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First Marathon Experience

This is a pin for my first marathon race. It has a girl wearing black shorts, a black coat, a race number and a white hat while she is running in the rain. The title of the post, "How I Ran My First Marathon" across the top of the picture.

THE DECISION

I didn’t always want to run a marathon. For most of my life the feat was not on my bucket list and I absolutely did not want to partake in any such thing! However, as I grew to have a relationship with running, the idea became more of a distant dream.

From the beginning, I spent most of my time as a runner training for races by myself. The early mornings watching the sunrises and alone with my thoughts were therapeutic. It wasn’t until the end of last summer that I started running with a group of people, and it 100 percent changed the way I trained. I was challenged, encouraged, motivated, and supported, which only deepened my love for running. Long story short, I ran a half marathon back in October with the ladies in the running group, and it was really fun. At some point on that trip, I verbally agreed to both running a marathon and doing a triathlon, which was the starting point of it all!

Note: Once I verbally agreed to a marathon and triathlon, I definitely had a time period of questioning what the heck I had done. However, despite my fear and lack of confidence, I stuck with my commitment and am SO glad I did!

TRAINING

You’ve probably heard that marathon training is brutal…. and now I can officially confirm that it is! There were absolutely positives, but it was also challenging in SO many ways — physically and mentally! Physically, there were aches, pains, and times of pure exhaustion. Mentally, it was a constant battle of pep talks, repeated mantras, and proving to myself I was strong. I knew if I wanted to have a successful race, then training for the marathon needed my full commitment. This meant sticking to a schedule and making training a priority.

THE CHALLENGES

Sticking to the schedule was one of the more difficult parts of training; not necessarily because of the time commitment (though there were many hours spent training), but mostly because of the winter weather. Over the course of the winter I heard several farmers in the area say “this is the worst winter we’ve had in a while!” and of course, that just happened to be the winter I was going to train though… We trained outside only, from November to March, which covered every single miserable day you can remember. Ice storms, several inches of snow, negative temperatures — you name it and we were out there on the streets. We did try to adjust our schedule to avoid bad weather as much as possible. For example, if we knew it was going to ice during our Saturday morning long run, we would try to switch things around to make that our rest day. This resulted in some EARLY morning runs before work with 4 a.m. wake-up calls…. Again, we were committed to this race so we did what we needed to do to be successful.

I would say the hardest part of training was the cold weather. The mornings were freezing (literally) but I sure learned how to dress in layers! (For temperatures in the 30’s: leggings + long sleeve, 20’s: leggings + 2 top layers, 10’s: cold gear leggings + 3 top layers, single digits & negatives: 2 leggings + 3 top layers. All of these temperatures were paired with ear muffs, gloves, and a neck gaiter!) Despite all of the layers, by the end of winter I was totally over the cracked skin and stiff muscles (though I will admit that I felt like a complete badass for running through the winter months).

THE JOYS

You might be reading this and thinking “If it was so terrible, then why did you even do it?” In all honestly, I actually REALLY enjoyed training. I loved the challenge! I enjoyed pushing myself physically and mentally, and seeing myself become stronger. Of course there were times I didn’t enjoy it very much, and towards the end of training I was definitely ready to be done, but overall, I had a positive experience. I also think my positive experience came from the fact that training actually worked. What I mean is that I was able to stick to the plan with success. The slow progression and building up on miles, the amount of rest, etc. all came together so that I was able to complete weekly trainings and long runs without major injuries. These weekly successes then led to my ability to complete the marathon itself.

My favorite part of training was the ladies I trained with. You might notice I keep typing “we” and that’s because training for this marathon was totally a group effort! There’s absolutely no way I would have made it through training without Janet, Sonya, and Nancy. Each of them provided so much encouragement and support when I didn’t believe in myself, an extra push when I started to get lazy, and the accountability of sticking to the plan. These women truly have inspired me, and continue to do so!

THE PROGRAM

In terms of a specific plan, we followed Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 Marathon Training Plan. We tweaked around a couple of things, but used this for the most part. I would say it’s important to find a training plan that is realistic so it can be something that works. Following Hal’s program made sense from our running base when we started training. Note: I’ll be honest that I didn’t put any research into picking out the program — it was the plan that Nancy picked out and I completely trusted her judgment so I went with it!

THE TIME

Realistically, we ran 5-6 days a week with a weekly mileage average of 40-50 miles of running. Our weekday training runs started at 5 or 5:30 a.m., depending on the amount of miles we needed to run. The weekend runs sometimes started a little later if we decided to “sleep in” and had a 6 or 7 a.m. start time. In addition to running, we had one rest day (usually Fridays) and one cross training day (usually biking or swimming).

Throughout training, I learned to go to bed early and fuel my body so that I could have success in the morning. I knew that training would be a big time commitment, which was one of my reservations to committing in the first place, but the time put in definitely paid off.

THE GEAR

Let me save you a lot of money: you don’t need to buy new, fancy equipment to train for a marathon! It’s tempting to get the new gear (this is the kind of thing I spend my money on!), but I made a point to use what I had to save money and use what I know worked.

My favorite things that I already had were:

  • Short and long Under Armor leggings
  • Balega & Feetures running socks
  • Dri-fit shirts
  • Buff headbands (like these)
  • Mizuno running shoes (I order this pair over and over)
  • Winter gloves
  • Earmuffs

Some additional purchase I made (to get through the winter) were:

Most of my favorites can be found in my favorite fitness accessories post I made a few months ago!

THE FUEL

Nutrition is a very important part of training, both for fueling for hard work outs and recovery! There was a lot of trial and error for learning what worked the best for my body during training runs (fried foods were not great, but sweet potatoes and veggies rocked). I honestly kept it simple and stuck to a lot of proteins (chicken, ground turkey, greek yogurt, cottage cheese), carbs (veggies, fruits, grains) healthy fats (avocados, nuts, seeds, oils), and other staples (ice cream, pretzels, waffles, protein shakes, etc.) Meal-prepping healthy meals and snacks was the most helpful part in making sure I could fuel my body with good foods and avoid hanger!

Specifically for running, my staple pre-long-run meal was a toasted english muffin with nut butter and banana! The only nutrition I had during runs was water and Clif Energy blocks. Clif blocks didn’t mess with my stomach, and the salted watermelon flavor was always a pick-me-up!

OVERALL

Here’s what I learned: marathon training is no joke. It’s something to take seriously. It’s important to prioritize safe and smart preparation to have the best training and experience on actual race day.

Before committing to the race, I didn’t know much about marathon training. The longest I had ever run consecutively was 14 miles so I didn’t know too much about going longer than that. I made a list of questions and sent it to some of my inspiring runner pals who have conquered amazing races from marathons, ultras, and the like. Their marathon training advice was super helpful for a place to start!

There’s not one “right” way to train — it’s all about figuring out what works for YOU and YOUR body. I can definitely offer insights into my experience, but know it will probably vary for you. Personally, I had a positive training experience and did the best I could based on the circumstances, which led to a successful race day!

THE RACE

We participated in the 9th Annual Carmel Marathon Weekend on Saturday, March 30 in Carmel, IN. We chose this marathon because of the date (it worked for all of our schedules), the Boston qualification aspect, and the location (it was within driving distance from Kirksville!) It was actually narrowed down between this marathon and one in Kansas, but this race had a higher BQ percentage and Indiana had more of an appeal than Kansas!

I will admit that even though it’s less than a month since race day, I have already forgotten some of the details about the experience. I am going to do my best to recap everything as much as possible!

PRE-RACE

  • THE WEEK BEFORE: I was not excited the week leading up to the race. The weather forecast was thunderstorms the entire race weekend, which totally psyched me out. This is because I am NOT a rain person. Not in any circumstance do I enjoy being in the rain. The thought of attempting one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and then having to do be soaked while doing it had me feeling very anxious and frustrated. It seemed so unfortunate that after making it through training in the ice, snow, and cold temperatures that there would be a thunderstorm the morning of the race. I was just totally over it. The negative thoughts completely consumed me all week. However, Thursday night before I went to sleep I told myself that I would wake up on Friday morning with a changed attitude, and that’s exactly what happened.
  • FRIDAY: Friday morning I woke up and immediately began the “hype” process. I filled my head with positive thoughts, reminded myself I was strong, and told myself I could do this. I came to terms with the fact that I had trained for months for this race, and I wasn’t going to let a thunderstorm stop me from being successful. I knew that I might not do as well as I had wanted, but I was still going to be able to run the race, even if it was more challenging than I anticipated. We went on a two-mile run Friday morning to loosen up our muscles and get our bodies moving. It felt incredibly weird running for such a short distance in comparison to what we had been running for the past few months. However, this was helpful because we then spent most of the day commuting from Kirksville to Carmel! Once we actually got to Carmel, we went to the Fitness Expo for packet pick-up, checked in to the hotel, and then found a place for dinner. Exploring the local restaurant options is always one of my favorite things about traveling for races! We chose a place called Matt the Miller’s Tavern because it had a large menu and great reviews. And because I always share what I eat, I had the California Turkey Club, which was PERFECT. I was planning on getting a big salad, but then I saw the option for an oven roasted turkey breast on toasted whole grain bread with herb aioli, bacon, swiss cheese, avocado, lettuce, and tomato with a side of sweet potato fries, and my mind was set. (Looking back, I’m honestly convinced that the meal was part of my race-day success so I might have started a new pre-race dinner tradition!)
  • After dinner we spent the evening chilling in the hotel room in preparation for the next morning. A lot of the time was spent looking at the weather forecast, talking about our paces and goal times, and trying to decide what to wear. We each packed a ton of layer options to take on the weather, but ultimately went to bed hoping the weather would pass and planning on making a decision in the morning.

THE MORNING OF THE RACE

  • OUTFIT DECISION: Unfortunately, the thunderbolt icon never left the forecast so we woke up to steady rain outside. The temperature was in the upper 40’s/low 50’s so I went back and forth on what to wear. Since the realization was made that it really didn’t matter what I decided because ultimately I would be soaking wet no matter what layers I wore, I decided on my spandex shorts, a dri-fit t-shirt, and rain jacket. I also had my lucky sports bra, Balega socks, Mizuno tennies, and running belt. My running belt was stocked with Clif Blocks, gum, and my phone (all in ziploc bags to protect from the rain).
  • MEAL: I packed my pre-long run meal because at this point it is part of my ritual. I had an english muffin with nut butter and banana, and plenty of water!
  • HYPE: I spent a lot of the morning mentally preparing for the race. I honestly think that for me, the mental preparation was just as important as the physical preparation. I reminded myself I had worked so hard, trained, and was totally ready for this.
This is a pin for my first marathon race. It has a girl holding a medal wearing a race number and heated blanket at a finish line, with the title of the post across the picture.

THE RACE

  • THE PACT: The night before the race, we agreed that we all supported each other to do whatever needed to happen to individually complete the race. While training is absolutely a team effort because we trained together, stuck with each other through long runs, and had a plan to run the race together; racing also has an individual element to it. It’s about running YOUR race. We didn’t talk about this in a selfish way or plan to leave each other in the dust, it was just mutually decided that we all were supportive of each other’s goals. Basically, if you’re feeling good in a race, then you should take advantage of that and GO. Anyway, I was planning on running with Nancy (Sonya and Janet consistently ran faster than me during training AND were trying to Boston qualify), but didn’t know what would actually happen during the race.
  • THE START: I am not someone who shows up to races early. I just get anxious if I’m standing around, so I’m a big proponent of just showing up with enough time to find my corral, which is usually about 5 minutes. Luckily, the ladies I run with have the same opinion, so we sat in the car until 10 minutes before the start time in an attempt to avoid getting soaked. This wasn’t very successful because by the time we got from the car to the starting line, we were indeed drenched. My rain coat was soaked through, my socks were squishy, and I was uncomfortably cold. Nevertheless, I started jumping up and down, mentally played my race hype song, and got excited because we were about to do this thing!
  • THE BEGINNING: The very beginning of the race was slightly chaotic because of the rain. There was supposed to be a wave start, but because they wanted to get everyone moving as soon as possible, everyone started at one time. This made it really difficult to find the right pacing group and I felt all over the place. I spent mile 1-6 with Nancy, mostly chatting, and didn’t really find my groove until mile 6.
  • PLANNED PACE: I trained for the race for the goal of running a 4:10-15 marathon, which would have my pace be between 9:32-9:43. When I trained, my long runs were usually around 9:30/miles and my shorter runs were closer to 9-9:15/miles. Though I had a time goal, I ultimately had a finishing goal, so I barely practiced pacing during training. Every once in a while I would look at my watch to see how fast I was going, but I never really adjusted my speed (this was because I was more so focused on completing the mileage than achieving a certain time). However, on the way to the race, Janet and Sonya convinced me I could run faster than I was planning, so I decided the night before to try to run a 4:05 which would have me running 9:20/miles. So, at the starting line I planned to run somewhere in between the 4:05/4:10 pace group.
  • ACTUAL PACE: Miles 1-6 felt all over the place, but I kept checking my watch to stay around 9:15. After mile 7 or 8 I was feeling really good, so went with it. I would pick different people running around the same speed as me and stick with them for an extended period of time. Every once in a while I would check my watch to make sure I was going around 9:15. To my surprise, most of the time I was faster than expected. Most times I checked my watch I would be going somewhere in between 8:55 and 9:15. Part of me was worried I would burn out towards the end of the race, but I just went with it. (Alan is convinced I ran faster because I wanted to get out of the rain, which is totally valid logic.)
  • MENTAL ENDURANCE: I didn’t run the race with headphones for two reasons — one reason was because I was planning on running with Nancy and the other reason was because my headphones weren’t waterproof. Other than the first 6 miles when I ran with Nancy, this meant I was alone with my thoughts for 20 miles. While there were times this was extremely difficult, it was a true test of my mental toughness. For the ENTIRE second half of the race, I did my best to fill my mind with positive thoughts about myself and the race. I reminded myself I had trained for this, I was strong, I was tough, and I could do this. I actually said things out loud. I probably sounded crazy because I had conversations with myself that sounded like, “Hey Jordo! You got this!” and then “Hey! Thanks! I got this.” (This was something Alan had me repeat to myself over and over the week of the race and it just kind of came out during the race.) I also said things like, “I trust my feet. I trust my legs. I trust my body. I trust my heart. I trust my mind. I trust the Lord.” and I repeated that over and over. I think training without headphones made me a much stronger athlete for race day. Of course there times I wish I could have played my favorite albums, but I was much more prepared for the race itself because of the mental toughness I had built in the months leading up to the race.
  • PHYSICAL ELEMENTS: Like expected, the rain caused some physical difficulties. My clothes were soaked and socks were squishy before we event started. Because of this, I felt cold for most of the race. There were a few times when I rolled up my sleeves because I felt a little hot, but overall I felt cold. I don’t know if it was because of the temperature or my pace, it was probably a combination of both, but I couldn’t feel my legs for the second half of the race. I had never experienced that before in a long run, which made me a little nervous. Also, during the last few miles of the race I felt queasy. The queasiness was also a new feeling to me, starting around mile 20. It makes complete sense though when I think about the fact that after running for multiple hours and only consuming my pre-race meal and then Clif blocks, that my tummy started to feel like it was going to throw up. The uncomfortable feeling never stopped me, but I remember thinking “Okay stomach, keep everything in there” and “PLEASE, don’t let me puke!”
  • THE SECOND HALF OF THE RACE: Do you all remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the start of the Triwizard Cup? It’s the part when all of the wizards are in the maze and the crowds are cheering and everyone is exciting, and then each wizard gets further into the maze, the crowd becomes distant, and then they are kind of alone? That’s what the start of the second half of the race felt like. The course made a figure 8 shape so the end of the half marathon was the start of the second half of the race for the marathon. So we literally had to the cross the finish line, watch other people stop running, but then turn a corner and keep going. So there was this short time when I was crossing the finish line for mile 13.1 and everyone was cheering for the half marathon finishers, but then the marathoners turned this corner and suddenly it was quiet and kind of eerie because of the rain. There were other people around, but it was truly me, myself, and I at that point. There were other racers around, but 95% of people had headphones in so there was nobody to talk to… so I made it a point to thank every public official and volunteer I ran by (this also kept me focused on something other than myself!)
  • MILE 20-26: It wasn’t until mile 20 that I looked at my watch, did the math, and realized I was on track to run a SUB FOUR HOUR MARATHON. I freaked out because I determined if I kept up the speed I was going, I would be able to do it. However, you might have heard people say something like “The last 6 miles are the real marathon” or something like that, and man, there’s some truth to that. The last 6 miles I was all over the place. I would go from thinking “Okay Jordo, all you have to do is finish, it doesn’t matter what time you get” to “Okay girl, you can get sub-4” to “Just keep freakin’ going legs!” There are those videos on YouTube that are reels of people helping other people cross the finish line because their legs give out, and I was playing those in my head and just hoping that wasn’t going to be me. These last miles are also when the personal mantras kicked in, I started to feel really exhausted, and just wanted to be done. BUT, I kept pushing myself and just took one step after another.
  • NO RACE STOPS: There wasn’t a single long run I ran without stopping for a potty break. I had the port-a-potties plotted in my head so I knew where I needed to stop if I had to go, but I guess I was so focused on the race that I didn’t even think about stopping. I also was worried that if I stopped towards the end, I wouldn’t be able to start running again (…really.)
  • MY VERY OWN CHEERLEADERS: Okay one of the actual best things about this race was the fact that I had real-life, actual guardian angel humans that supported me! It was around mile 3 that I looked up and saw one of my best friends, Ruth, standing on the corner in a rain coat! I screamed and freaked out because I was so surprised! It was from then on that I had the best game of the “Where’s Ruth and Thomas?!” version of “Where’s Waldo?” They were AMAZING race spectators and were at least at 6 spots along the course cheering their heads off. It truly was the best thing and helped so much. I am still so thankful for them for doing that, and I would really love to do this for someone one day!
  • WHAT I LEARNED: In a general sense, I learned that I race very different than I train. Something weird takes over my body and mind on race day, and it’s quite amazing (maybe it’s adrenaline?) I also learned that mental strength is just as important as physical strength. I realized the value of this during training, but it was super important for me to build my confidence and hype before every long run and the race itself. Another thing is the power of spectators! Knowing I had Ruth and Thomas along the course was HUGE, and I loved that. I also had cheerleaders I knew were supporting me from their homes (because they signed up to receive text messages to track me!) Finally, I learned that I am capable of more than I think. Running a marathon seemed like an impossible feat, but I feel victorious for being able to do it.
  • THE RESULTS: This is still the part I can’t wrap my mind around. I crossed the finish line in 3:59:07!!! My overall pace was 9:08, which was a lot faster than I ran over the months of training. Though there’s a thought in the back of my mind I probably could have ran faster/trained harder, I am super proud of myself and truly in shock I ran a sub 4! I finished the ran filled with joy because truly, I loved the marathon experience. Also, Ruth & Thomas were there to celebrate with me at the finish line, and they snapped the pictures below!

OTHER THINGS ABOUT THE RACE

  • LOGISTICS: All of the races for the weekend were held on Saturday, March 30, 2019. The weekend races included a marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K, and marathon relay. All of the races utilized the same start and finish line, which gave spectators that opportunity to see the opening ceremonies and start/end of the race.
  • RACE ORGANIZATION: The overall event organization was excellent. The race website was very detailed and easy to navigate. There were plenty of race communications to share important information with participants. Visiting the Fitness Expo the day before the race was painless as the check-in process and packet pick-up was organized and quick!
  • THE COURSE: As a participant, I was impressed with the course. The race course was clearly marked with so many signs and volunteers. Volunteers on the course at each aid station were always prepared with water and encouragement. Public officials were always standing in the street blocking traffic. There were several signs that clearly identified which direction to run so it was impossible to make a wrong turn or get lost. (As someone who has almost gotten lost on race courses, I really appreciated this!)
  • THE START: The only part of the race that felt disorganized was the very beginning of the race. The rain made it feel very frantic and confusing. The race was supposed to start runners in corrals and with pace groups, but the officials decided to start all runners at one time which created a lot of confusion. Because the beginning of the race felt disorganized, it took a while to find my groove in the race. I know a big factor in this was the rain, and race officials wanted to start everyone at the same time, however it created a bit of a mess. Even with this, I was still impressed with the race. As a participant, it felt like I was taking part in an event that was a well-oiled machine. This was helpful because then I wasn’t as stressed, anxious, or worried about logistics but all of my focus could be preparing for the race!
  • THE FINISH: I will say I was slightly disappointed in the finish line. There was chocolate milk and bananas, but I was hoping for a bagel, muffin, Clif bar, peanut butter, or something a little bit more. However, I did get a medal put around my neck which was a great feeling!
  • THE SHIRT: I was not a fan of the race t-shirt. Though it’s nice that it is dri-fit material, it’s highlighter orange and pretty obnoxious. I probably won’t be wearing it around too much.

AFTER THE RACE

After the race, I was more sore than I had expected. I think the reason came from sitting in the car for a couple of hours pretty soon after the race — I made sure to move around on days I did long runs which I think helped prevent stiff muscles. The soreness lasted a couple of days and made stairs difficult! I also noticed weird tweaks and pains in new spots, like the side of my foot and a couple of spots on my legs. I took the week following the race to rest. I didn’t run but incorporated a couple of cross training days for swimming and biking to warm up my muscles and stretch.

The few weeks getting back into running were tough. The first couple of runs back felt like I had never even been on a run before — it was hard to breathe, my legs hurt, and I was in my head. I know that is part of the recovery process, but I had never experienced something like that either.

At this point, I don't have my sights set on another marathon. I’m training There’s a lot of unknown for me in the upcoming months so I can’t yet commit to any particular race or training program. However, I know this is only the beginning of marathons, and I’m excited for the future!