Last weekend, I ran my first marathon in Traverse City, Michigan. I trained throughout the spring semester with the goal in mind to qualify for the 2017 Boston Marathon.
Traverse City’s Bayshore marathon was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was a great race. And the best part is, I qualified for Boston with time to spare, and am so excited for next April!
The whole experience of training, tapering, racing, and recovering was new for me. I have done it all before for halves and for rowing, but a marathon? 26.2 miles is a whole different beast to tackle.
I learned a lot through the process, and here are some of my main takeaways. These are just my experiences, however, and if you’re planning on running one, take all of these thoughts with a grain of salt – running and racing is different for everyone!
1. You will worry. A lot. About what you’re eating, whether you’re tapering right, if it will rain – I could go on and on.
2. You will worry, but relax. Take a deep breath. At the end of the day, all that matters is the race – whatever that means for you, whether it’s finishing, running a good race, running a PR, or qualifying for Boston.
3. Be well rested. This doesn’t mean it is the end of the world if you don’t sleep a lot the night before the race. What does matter is the week leading up to the race – get plenty of sleep during your taper period!
5.Bring water to the start, and whatever else you might need (Vaseline and sunscreen, for example). Almost all races have bag drops, but as I discovered at Bayshore, not all starting areas will have stands of water, gatorade, and all the pre-race necessities.
6. While on the topic, bathrooms will obviously be available, but there will never be enough. Almost every runner has an impulsive five-minutes-before-the-start nervous pee, so don’t have shame and just go in the woods, behind a building, wherever you need to to make the start comfortably.
7. Okay, so you’re running. People start marathons with wide ranges of training behind them, but no matter what, start SLOW.
8. I found the first 10 miles to be the hardest mentally (until I got to the last 6, which is a whole different story). I was excited, but I knew if I got too excited and started using my mind tricks to motivate myself, I would start to go too fast. I had to keep myself in a very bored, focused cage in order to stay on pace for the first third of the race.
9. That resistance paid off, and I felt great for miles 10-16. So I picked it up. After looking back at my splits, apparently I picked it up a little too much. Miles 13-18 will make you want to fly if you’ve been holding back for the first half, but remember that the last eight miles are tough after already running 18 miles.
10. Biggest lesson I probably learned: even if it means carrying a little extra weight, bring along your own fuel. Not only is it good to be able to use what you’re used to, but some races’ aid station information is not always accurate. I could not wait to get to my well-needed second GU at mile 17, but Bayshore ran out by the time I arrived. It wasn’t there!
11. Knowing I was approaching the dreaded carb-depletion wall, I sipped on some diluted Gatorade for the next few miles. I didn’t crash, but it would’ve been safer, less stressful, and perhaps slightly easier had I fueled as planned.
12. Make sure to run with your butt and hips during the entire race. Your quads will thank you at mile 18 – where they really start to burn.
13. I felt strong, but by the time I got to mile 20, I was definitely approaching survival-mode. When people tell you that the two halves to marathons are the first 20 and the last 6 miles, they aren’t exaggerating.
14. Breaking up the race is different for everyone, of course (my mom told me that once I got to mile 18, I would know I could finish). The point is, the last 10k will go slowly – mile by mile. This is when your mental tricks and inner motivation need to turn on and keep you going (at pace, preferably).
15. I think the last 6 miles’ brutality really depends on the marathon and the size of the race. For Boston and many others, the crowds take runners in for the end with encouragement, excitement, and adrenaline. For Bayshore, however, the excitement didn’t really come until mile 26 – and by then, I was too intent on collapsing after the finish line to notice the crowds in the stadium.
16. The feeling you have when crossing the finish line really depends on how hard you went. Everyone is tired after running 26.2 miles, of course. I had pushed myself so hard to go faster than qualifying pace (and to finish strong and faster than the girl I had been running with for the last 2 miles because my competitive side kicked in), that I was spent at the end.
17. My post-race experience could have been better. My quads were in shreds and my back hurt so badly that it was extremely painful to walk. I knew I needed fuel, my bag, water, and to find my mom, so I mustered the strength to do so.
18. When my mom found me, she was so excited for me. I wish I could have been too, but I was in so much pain before the Gatorade kicked in that it took awhile.
19. Anyway, once you recover, you will have the biggest runner’s high you’ve ever had. It will last for a good week.
20. I was hungry, sore, proud, and happy for days. You just finished 26.2 miles. You deserve to be proud. Not many in the people in the world can run a mile. Even getting across the starting line is an accomplishment.
21. I am proud of my race, but I wish I would have taken in the excitement of the experience more. The pockets of crowds were great along the way, but I was so focused and in pain when I entered the stadium and the finisher’s tents afterwards, that I didn’t fully take in the entir buzz of roaring fans cheering on the runners.
22. I wouldn’t say I would have raced differently – I was trying to qualify.
23. My next goal is to appreciate being at the start in Hopkinton and just enjoying the Boston Marathon. It is an experience like no other, and most people are just happy to be there. It is a tough course with many hills, and the crowds along the entire course are worth taking in. I cannot wait to enter Beacon street, Kenmore, and Copley where I will be among BU students, my campus and home!
24. My quads were in the most pain they’ve ever been – I couldn’t sit down or walk down stairs normally for about 3 days. However, the body is amazing at its muscle recovery job.
25. The next commonly stated truth is that once finishing a marathon, you will never want to do it again – until thirty minutes later when you’re ready to sign up for another one. The mind does weird things where once your body recovers; it blocks out the trauma of running those 26.2 (or last 6) miles and only remembers how great it was.
26. Whether you run 5ks, marathons, row, swim, lift weights, compete against others or only yourself, or are just getting started, be proud of yourself. It takes a lot of strength to start. People will question you, support you, encourage you, and cheer you on, but at the end of the day, the strength to keep going can only come from within yourself.
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