Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reason #63: My First Marathon Recap and the Lessons Learned

It has been one month since I completed my first marathon. The sore muscles have since faded, the lost toe nails are starting to grow back, and I now have a special memory of that day that will be forever etched into my mind. Looking back, the race seems as real today as the day it happened. While the marathon was an accomplishment, it was also quite humbling. I ran my first 13.1 miles right on target to break my goal of four hours, but then hit some setbacks for a finishing time of 4:14. For my own future reference and hopefully to provide motivation to others, below are some lessons and observations I learned along the way of running my first marathon:

The two most important traits I counted on to complete a marathon were discipline and desire. If you are contemplating running a marathon, discipline and desire are the two essential ingredients. You need to 1) be able to make the commitment to train, and 2) have the desire to do it. Speaking from experience, if you do not have a running partner, desire and discipline are the only two things pulling you out of bed at 6am on a Saturday morning for an 18 mile run.

Running a marathon IS Hard. Oh the pain and pleasure of it all! The agony and the ecstasy! One of the most difficult parts about running the distance is the need to concentrate on a single activity for over four hours. Additionally, you will incur physical pain. My quads hurt so badly at the end miles, I had the urge to quit, give up, and throw in the towel, but you will and can get through.

Life Lessons Learned. I have realized there is a deep satisfaction in setting a stretch goal, figuring out how to accomplish it, challenging yourself to find a way to do it, and then making it happen. Running taught me about perseverance, being flexible, balancing life, and was a true confidence-builder.

Anyone Can Run a Marathon. I always thought a typical marathoner was a thin, small framed person with gazelle-like movements. One of my observations during the race was that marathoners come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. At certain parts of the race, I thought “how is she passing me?” and at other times I considered “how am I passing him?” Success had little to do with potential, age or genetics and everything to do with attitude and hard work.

Fellow runner observations: A little man running the whole marathon in a head-to-toe pale blue tuxedo, a man juggling all 26.2 miles, a guy running in bare feet, alpha-males hovered over in pain on the edge of the road, overweight women who will not give up no matter how long it took them to finish, a team of five people completing the marathon the “Galloway” method – walking, running, walking, running(and eventually passing me), and a man who was completing his 100th marathon.

Training is essential. In my three months of training, I ran 344 miles to prepare for the race day. I followed a very structured schedule so I could a) be physically ready to run the distance and b) to mentally be prepared to run the distance. In training, you get accustomed to being uncomfortable on a consistent basis over an extended period of time, but each run you become stronger.

Train on Hills. I read that the Philadelphia marathon course was relatively flat. Therefore, I was naïve and never ONCE ran a hill in training. I trained on the flat waterfront of the Hudson River for three months, assuming that the Philly course would be just as flat. Not running any hills was hands down my biggest training mistake, and my quads certainly paid for it.

Be In Good Company. There is an incredible sense of community that comes from sharing an experience with thousands of others driven by the same aspiration and desire for success. Complete strangers (both runners and spectators) were encouraging, supporting, and helping people along the race. More specifically, I had a lot of support and motivation from my fellow marathoner friends Chrissie, Ashley, and Lauren. My parents, who continue to be my biggest supporters, even turned down a castle wedding in Ireland to come to see my run. You all made the journey so much more pleasant. Thank you!

Have a Positive Attitude. I started to feel the lactic acid pouring into my legs quite earlier than I had anticipated. I ran my first 13.1 miles right on target to accomplish my goal time of breaking 4 hours. However, one hill later, my legs started to burn, and my mind was flooded with reasons to stop. The simple goal of finishing helped pull me through. I also kept thinking of my mother’s pre-race words to just relax and “remember to look around and take it all in.”

Eat and Drink. At moments in the race, I felt like my body was running on empty. My head would start to feel a little woozy, and I would take some Clif Shot Blocks to regain strength and energy. Don’t pass up the fuel!

Don’t Start Out Too Fast. The first few miles I felt great, and I vibed off of the energy of the spectators and the fellow runners. Yet I was told over and over again "do not start out too fast, no matter how great you feel. Running fast early will not give you time in the bank later." Sure enough, I ran the first few miles in the low 8's and my time suffered greatly later.

The Last Half Mile takes all of the pain away. I wish I could bottle up the euphoria, excitement, and the out of body experience I felt the last half mile. After seeing my parents cheering me on, I cranked up my IPOD (Chris Brown’s “Forever”) and ran to the finish line. It was an indescribable high.

You Become Apart of a Great Human Experience. There was something special about 10,000 people all moving in the same direction, both literally and metaphorically. In few places you will see such a diverse group of people all working to their maximum capabilities and passionately exploring their potential to achieve a common goal.

Not to be melodramatic, but running the marathon was a life-changing, mind-altering experience. I pushed through 26.2 miles with more than 10,000 likeminded souls on that day and became a marathoner. It was a gift, a moment of a lifetime, and a cherished memory.

During the race there was emotion, psychological battles, physical pain, barriers broken down, and fears being overcome. Five minutes after finishing the race, I cursed the marathon distance to my sisters and swore I never wanted to run 26.2 ever again. One hour later, I was ready to sign up for the next one. The marathon has changed the way I think, behave, and achieve in all areas of life. It has redefined my standards, expectations, and beliefs. I feel I have become stronger, more courageous, more capable, and have a greater insight into understanding my own potential. It is amazing what we can achieve when we stop talking ourselves into defeat and find a way, rather than an excuse. Never sell yourself short! I only hope and encourage for everyone to explore their boundaries and discover their own versions of accomplishment, validation, and euphoria.


  1. This is such an amazing and inspiring post. You said it all so beautifully -- you should publish this! You really make me want to run a marathon, and you make me thing I can. Congratulations!!!

  2. Wow! So I know this is kind of an old post, but I felt compelled to comment. I ran my first marathon (NYC) in Nov., and like you my finish time was 4:14!

    I ran the Philly 1/2 last Sept. too!

    I also blogged about it, but have just switched to a new blog and haven't imported my old posts.

    Anyway - everything...and I mean EVERYTHING you mentioned above is so true. It was an amazing life changing experience and anyone can do it. It's a true test of your mind, body and sheer willpower to pull you through incredible circumstances. It completely and totally changed my life.

    Congrats on becoming a marathoner!