My First Marathon Experience

The Sweet Agony (Of The Feet)


On June 6, 2010, after months of early rising and training, I ran my first marathon. I looked for the right run and elected to participate in the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. The crowds were amazing in number but I found my corral.

I had read the books and surfed the running websites. I was prepared. I had strictly followed a training program taking me from easy mileage to over 20 miles on some weekends. I had guessed that an 8 minute per mile pace was doable and set my goal appropriately to cross the finish line at a respectable 3 hours and 30 minutes. The articles and other literature I had read told me that I should take my half marathon time (1 hour and 39 minutes), double it and add 10 more minutes. The total time was an approximation of what I could expect to finish a marathon in. I knew my limits and really thought 3 hours and 30 minutes was an achievable goal. Too ambitious? I didn’t think so.

Once the gun discharged, I was on my way. I had my Garmin GPS watch to track my mile splits, and I was ready to rock with my MP3 player blasting my favorite tunes. My shoes were perfectly tied and I was either ready or not. If any additional preparation was needed, it was too late.

Amongst the 33,000 runners, I was number 6015. I waited for a while to begin running because there were a lot of runners ahead of me. I crept along at a slow walk and jostled for position amongst the 3 lane road. Upon crossing the “start” line, I pressed my watch timer and began putting one foot in front of another in a more rapid succession.

If one equates the marathon distance into feet, a runner will travel approximately 138,435 feetfrom start to finish. With my stride at approximately 3 feet, I figured that each foot would impact the ground a little more than 23,000 times. If my feet were able to persevere I knew I would be OK. All I had to do was keep pushing and not stop.

The first13 mileswere easy because I had trained at that distance so many times. The weather was relatively cool with a heaviness in the air from the humidity. I, being from Tucson, Arizona was only used to a dry climate and had not trained in this type of weather. Nevertheless, I kept running. I found some other runners who appeared to have my pace and I stayed with them for the first half of the race. My pace was fantastic and I was actually ahead of my target finish time.

What I wasn’t aware of being that this was my first marathon was the energy I was expending while running faster than I should. I made the mistake of running how I felt and not for my target finish time. I found myself running just over 7 minute miles instead of the 8 minute miles I should have been maintaining.

The course meandered through the downtown streets and along the piers of San Diego harbor. I felt great. No pain, no fatigue, no bad thirst, no cramps. "Keep running fast then", I told myself at the time. I reached the half way mark and felt I could run like that forever.

We ran through neighborhoods, by a beautiful church, and through business areas. Each mile presented a band, each from a different genre. They covered country to blues to rock and jazz. I pulled my ear buds out of my ears as I passed each band and took in the sound of the live music. Many changed the lyrics to the songs they were singing to words of inspiration for the runners.

My body was feeling pretty good for the first half marathon (13.1 miles) and I kept up the pace. At mile 17 my pace started to deteriorate and I was running slower than before. The speed at which I had run for the first half of the marathon had depleted my body of energy and I was approaching the dreaded wall.

I had experienced the wall on a training run a few weeks prior but felt as if I could muscle through it. If only a little fatigue and loss of energy were the problem I felt as if I probably could run through it. By mile 20, my pace had slowed to over 9 minute miles and cramps were getting severe. My thigh muscles were cramping and the pain was excruciating with each step. The bigger problem was that they also hurt to walk or stop.

I had told myself before the marathon that I would keep running through whatever was placed before me; pain, cramping, blisters, exhaustion. All four had presented themselves in front of me at the same time though and all four were challenging my will to keep going. They all wanted me to fail in my marathon quest and they all appeared to be working in collaboration with each other to secure that fate for me.

In June in San Diego there is a weather phenomenon called the “June Gloom” which produces massive marine layers of clouds and fog. These layers remain around the city for sometimes an entire day making beach life not as enjoyable. The sun isn’t visible and the temperature drops a bit. What also happens is the humidity rises. These marine layers can burn off quickly too and go away or just simply recede over the ocean. When this occurs, the temperature increases and the humidity is then a major factor as the sun is now in play.

While running I was enjoying the cooler temperature and the bits of shade the marine layer was providing. The marathon route at mile 20 brought us to Fiesta Island, a desolate sandy mound of an island inSan DiegoBay. On the perimeter of the amoeba shaped island is a road approximately 6 milesin length which was much of the remainder of the marathon.

The water stations were plentiful at about every mile and a half over the course and I consumed water and electrolyte drinks at almost every one. My hydration was not bad I thought. The marine layer of clouds had burned off completely by this time and the sun started to heat up the bay around the island. The temperature and humidity combined created a combo punch to my system and the exhaustion and cramping halted my running many times. It hurt to run but yet it hurt to walk. It hurt to stand and it hurt to sit and try to stretch out my legs. When I tried to stretch out my quads by grabbing my foot and pulling my heel to my butt, my hamstring would begin cramping. If I stood still, my quads would cramp for what seemed like an eternity.

The sweat was literally dripping off of my elbows and fingertips so I knew the humidity was high. After a couple more miles of pain, I told myself that I would finish the marathon no matter what happened. Runners that I had passed much earlier in the course were now passing me like I was standing still. I kept pushing on.

I found that if I ran for a couple minutes, I would reach a point where the cramping was severe. I would then walk until the pain subsided a bit. Then I was back to the running. I called it running, but as I look back, I realize I was walking fast with a hint of a jog.

I reached the end ofFiestaIslandleaving only about1 mileto go. By this time, the crowds were building and the path leading to the finish line at Sea World was only about 15 feetwide. The crowds equaled thousands of family, friends, and curiosity seekers. Screaming fans offered statements of encouragement for me to keep going and small lies that I looked great.

I told myself that I wasn’t going to walk anymore until I crossed the finish line. I probably looked much like a zombie in a bad B-rated movie, stumbling around with a glazed over face, not completely aware of my surroundings. I was in fact aware of all of it. I knew I was about to finish my first marathon. I had worked so hard. Then, there it was; the finish line staring at me and beckoning me to come to it. Spanning over the finish line was a huge blowup arch that every competitor ran under as they finished. Under the blowup was a clock large enough that I could read from my time from some distance. The seconds ticked away as I approached and my finish time was 3 hours, 53 minutes, 41 seconds.

I had done it. I had completed my first marathon. I was exhausted and I was close to collapsing. But I had become addicted to the challenge, pain and my inner competitive nature. At that moment I told myself that I would do it again.

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