It happened around 15 miles in.
Up to that point, I was exactly where I wanted to be in my first marathon. I felt good, I had enough fuel and water, and the weather was tough (hot and humid — in other words, it was Austin, Texas) but manageable. I was on pace to cross the finish line in 3:35, with negative splits (slower for the first 13.1 miles; give it everything you’ve got for the final 13.1 miles) working in my favor. But then I felt something peculiar in my right foot. I had been dealing with metatarsal issues before the race, but this was different. This was worse.
And it kept getting worse with every passing mile, then half-mile, then kilometer, then step. By the time I got to mile 21, where a friend was waiting to help run me in, my foot was swollen; the burning sensation didn’t help, either. I didn’t give up and eventually crossed the finish line (4:14), but I didn’t feel like I’d just run a marathon. That’s because I hadn’t. I’d walked/run it.
For the next week, I was in a funk. I couldn’t exercise yet, which, when you’re used to the endorphin rush of an early-morning sprint, is a hard thing to adjust to; I was in physical pain from my foot; and I felt like a fake every time someone congratulated me on the race. But I hadn’t soured on running. If anything, I was more resolved than ever to not let that first stupid marathon define me. There’s a saying a running coach once told me: “No one ever does two marathons. You’re either done after one, or hooked for life.”
I was hooked.
Three months later, I ran my second marathon (and first where I was actually able to run the whole time) in 3:34. Is that the best time? Of course not. Was I capable of better, especially on a more forgiving (i.e. fewer rolling hills) course? Probably. But at this point, I didn’t care. I needed a confidence boost, and the second marathon provided one. My result time was where I wanted it to be because a) my injury had fully healed, and b) I learned a lot about running a marathon from the first one, even if I… well, you know the deal.
If you’ve done any research about running a marathon, you know the bullet points: don’t start off too fast, consistently drink water and something with electrolytes, take a Gu every five miles, cross train, don’t wear any item of clothing for the first time on race day, etc. But here are five less practical but still helpful tips I wish someone had told me before my first marathon.
1. You’re gonna feel things you didn’t expect to feel
You’re about to run 26.2 miles. It’s going to be hard. And painful. And boring. And you’re probably going to ask “Why the heck am I doing this to myself?” at least a few times (you’re not going to use the word “heck,” either). But I knew all that coming into the race. What I didn’t expect was to feel so vulnerable. To update an age-old philosophical question: if someone runs a marathon and they don’t tell literally everyone they know about it, usually through social media, does it still count? People LOVE talking about marathons, because, well, they’re really hard! But the downside of that is telling your family and friends to track you, either in person or through an app, and they watch you fail in real-time. I wasn’t just disappointed by my first marathon; I was embarrassed. Of course, no one but you gives a sh*t about how quickly you finished, only that you did, but that’s enough. You train every day for months and eat all the right foods, only to mentally and physically fall apart? Heck.
(Again, you’re not actually saying “heck.”)
That’s the problem. Here’s the solution: channel that vulnerability into something positive. Every time I thought about slowing down or even quitting during the second marathon, I thought of how ashamed I felt telling my running pals about my sorry time after the first marathon. Sometimes the best motivation is the thing that makes you feel the worst.
And with that corny adage in mind…