Almost running a marathon has taught me a few things. I’d like to commit these things to virtual paper, because in the event (highly unlikely) that the disappointment of a DNF becomes too much to bear and I decide to go after the marathon again, it’s going to require a serious case of self-induced amnesia to take up that training burden once more. And who knows, maybe my experience can help other rookies prepare for their big day.
Lesson 1: Take the pace bracelet.
At the Running Expo, the table for the pace team was handing out bracelets with the splits and overall times for various time goals. I mentally scoffed at the little reminder system: “c’mon, now. A superpacer like myself has no need for such a contraption.” Ha! Pride, once again, goeth before a fall. As the mileage increases, my capacity for complex thought decreases. For example: should a person miss a mile split in the crowd, their watch ceases to be their friend. Reminding oneself, “I’m really a mile farther than the watch shows” is all well and good in the first half of the race. After that, it becomes harder and harder to recall why split 15 is actually mile 16. I remember staring at my watch in complete bewilderment, trying to decide if that’s the way it always worked. It’s at this point when having the overall time for mile 16 at 9:00 pace strapped to your arm becomes helpful.
Lesson 2: The marathon is hard.
I’ve heard this one repeatedly: in theory, it is easier to run a marathon on a hilly course than a pancake-flat one. The reasoning behind this theory is that you use different muscles for climbing/descending then you would for flat running. Being able to vary the muscles you use—if only slightly—is better than the deceptive “ease” of a completely flat course. While I’m obviously not an expert since I’ve only attempted the one marathon, I’d say this is similar to claiming that it’s actually better to jump into an active volcano than into a bonfire. Whatever the logic, you’re still burned alive. Similarly, the marathon is a beast no matter which way you slice it. In addition, after a certain number of miles a speed bump becomes a hill, so a “pancake-flat” marathon course may not, in fact, exist.
Lesson 3: Don’t listen to the spectators.
Don’t get me wrong: I love spectators. I think it’s the sweetest thing in the world that strangers wake up early on a Saturday morning to cheer for a bunch of sweaty, delirious crazy people clogging up their roadways. I would recommend, however, not listening to the specific words coming out of their mouths. If it’s possible to soak up the good feeling of an encouraging tone without actually processing “you’re almost done!” on mile 3 or “it’s all downhill from here!” when it most obviously isn’t…so much the better for you.
Lesson 4: Settle in.
Perhaps one of the hardest things for a rookie marathoner to grasp is patience. The start of the race is exciting and claustrophobic. No matter how good you feel, your immediate goal is to settle in and relax. There is a long, long way to go, and you’ll find that most of the happy-go-lucky, excited people are half marathoners or on a relay team. Look for a seasoned marathoner, and you’ll see nothing but grim determination. The hard stuff is waiting beyond the first 15 miles. Conserve energy. Take in fluids. Don’t get carried away!
Lesson 5: A decent half marathon IS possible.
This one is Megan-specific…it’s no secret that my two half marathons weren’t precisely rousing successes. Hilairiously, I PR’d for the Half Marathon this weekend. Only by about 30 seconds, but I felt pretty darn good while doing so. The lesson learned? It is possible for me to run a half marathon without throwing up. It would appear that all I need is to be in shape and go out slow. Eureka!
Lesson 6: Appreciate the simple things in life. (from Running Buddy)
You really appreciate the simple things…like eating an animal cracker, guzzling powerade like there’s no tomorrow, and even hearing the birds chirping in the park and knowing that you’re sense of hearing is still strong when the rest of you is weak and tired.
Lesson 7: Free High Fives are FUN!
My favorite thing about going to school at Clemson was the “free high fives” guys. I’m not sure if they’re a club or what, but every Friday at lunch time these fellas would stand outside the library (a major trafficway for students changing classes) and offer free high fives to one and all. My second year there they even had shirts screen printed to add some legitimacy to their endeavor. Sometimes, they’d spin in a circle or do some crazy jump move to mix things up. It was hilarious. No matter how bad grad school got (and it got pretty bad), that always gave me something to look forward to.
My love of the high five transfers well to the marathon, where lots of the younger spectators pass the time by trying to elicit high fives from competitors. Around mile 11, I saw a little guy standing on the curb with his hand out being completely ignored by already exhausted runners. I veered left and his eyes lit up…and then I completely whiffed. He was a LITTLE little guy, and I misjudged the distance. Drat! It’s the thought that counts, right? At least I didn’t hit the poor kid in the head. Later on, there were two girls standing in the middle of the road. I’m pleased to say that I managed the high five-five combo. Of course, I only recommend going for the high five if the kid already has a hand out. You don’t want to give some poor, unsuspecting kid a runner phobia! Um…unless you do. Which I guess is…ok?