Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The First Marathon

I'm not athletic.  At all.  In fact, I don't believe there is a single athletic bone in my body.  In elementary school, I was that little girl who dreaded recess.  When we had free time, I would often sit and chat it up with friends.  And I hated rough games like dodgeball.

As I became an adult, I started to realize the importance of things like physical activity and eating healthy.  At the age of 23, a friend in Iowa invited me to train for a 5k.  "Why not?" I thought.  What I didn't realize is that I would soon catch the running bug.  You know the kind... if you haven't been bit by it yet, you know someone who has.  I wanted to run all the time.  I found myself regularly running three miles for the fun of it!

The following year, I was working on my bucket list and decided that one day, I wanted to complete a full marathon.  And for the added timeline incentive, I wanted it to happen when I was 26 years old.  There was something significant about about each mile representing one year of my life.

If running a marathon (or ½ marathon) is on your to do list, I hope you find this list helpful.  This is based solely on my experience, and what worked for me many years ago:

1.  Follow a Running Plan
Looking up a marathon plan these days is so easy!  There are a plethora of them you can find online.  Back in 2007, I stumbled upon a book, The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer, by David Whitsett.  The book is written by professors from the University of Northern Iowa who offer a marathon class every semester.  The majority of their students (most novice runners, as I was) go on to successfully complete the 26.2 mile race.  This book was my lifesaver!

2.  Run with Friends
Accountability is key when preparing for such a big race!  Life happens while training, but you are less likely to skip practice if there are people waiting for you.  And take it from me, if you must miss, do not miss a long run.  Those are especially crucial.

3.  Cross-Train
It's important to get exercise other than running in when seriously preparing for a marathon.  Cycling is great cross-training for running.  Joining a gym and participating in their classes (yoga, body pump, etc.) will also prove very useful.  Because I wanted to run faster, for the six months leading up to Chicago, I worked with a personal trainer twice a week.  Once again, the accountability was great!

4.  Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
I HIGHLY recommend the Chicago Marathon!
Whether you run with a Camelbak, small bottles of water around your waist, or have other ways to access a drink on your route, drinking water is integral.  Rinse out your mouth and spit out the first sip, and continue taking small sips after that.  Don't chug your water.  Ideally, you want to replenish the same amount of liquid you lose on your run.

5.  Pick an Exciting (and realistic) Marathon Location
I chose to run the 2008 Chicago Marathon because I had heard, from other runners, that it is one of the greatest marathons in the country, with the best fan base!  I also knew that it was a flat course.  Training in South Texas wasn't going to prepare me to run a race through the mountains of California, for example.

Team St. Jude!
6.  Run for a Cause
Do you love children?  Consider raising money for the St. Jude's Children's Hospital (that was the fundraiser I chose).  Think about what you are passionate about and go from there.  If you would rather not raise money, that's okay, too.  Meditate on something that inspires you.  One of my closest friends had just given birth in 2007, and I got to witness most of it.  She inspired me because I knew no matter how uncomfortable I became, it was nothing compared to what it takes to bring life into this world.

7.  Pace Yourself
I remember when they played the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of the 2008 Chicago Marathon.  Looking around at the thousands of other runners, I was overwhelmed by us being there with a shared goal and vision.  I got goosebumps!  It's a moment I'll never forget.  It's easy to take off like a bat out of you know where with all the enthusiasm and camaraderie in the air.  Don't do it.  If you have a finish time goal, look for the runner holding the sign with that particular time on it.  My goal was to finish, and try to finish in 4 hours and 30 minutes.  I finished in 4:33:27, so I was happy!  Find the pacer, and stick with them as best you can.  It's normal for your speed to fluctuate over such a long distance!
4:30 was my finish time goal.  I completed the race in 4:33:27. :)

8.  Eat Everything...Sort Of
Every few miles, there will be fruit available to snack on.  If you are hungry during the race, eat it.  Every couple of miles I would alternate drinking water and gatorade.  This system helped fuel me.  I also started eating "running goop" that they sell at athletic stores the last couple of months of my training, and on the day of the race.  Do not do anything different the morning of the race as far as your diet goes, and make sure that your body doesn't react poorly to the food that is available.

9.  Pray
Running such long distances gave me plenty of time to pray and reflect.  I prayed for others, for endurance, and for next steps in my life.  It was a very special season that I know I will never get back.  It helped me tremendously during the difficult transition of moving back home to Brownsville, Texas, from Des Moines, Iowa.
26.2 miles of Heart

10.  Enjoy the Moment!
Take in all the sights, sounds, smells and diverse group of runners during your race.  While training, I often jogged with headphones (unless I was running with others) and inspiring music (I currently enjoy the Eye of the Tiger station on Pandora).  Not so with race day!  I wanted to experience it all!  And I did.  And you will, too.  If I can run a marathon, most anyone can do it!

P.S.  I'm still not athletic.  But I do enjoy a nice run from time to time. ;)
And the answer to a massage afterwards is always, "Yes, please."  You'll need it. ;)

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