gate, I was in the midst of a sea of runners. Many of whom were searching or in line for the port a potties. Once I eventually got to my gate there was a about 15 minutes to spare. The gate was packed to the gills which made stretching nearly impossible. Let me tell you, it wasn’t a day you wanted to miss stretching. Of course it was the coldest day of the year. The high was supposed to be in the upper 40s. It was in the 30s minutes before the race began. I did my best attempt of stretching while trying not to elbow anyone in the process.
Before I knew it, the race had started. It actually took a half hour for me to begin the race – that’s how packed it was. When I finally crossed the starting line it felt like I was running the slowest mile ever. The first mile is always the slowest because you find yourself dodging people and trying not to trip. One wrong step can ruin your day. At the one mile mark, I saw my family jumping and calling my name. It was nice to see they finally found a parking spot.
Did I mention it was cold out? My training certainly didn’t prepare me for this. I only had one run where it was in the 40s. The rest were in the 80s or higher. I did everything I could to forget about the weather. One of the things that helped was just trying to focus on my pace. I got out to a really slow pace thinking I had to conserve enough energy for the later miles.
Although I ran two half marathons, I underestimated how much of a toll the whole process takes on your body. During my training, it was just me running with quiet surroundings. That’s not the case with a marathon. Here, you are surrounded by runners of all different levels, plus you have people on the sidelines jumping up and down with tons of signs. For the novice runner, this can be quite overwhelming.
By the time I hit the halfway point I was already tired. The course split off for half marathons finishers and those advancing to the back 13.1. In my mind I was thinking, how nice it would be just to make the left hand turn into the half marathon finish line. Instead, I kept running. Just after the half way split, I saw my family cheering for me. It gave me the boost I needed for a little bit. Once I was on mile 15 I noticed that I was basically running by myself. Most of the runners decided to run the half marathon and most of the elite marathon runners were way ahead of me and were already close to finishing. There was absolutely no one on the sidelines cheering the runners on. At this point I was downing the energy gel packets and washing them down with water and Gatorade.
My feet were killing me and I had no idea how I was going to make it another 11 miles. At mile 18 I hit my low point. I had thoughts of quitting and calling it a day. At the same time I was so close and there was just no way that I could stop. It would have been humiliating to say that I got this far and quit. During this point, I looked behind me. There were police cars and moving trucks pulling up which I thought was odd. The police officer came up beside me and said “You’re going to have to finish the race on the sidewalk, we’re packing up.” Just what I wanted to hear. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. They were literally packing up each marker. Which would have made it impossible to figure out where to go next. The sad thing is, there were runners behind me that I knew would be getting lost.
At this point my body was in shambles but somehow I found the strength to run faster. Quite frankly, I had to. They were picking up everything…including the water stations. I picked up the pace and it all almost ended right there. As I ran by, a moving truck opened up the passenger door and almost laid me out. Luckily, I got out of the way in time. So the final 8 miles was me trying to outrun the moving trucks and police car. This wasn’t in my training either.
I’m not sure how I made it the final eight miles without my body giving out. When I made it to the final straightaway toward the finish line, all of the pain briefly went away. I looked to my right and saw my family cheering me on. As I crossed the finish line and picked up my metal I felt amazing and terrible at the same time. In a little over six hours, I finally accomplished the goal I set for myself so many years ago. It wasn’t exactly the time I had imagined but I was glad to finish. When I hugged my wife and son at the end, every ounce of emotion came rushing over me. It was a feeling like no other.
The process of recovery was brutal. My legs and feet were in so much pain that I could barely make it to the car. As soon as I got home. I soaked my body in the tub. After that I had a meal and went to bed. It took a good three days not to feel any kind of aches or pain in my body. Was it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? My head says no. In fact, I told Jenny that if I say I want to run a marathon again to remind me of the pain I was in right after finishing the race.
Despite all of the pain, one thing is for sure, you couldn’t take that marathon medal off of me for the first few days after the race. I was filled with such a feeling of pride. All of that hard work and effort had paid off.