This past October I finished my first ever marathon at the age of 41. It was my main goal for 2018. My brother-in-law, Charles, inspired me to run one after I watched him complete an Iron Man Race in Lake Placid, New York. Charles, my sister Jordan, and wife Josie had all run marathons as well. It was now my turn to do one. I initially signed up for the Santa Barbara Marathon two years ago, but I got a severe ankle sprain two months into my training and had to cancel running that race. Earlier this year after talking to Josie about potentially running the Marine Corps Marathon, which takes place in Washington DC, I decided to put my name into the lottery. The following week I received an email congratulating me on gaining entry into the race. This event is known throughout the marathon world as a great race for first timers to run. The starting line near the Pentagon was also only five miles from my house. Here are some lessons I learned during the race and the training leading up to it.
1) The key to any endeavor is having a goal. – My goal was to finish a marathon. Once I knew the date of the race, I worked backwards to plan out my training schedule. Along with finishing, I did not want to walk during the race. During the actual marathon I stopped for bathroom breaks and to say hello to my family but walked less than a minute for the rest of the time. Not stressing about using the restroom and sharing the experience with my family was more important than my overall race time. Having these goals got me through the challenges I faced during both training and the race itself.
2) Anyone can run. – Josie kept saying this over and over to me and it was true: “You will see all ages and sizes during the race.” Being someone who is still in relatively good shape, I told myself that if someone in their 70’s can do this, then so can I. I was amazed by all of the different runners I saw on race day. They were tall, short, old, young, thin, and heavy. There was a female who ran in a Wonder Woman outfit holding a flag, as well as Marines who ran in combat boots while carrying rucksacks.
3) It is about the journey, not the destination – No matter how many times you have heard this phrase, it is true. I trained in eight states as well as Taiwan from April to October. The different scenery, roadways, climates and challenges all made the training much more enjoyable than running the same route over and over. I also liked the feeling of setting personal distance records as the training weeks progressed.
4) It’s just pain in the legs. – I did enough training both on the road and in the weight room in preparation for the marathon. When I ran the race, I kept expecting to hit a wall, but I never did. Maybe it is because I slept in my own bed the night before, or my family greeted me five times between miles 10 and 20. As the race went on and the miles added up, my legs continued to hurt more. That was it. I had the energy and the goal to finish the race. It was just getting through the pain of the wear and tear on my leg muscles. After the race, my legs felt shredded. I felt broken down the next day. But thanks to my homemade ice baths and foam rolling, my recovery was faster than it would have been otherwise.
5) You never know what kind of run you are going to have. – Each day when I went out to run, I didn’t know if I was going to run like a deer or if it would be a struggle to finish. Some days I would be rested and have a nutritious snack beforehand, and I had to fight through that sluggish feeling. Other days I ran jet-lagged on minimal fuel and had an upbeat, brisk run. It was a roll of the dice each time I stepped out the door. But more often than not, it was enjoyable, especially once I started getting into shape.
6) Positive self-talk helps.– I read a book in September called Endure, by Alex Hutchinson. He discussed the current efforts that are in place to break the two-hour marathon time. One of the best tips the author learned during all of his research was that positive self-talk could benefit a runner. I took this and used it in my training. My favorite phrases were, “You are a runner,” and “You’ve got this!”
7) Stretching, sleeping, and weight training are key. – While I didn’t always know what kind of run each training session would bring, I made sure that I was at least prepared to have a successful one. Each day, I used a foam roller to keep my leg and back muscles loose before I ran. While traveling, I packed a mini roller in my suitcase. I also tried to get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Research shows that sleep is vital for repairing broken down muscles. I also spent a lot of time in the gym working on my core and on my legs. The stronger my legs got, the more pounding they would be able to take. And keeping a strong core would prevent my torso from slouching over as the marathon progressed and fatigue got worse.
8) Break down the race. – For this marathon, I broke it down into three sections. Miles one to ten would be through Georgetown and Rock Creek Park. I ran through Rock Creek on all of my long training runs so it was very familiar. It would be even better because during the race, I ran on the road rather than the usual small running path next to it. At mile ten I would see my family for the first time. They gave me such a boost. I saw them again four more times up until mile 20. I picked up my iphone and airpods from my wife at mile 17. I had spent a good amount of time curating the perfect marathon playlist. Once I left my family at mile 20, I knew I only had six miles to go. While these would be the hardest physically, I could definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I heard from an individual recently that he thinks every American under the age of 18 should run a marathon before he or she can graduate from high school. The dedication to a goal, fitness, and the feeling of accomplishment would serve the youth of our country well. I know there would be a lot of kickback to that proposal, but I found the idea interesting. I don’t want to push people to run a marathon, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and process of the entire six months. Going from a non-runner to a marathon finisher was more enjoyable than I could have imagined. My goal for 2019 is to go on my first hunting trip. I will let you know how that turns out in early 2020.