Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My First Marathon

I'm happy to say that I have finally ran my first marathon! It took 4 months of training, countless amounts of miles, and a whole lot of determination but I made it across a marathon finish line with a smile on my face! I definitely wanted to recap this whole process, from the moment I decided to run a marathon through all the training and then recapping the actual weekend. Hopefully this might inspire a few of you to run a marathon (or any race for that matter!).

Earlier in the year, I was running regularly with my running group on Saturday mornings and a few of them mentioned a 20 mile trail run that they were doing. A handful of people were going to do it this year and were using the Saturday runs as part of their training. I honestly thought the 20 miler was too long for me, but I was happy to go along for some of the training runs. I remember specifically doing a 15 mile training run on one Saturday morning. It was the furthest I had ever ran and I finished the run feeling great. For whatever reason, being able to finish 15 miles comfortably gave me more confidence in myself. I was also inspired by all of my running group friends who were pushing themselves with the longer distances.

I had talked to a few people previously about their experience and training with marathons and found it interesting that the top mileage most plans call for is 20 miles. 20 miles for whatever reason sounded much more reasonable than 26, especially since I had just run 15 miles comfortably. I honestly figured if I could train up to or close to 20, I could always walk the last 6 miles of a marathon and finish the distance with a mixture of walking and running. So with that thought in mind, I signed up for the Portland Marathon. I joke that I must have been crazy when I had done it, but I was actually very excited about this new goal. I had plenty of months to train for it and was determined to give the training my best effort. 

I began talking to more people and researching training programs. I have run a handful of half marathons (5 official ones) so I had some experience with those kind of large scale races. The only difference was that I was going to be covering twice the distance than I had previously. I decided to loosely follow the Hal Higdon Novice 2 training plan. I was definitely new at training those kind of distances and I wanted to make sure I didn't get hurt or over-train. I actually ended up cutting the program down by only running 3 days a week and cross training 2-3 days a week. I pretty much cut all the Wednesday runs in the chart below. However, I followed the rest of the program relatively closely, especially on the long run distances.

As I worked my way through the plan I felt like it was definitely enough training to get me through without getting too injured or sore. I liked that the Saturday long runs slowly worked it's way up and then gave slight breaks between the 18, 19, and 20 weeks with a slightly shorter run in between. I think this really helped me build up my distance without injury. I also followed the taper weeks (12 & 8 mile long runs) and found that it allowed me to recover in time for the marathon. I was worried that tapering would hurt me, but in the end I felt like I needed the time to help recover from all the training and that long 20 miler.

Before I start talking about the race weekend itself, I wanted to share some advice for those of you who are working their way through a training plan. If you are training in the summer, wake up early and run in areas where there is shade. If you are able to bring water and electrolyte/sugar gels with you, definitely do it. I personally found it helpful to run at least part of my long runs with people. I would wake up early and run some extra miles and then meet up with my regular running group to finish up my run. I found it super helpful and motivating to have people at the end of my run as opposed to starting with people and then finishing it myself. I liked having the distraction when my legs were heavy and I was having trouble finishing up the distance. After my 20 miler and the marathon I got a massage which helped tremendously, but for those in between weeks make sure you stretch and foam roll after every run and fuel yourself with proper food. It makes a big difference.

Now onto the race itself. I knew that I wanted to run a marathon in my home town to make it as comfortable for me as possible. Traveling always brings a bunch of unknowns and I didn't want to deal with that on top of the idea of running a full marathon. I was able to keep to my normal routine and even have a fun pasta dinner before race day. It was also a huge benefit that I knew the course pretty well, and I knew that some friends and family could come watch the race and support me. That ended up being a huge bonus for me, but I'll get into that in a minute.

I went to packet pick up a couple of days in advance and did a quick walk around the expo. I think its always good to look around the expo for a bit because generally it has the most up to date information on starting corrals and finishing arrangements. 

Race day started bright and early. The race started at 7am, so I made sure to give myself plenty of time to find a place to park, walk over to the race, find my corral, and have time to find a bathroom and stretch out my legs.  One thing I wasn't expecting was the constant rain that day! It was supposed to be a decent day but the weather changed the night before. I ended up wearing a rain jacket to keep me warm at the starting line but ended up taking it off pretty early on into the race. I had my water backpack with me, so I was able to stuff it in there and carry all of my water, energy gels, and phone in one place. I had trained with the pack and decided I'd keep it with me. 

Right before the race began, I decided to put on a visor to keep the rain out of my eyes. I ended up keeping the visor on for the entire race. It wasn't too hot, so I didn't feel like I was trapping in a lot of heat by wearing it. Plus the benefit of not having water streaming down my face for hours was definitely worth it. 

The race began promptly at 7am and I got to the starting line around 7:20am. I was definitely nervous but kept telling myself that I needed to start out slow. I wanted to run at a pace that felt pretty easy- a "I could run this all day long" kind of pace. I decided to break the race into chunks in my mind. I had trained and decided earlier that I was going to take a gel every 5 miles or so in order to have enough in my stomach to avoid hitting the wall. While my stomach wasn't feeling amazing toward the end of the marathon, I felt like I had enough energy to finish and wasn't feeling light headed at all. 

The first half of the marathon didn't feel especially different for me. I had run that length before and was training longer than 13 miles for months now. Crossing the half way mark feeling good did boost my confidence a bit. I continued running my slow and steady pace in order to save energy for the end of the race. Miles 14-15 were pretty boring- it was along the side of a road and was kind of loud. As we ran towards Mile 16 though I saw the St John's bridge in the distance. I was excited to get the hill over with and cross over to the east side. While the hill was steep, it wasn't as bad as the one I had run in SF. I took my time and made it up the hill slowly but surely. 

Once I got up the hill, I was excited to run over the bridge and look south towards Portland City Center. I had never run on this bridge before, but I have always thought it was beautiful. After crossing the bridge we started running south towards the city center and towards University of Portland. Right around mile 20 I caught up with one of my friends who then ended up running the last 6 miles with me. Seeing her was so exciting! It was a great energy boost to have someone by my side and chatting with me. I had done a lot of training runs with people and was definitely missing that aspect of the run before meeting up with her. If you ever have the change to have someone run the end of a marathon with you, I highly suggest it. It was so helpful to get through those last painful miles with a friend.

I definitely started feeling tired around mile 22. I had never run over 20 miles before, so every step that I took was the furthest I had ever run. The great thing about the course was that mile 23 and 24 are downhill, which was definitely a welcome feeling to my tired legs. My pace definitely slowed down around mile 23 despite the downhill, but my goal was to just keep chugging along at a slow shuffle jog and to not stop. I ran into a few friends during the second half of my race. It was so nice of them to be standing out in the rain cheering people on. It meant so much to me to have so much support along the course- I get emotional just thinking about it!

As we ran across the Broadway bridge and past mile 25, I found my husband and another friend who joined up with me and ran towards the finish line with me. It was so amazing to have 3 amazing people by my side, cheering me on. It was so sweet of everyone to be there supporting me. When we got close to the finish line, my friends went off the course and made their way to the finish. I entered into the final chute and saw the finish line. It felt so amazing to see the end in sight. I could hardly believe that I had finally reach the end of my very first marathon! I cross the finished line and teared up. It was amazing to finish the marathon with a smile on my face- I wasn't sure if that was going to be the case. After initially crossing the finish line, volunteers helped me into a jacket to keep us warm and was handed a rose for finishing. I walked around the corner and grabbed some food- I ended up drinking OJ and taking a few bites of a bagel which definitely were good choices, and grabbed all the other goodies that finishers got. I finally made my way towards the exit and went to give everyone a hug.

All in all, I was happy with how everything went. I ended up not feeling too terrible, which I was really happy about. My back and knees were stiff, but the rest of me was fine. As for results, I felt like I ran a relatively safe race. I was worried about going out too fast and then not having anything left in the tank after mile 20. I ended up finishing at 5:03:45, which was a few minutes over my goal of hitting 5 hours.

I'm incredibly proud of my training going into the marathon and my performance on race day. I knew I was going to take it slow, but for a marathon that is always a safe beat. People keep asking me if I will do another one and the answer is I'm not sure. The running schedule was intense and I was starting to get some aches and pains (in my back and shoulder) during the tougher weeks. It also is a huge time investment. Post marathon I feel like I have so much more time and energy during my weekends! All of those things considered, only time will tell if I will run this distance again, or if I will stick to shorter races. However, I'm very glad that I ran a marathon. It forces you to be a bit more vulnerable than you normally are, and that forces you out of your element which I think is always a beneficial thing.

That's a wrap!

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