In November, 2009, I completed my first marathon, and managed to run it fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon! In my previous post, I talked about my secret dream, and I am happy to say that I have accomplished that dream with a 3:25h time. It was well within 3:30h time I needed to qualify for Boston.
The weather on the race day was perfect. The temperature started in the 30’s but ended up above the 40’s by the end of the race. After much internal debate regarding the proper attire, I chose the arm sleeves that I purchased the day before at the race expo, rather than a long sleeve shirt, and it turned out to be a good decision on my part. I was quite comfortable; not too hot nor too cold.
I thought that Philadelphia Marathon was supposed to be pretty flat, but it wasn’t. There were a few good hills, especially near Drexel University, and there were quite a few inclines that were very noticeable towards the end of the race when your legs are exhausted. My wife swore immediately after the race that the last 6 miles seemed one long gradual incline, despite what the elevation chart on our Garmin GPS watch indicated. The other thing about the hills that really stuck out was how difficult it was for me to go down a steep hill when your legs are really tired.
This being the first marathon, I had a lot of issues to contend with: what to wear (sleeveless with armband), what to drink (water mostly, but more Gatorade towards the latter part of the race), what to eat (Clif Gel Bloks), how do I carry the food? (Spibelt), will I need to pee? (yes, managed to get away with just once), how to get to the starting line (have a wonderful friend drive you at 5:30am!), oh so many more questions and concerns! I was pretty nervous with all these logistical considerations.
What made it so much easier was the hospitality of our friends in Philadelphia, who put us up for the night, fed us, drove us to the starting line, then waited at the finish line with our kids. It made my life so much easier, I am truly thankful for them.
After stripping off the old “throw-away” long sleeve shirt, I was ready to run. My number was pretty low, due to my previous race times, so I was up in the front coral just behind the elite runners, so I waited no more than 15 seconds before I followed the crowd through the starting gate of the race. First part of the run took us through some urban parts of Philly, and I tried very hard to maintain a 7:30 pace, and I managed to do that for the first 13 miles. At about mile 11, I came upon a 3:20 group with a pacer (people who you follow if you want to hit 3:20), so I tried to run with them for a while, but I had to drop out when I felt claustrophobic. I train alone and I prefer to run alone, so having so many people running closely around me felt very uncomfortable. Perhaps it would have been better if I had started with the pack, but I felt like an intruder at this point. I fell back a little and let them go ahead of me at about the 13 mile point, since I had to pee really badly anyway.
By mile 20, I was really starting to feel the pain. I have been going at a pretty good pace, so with 6 miles to go, I knew that I was going to hit sub 3:30. The question was how much below. Being a newbie, I decided to be safe and slow down a little, to make sure I didn’t cramp up and have to limp in. At the next water station, I thought I would try to stop and drink a decent cup of water, instead of trying to swill the water while jogging as I had been doing. A few seconds of respite might be what I need to finish strong - a big mistake. As soon as I stopped, both my calves suddenly seized up, and if I didn’t kick back into gear and run, I would have had a massive cramp attack. I was pretty nervous for the next 6 miles, but as I turned the corner to the last half mile to the finish line, I felt good. So, I shifted into another gear and finished very strong, passing quite a few people along the way.
As I crossed the line, I felt a sudden surge of emotion that really made choked me up. It was a culmination of all the months of training and fighting through the uncertainly of whether or not I could finish the race. My final time of 3:25 was pretty unbelievable. I managed to qualify for the Boston Marathon on my first marathon! But it was more than that. It was about setting a goal, striving towards it with all of my heart, and really feeling like I have done the best I could and had given all I had. That was pretty cool.
I spent the next 2 months recovering. I Knew I would hurt, but I didn’t realize how much damage I had done to my body until I began the recovery process. I rested for a week, then slowly I tried to run gently, and my body basically told me that I might want to wait another few days… so after a few days, I started with a couple of miles of gentle running, and gradually increased over several weeks. During this process, I discovered that I had “layers of pain” that I was uncovering. It probably took about 6 weeks before I felt like I was back to normal.
My first marathon was wonderful. It was very difficult, but I think that is what makes it worthwhile. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride, and I have new found respect for all those people who managed to commit to the training in the midst of their busy lives to challenge themselves to run a marathon.
HJ, the Spiritual Runner