Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Looking Back on My First Marathon

With my ninth marathon, Smuttynose Rockfest, rapidly approaching, and with many preparing to embark on fall marathon adventures, I thought I’d partake in an equally humorous and cathartic exercise and relive the calamity of my first marathon. 

I was a 21-year-old college junior when I toed the line at the BayState Marathon in October 2001. My longest training run had been 18 miles, and that hadn’t been planned -- I managed to get lost in the vicinity of Jamaica Pond and inadvertently add a couple miles to my planned route. (Aside: How the hell did we map out long runs back then? I’m pretty sure I just guessed.) 

My goal, of course, was to finish in 3:10 and qualify for the Boston Marathon. I’d written “3:10 or Bust” on a sticky note that I’d taped to the wall next to class/work schedule. Naturally, I knew nothing about proper marathon training, cross-training, eating or recovery -- though I did have enough sense to write “avoid beer” in my planner in the three weeks leading up to the race. (Yes, I was legal. And no, I didn’t take my own advice.) I was so poorly prepared that I never wore a watch and didn’t think to actually get one until the day before the race, for $7, at my local Walmart. (Hey, I was on a college student budget.) 

I started the race well and maintained a BQ-ready 7:10 pace for at least the first 13.1 miles and, perhaps, longer. (It was 12 years ago, after all. The memory’s foggy) Around the 16-mile mark, though, my legs turned to jelly. I collapsed into a telephone pole, clung to it for dear life, and began the humiliating 10-mile, 90-odd-minute Walk/Jog of Shame to the finish. 

I crossed in 3:22 and change, collapsed on the ground, napped on the futon at my parent’s house and hobbled around campus for a couple days. (I did at least stretch once I’d returned to my Boston apartment that night. Otherwise I very well may still be on the futon at my parent’s house.) 

For a variety of reasons, I didn’t do my second marathon -- also BayState -- until 2006. That one didn’t go as planned, either. I came down with a wonderful bout of runner’s knee the month before, missed my last week of real training and the first week of my taper, and went into the race with no real goal of any kind. Finishing around 3:33 was a blessing as far as I was concerned.

Both races taught me a lot.
  • You need a real training plan, and you need to do your damndest to stick to it. 
  • You need to set a realistic goal. Especially if, you know, you’ve never run a marathon before. 
  • As I was painfully reminded of this in my eighth and, to this date, worst marathon, sometimes it’s better to be smart than fast. Especially if, you know, training hasn’t gone as planned.
  • Training for and running a marathon is freakin’ hard. In 2001, my roommates thought I was nuts. (To their credit, they were genuinely concerned about my tardiness on the day of my sojourn to Jamaica Plain.) Today, my wife thinks I’m nuts. (Well, marathon training is only part of it, I suppose. And, in buying compression socks for my birthday, she enabled me.) 
  • Most importantly, no matter how badly you bonk, no matter what fluids emanate from your body, no matter what hitherto undiscovered muscles ache, nothing feels more satisfying that running, jogging, stepping, hobbling or crawling across the finish line of a marathon. 
Have fun this fall, everyone. Remember: Even if you miss your time goal, fail to qualify for Boston or get a swanky age group prize, you’re still doing something that the vast majority of the population doesn’t have the intestinal or testicular/ovarian fortitude to even start, let alone finish. 

If nothing else, you will finally get to eat and drink whatever the hell you damn well please, with no fear of consequence, for a few days at least. (Until you start training again, of course.) And a futon in your parent’s basement will suddenly become the most comfortable bed in the world.