A slightly less insane reflection on my first marathon.

So, a few days have passed since The Marathon, and in case you couldn’t tell, I wrote the somewhat scattered recap while still in the first-24-hours-post-race flush of ecstasy. That’s why it makes no sense – total runner’s high babbling there! Now that I’ve had some time to recoup and read and re-read race recaps, I think I can reflect a little more accurately on my experience.

It’s been an arduous couple of days, though – I’ve been taking my PhD exams, and while I’m 2/3 of the way done with them, trying to focus my brain on everything I’ve learned in the past 5 years and make it seem coherent on paper has been damn difficult when all I want to do is sit back and replay those 26.2 miles in my head. I hope that when I’m old and still running marathons I’m able to tell people with a good degree of clarity what it was like to run my first, because I never want to forget how this feels. I *do* want to forget how awful taking comprehensive exams makes me feel, though; I’ve run the gamut of emotions this week for sure – total elation at having done something awesome! And then total defeat at feeling like I know nothing. And then more of the same the next day, plus total brain-deadedness. And all the while I’m pestered by a nagging thought: When can I get back out for my next run? (The answer to that question is Saturday; even though I feel like I could probably handle a run today or tomorrow, I am forcing my body to keep resting and recovering, and only letting it ride my bike to school tomorrow and Friday.)

Anyway. So, breaking down those 26.2 miles. First things first: I lucked out like whoa, because the weather was absolutely perfect. 45 degrees and sunny at the start, which meant shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and a light jacket and gloves. In retrospect, I should have taken the visor offered to me at mile 3 when I handed off my light jacket, but the sunburn has more or less gone away by now, and truth be told, I didn’t want to be wearing it when pictures were taken of me (it’s silly, isn’t it, how vain runners can be even when we know we’re going to look like shit during a race?). The temperature did heat up to about 65 by the time I finished, but I didn’t really feel it until well after I stopped and was standing in the sun for more than a minute at a time. I did feel bad for my support people, who had started out the day in cold-weather wear and were suddenly overheating by midday.    (Next time I’ll run faster. :))

But yeah, the weather: perfect. The course: perfect, and I was glad that I’d run a good deal of it in advance as well as scouted out the last 5 miles the night before. By the time I got to mile 21, I knew that if I didn’t know what was coming next – that is, if I hadn’t known that it was straight and flat and then downhill from there to the finish – I would have had a serious mental block in continuing. Knowing that the hard part was over and the easy part was ahead was a huge help, so in the future I’m going to try to educate myself about courses as much as possible.

The support I had was perfect, too, even if I did force them to endure all sorts of temperature differentials and wild goose chases (Saint’s parents took off after me on their bikes and still missed me, which I feel really bad about, even though they say they were thankful for the exercise!). So, the idea of going somewhere totally remote and running a marathon isn’t appealing to me – yet – until I get a few more of these under my belt and know better how I react without having people there (who know me) to cheer for me. I think I was totally spoiled in terms of the crowd in Richmond because they were truly amazing; the race’s logo is “America’s Friendliest Marathon”, and I do believe that is true. I’ve never felt so loved by total strangers before, and it helped a LOT.

That said, when things got tough, I was able to dig down and will myself into continuing. That’s HUGE. They say so much of running is mental, and while I learned that lesson in fits and starts during training, it didn’t really come together for me until mile 22. It’s good for me to know that where my legs may want to give up, my brain won’t let them – and considering how awesome I felt at the finish after all, it’s something I need to heed in the future. Plus, it’s kind of totally cool to know that, as cliched as it sounds, you really can do anything you put your mind to.

One thing I think I will do differently is eat/drink more, or at least experiment with different food during long runs. The Shot Bloks I use didn’t bother me during the race, and they never have, but I was feeling constantly hungry over those 26 miles – I ate nine of the bloks, starting at mile 6 and spaced every three miles until mile 24, with two apiece at miles 6 and 18 – and I was more thirsty than I’ve ever been on any long run before. I don’t usually drink water until mile 8 or 9 of a long run, and then every 3 miles or 30 minutes thereafter, which is what I did during the marathon, but by mile 22 I was feeling like I had to drink water at every stop, every mile. I’m very, very good about hydrating, and I know that I hydrated adequately in the days prior to the race, so I’m not sure what was going on there. I may start eating little bars or different types of gels, and might start using salt packets, too, for my next marathon training.

One thing I will *not* do differently is to keep running hills and doing squats and other glute exercises. Since starting them in September or October I’ve noticed a HUGE difference in my ability to run up hills consistently and strongly; whenever I get to the top of a hill I no longer feel like I want to puke, which is a very good thing. So, I will keep up with those, and possibly add more weights to my squats (right now I do them with free weights, but I’d like to start with a bar).

Another thing I’d like to do – now that I’ve gotten a few halfs and a full under my belt – is to start re-introducing speed work into my weekly runs. I was just focusing on building up mileage, but now that I have PRs, I feel the need to break them. 🙂 This helps me focus in the post-marathon “what do I do NOW?” period; I do have a 10-miler coming up next month, and I signed up for another half in March long ago, so knowing that I have those two to look forward to and train for is a huge help in not feeling all let down after the Big One. I confess that I did take advantage of reduced prices to sign up for the Richmond half-marathon next year, knowing full well in the back of my mind that it’s not impossible for me to decide at the last second that I want to switch into the full. But I’d like to run another full next year, and am happily weighing possibilities: Chicago? Marine Corps? Philadelphia? Somewhere I’ve never heard of?

So, yes, I’m happily filling up my racing calendar for the next year, but I’m also looking forward to just doing some easy, wherever-I-want-to, whenever-I-want-to (though I know I’ll likely gravitate towards my usual Tues/Wed/Thurs/Sat pattern) runs for the rest of the year. The 10-miler will be a fun, relaxed, Santa-theme-costumed run with a friend, and I’m probably going to do a Turkey Trot 5k next week to shake off the rest of the post-marathon recovery rust. But other than that, I’m planning to take it easy and slow, and remain proud of the fact that I can say with a huge idiotic grin on my face: I, too, am a marathoner. (Eeeeee!)

As a treat (ha!), here are two pictures I found of the Richmond Marathon that have me in them. In the first one, I’m the one on the right in the blue shirt and black shorts, and to my left in the hat is Tatiana, my early-race running buddy (hooray!). In the second one, I’m the one all the way on the left, still in the blue shirt and black shorts, about to kick that hill’s ass. These were taken by Jesse Peters at Backlight; if you want an idea of how beautiful the entire day and course were, the full gallery is here: http://backlight.zenfolio.com/p454758483/ Click to enlarge either picture.

Backlight: Marathon 2012 &emdash;

Backlight: Marathon 2012 &emdash;

Happy trails, y’all. 🙂

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2 Responses to A slightly less insane reflection on my first marathon.

  1. Alex says:

    Glad your run went well. That’s something that sounds like fun, but I can just see myself dropping dead. lol Also, not so sure I want to run to the point that I’m crapping myself, hahaha.

    I feel really dumb asking this, but what are you getting your PhD in? That’s really freaking cool.

    • kmt4n says:

      Thanks! Ideally you train enough that you won’t actually drop dead, though odd things happen… and I’ve been ten steps into a run and thought, “huh, I need to take a dump RIGHT NOW”. It’s delightfully maddening in its unpredictability, because I can also make it four hours running without needing to stop.

      I’m getting my PhD in Russian language and literature. *G* I try not to talk about it too much because I feel like it makes people’s eyes glaze over, which is totally understandable. Half the time I’m unglazing my own damn eyes, haha… But yeah. Save a job out for me in CO, since that’s where I’d love to end up teaching (not that I have a choice, though, really – I go wherever I’m hired) 🙂

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