I never was a runner.
I wasn’t one of those kids who ran track in high school and then graduated to longer runs. My asthma (which was and still is under control) was a great excuse to get out of gym class, and even when I did participate in physical activities it was more on the strength side than anything else (weights).
So obviously, I ended up with about 80-90 lbs. of extra fat and a very sedentary lifestyle.
Well, I’m glad to say that 2 years ago or so, I started running and yesterday I ran my first (hopefully of many) marathon!
The Philly Marathon wasn’t easy, but I don’t think any first marathon is. I’m going to walk through some of the highlights, but spoiler alert, I didn’t win…
A few days before the run, I started to feel really stressed about it. Most of my brain knew that I was ready, but going so far out of my comfort zone was just too much for kalvin (my comfort zone) to bear. I was really nervous, had trouble sleeping and all sorts of weird run logistics related dreams (missing the train and arriving late, showing up on the wrong day etc…).
I slept surprisingly well the night before the marathon, albeit for only 5 hours since I had to wake up at 4am to make it to the train.
The marathon started at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the steps from “Rocky” are, and there was a fun felling about it all. I started to feel better about the run, and realized that I’m already there, so I might as well enjoy it.
I was in the last corral, since I’m slow, so it took us about 30 minutes to actually get to the starting line after the race started, but everyone was in an upbeat mood, so it wasn’t too bad of a wait.
Mile 1-2: I ran fairly slowly, ending up in a pack of old ladies walking the half marathon. It’s not very encouraging when you get passed by a couple of old ladies and a guy juggling balls while running the marathon, but I knew it was only the start so I kept my heart rate low and got in the groove of running.
Mile 2-8: I started to pick up speed and passed most of the old ladies. I was still slower than my usual pace, but not by much, and I was feeling really good! The nice thing about this marathon (and I’m assuming others too) was that people come out to cheer you and call your name (it’s on the bib with the number). It’s really fun and people were high-fiving me and cheering and such. I was really energized! The Drexel students were the most fun, they were partying in the streets and giving runners beers (but I didn’t take any) and just having lots of fun.
Mile 8-14: at mile 8.5 or so, I started thinking, “This is really easy! I can easily do this and my stomach is feeling just fine” (I’ve had some stomach problems on longer runs when I eat too many energy gels).
Then at mile 9, my stomach started to feel funny and I started to suffer…
Once my stomach issues kicked in, the run stopped being fun and started to be a struggle. My notes from my coach said that if my stomach starts to feel funny, I should just drink water at aid stations, so I did that for a while and it got better, but every time I ingested sugar (in energy gel form or as Gatorade), the stomach problems came back.
This part of the run was also on the same road where my long runs usually end at, so mentally, I was ready to stop.
At this point, kalvin started getting really loud and I was thinking things like “Why do I need this? I can just quit and finish a half marathon, that’s good too, right?” and I really started to feel every pain and ache my body could create.
Somehow, my mind got over all those negative thoughts and I took the left lane for the marathon, and not the right for the half finishers.
Mile 14-17: This was probably the worst part for me. I was running outbound on the road that the fast finishers were running back on, and I watched hundreds, if not thousands of tired looking people running to the finish line while I was just starting out on my second half. It was very demoralizing… I was also feeling very tired here, and my heart rate was high. According to my notes, this meant that I was probably dehydrated. I was running with a water pack, but I used it up and relied on the water at the aid stations. So at the next aid station, I filled it up again and drank 3 cups of water that helped me feel better.
Mile 17-22: At this point I realized that I was in this to finish, so I walked and ran depending on the terrain. I was in a relatively hilly area, so I walked up the hills and ran down. This was also in Manayunk (a different part of town), so very few people were out cheering and it was basically just me and the road. This was probably the slowest part for me. I still wasn’t feeling well, and skipped a few scheduled gels, so my blood sugar wasn’t very high either.
Mile 22-end: This part of the run was my best.
At mile 22, I realized that I’m almost done, but I was really slow. My stomach was feeling better, and I had some more sugar in me, so I reached in and did a mental check. I still had some energy left…
So I put on my running playlist, raised my heart rate limit warning on my Garmin and started to run!
I never thought I could keep a 12 min mile or so pace for 4.2 miles after running 22 miles, but I did! My top speed at this part was 6:28 min/mile (although not for very long) and I was passing people like crazy! At this point, most people were limping, walking or jogging really slowly, but I was flying past them and they were amazed that I can keep that speed. At about 1 mile from the finish, there was a brief up hill, so I slowed down a bit and chatted with a couple running in vibrams (they looked like they were in real pain and the girl was crying, but the guy was really nice and supported her to go on). And then for the final stretch I really flew towards the finish.
I was in really pain at the end, I limped my way to the gear check and the massage area, but the massage people said they were done for the day (even though there were still a lot of runners coming) and were very rude about it…
After the run, I called my parents to let them know I’m done, and my dad asked me “would you do it again?”
That’s an interesting question, there were points during the run where I was thinking that I never want to run, let alone run a marathon, again, and I’m definitely not the kind of person who does this to prove something to anyone or to myself, but the overall experience was really eye opening. I think I learned a lot about myself during this run, and found out how I react do different situations under this kind of stress.
I think that overall, I did enjoy this event and except for the physical discomfort I felt during the run and the day after, it was a very positive experience, so yes, I would do it again.
I may want to try a different city next time, maybe NY, and I definitely need to get faster so that it doesn’t take so long. I’m sure that I would have felt better if I was running for less time and finishing earlier with a larger group of people. It would also be nice to get to a level of training where I am always ready for a marathon so I don’t have to train especially for this.
I would really like to thank some of the people who helped me do this:
Obviously, although not a person per se, thank god I finished this! I definitely needed some divine intervention at some parts of this race and I’m glad I had it…
I would also like to thank my wife, who even though she was on a 24 hour shift working in the surgical ICU, found the time to send me encouraging text messages all through the run.
I’d really like to thank my coach, Eric Orton, who kept pushing me during training and helped me discover that I can actually do this kind of run. Eric, your advice on getting through the physical symptoms during the run was invaluable, and I got out of a few really bad situations thanks to that great list!
Next, I’d like to thank Chris McDougall, who wrote the book Born to Run, introducing me to this amazing technology, my feet, and showing me that I can use them and actually not suffer.
I’d also like to thank the folks from ultrarunnerpodcast.com. Their inspiring and hilarious interviews got me through some tough spots with a smile on my face. I was actually laughing out loud at their “Sonoma” in the spell check story.
Last but not least, I’d like to thank Tim Ferriss for introducing me to the 4-hour body diet. I think it would have been much harder to do this carrying those extra 40 lbs of fat I lost on that diet…