I ran my first marathon on March 21, 2010. It was the best day of my life.
For a little background, I decided to become a runner because I thought they looked cool. Literally, that’s the entire reason. I didn’t start really sticking with it until October 2009. Stresses in my personal life helped me find comfort in running, and it kept me sane, so I ran. A lot. One day, I got the bright idea to run a half marathon because I happened to get lost and run 11 miles accidentally, so I figured a couple more would be ok. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I am slow, but there were a lot of hills and it was 37 degrees and raining. Don’t judge me!
Interesting fact: I actually didn’t stop for water even once during the race because I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to start running again. Anyway, I crossed the finish line, hugged Katie K, and loudly proclaimed that I had NO IDEA how people could run that same distance again RIGHT NOW, and that marathon runners are crazy.
This was before the race. You can tell because my face isn’t frozen and blue.
Anyway, I swore I would never ever do a full marathon.
Obviously, I signed up for my first marathon less than a week later.
The blessed event.
Naturally, I did no research regarding this marathon at all, just like I had not bothered to do any research for the half marathon. All I knew was that it was in Atlanta, and Ben’s family lived in Atlanta, so we would have a place to stay and a built in cheering squad. Good enough for me.
This is what I would have seen if I had bothered doing research. Those are hills. Turns out, you have to run on them.
I trained really hard for the race. WAY too hard. I had multiple 65 mile weeks, and I had barely been running for a couple months. This is a really quick way to get hurt, which I did. I didn’t run more than 13 miles for two months before the race, but I did get in a few 20 milers before that. I became a professional ice bather.
After my first 20 miler. One of my favorite pictures of all time.
When I got to the race, I was terrified that I wouldn’t finish it. I hadn’t been able to run like I wanted because of shin splints, and I really didn’t know how I would feel. Fortunately, I found the Expo. (For the record, most of these pictures were not taken by me or my fan club. I ran this race long before I thought of blogging and pictures didn’t seem that important.)
The marathon expo was held in the Falcons stadium. Or some other stadium.
This was my first time ever going to an expo because all of the races I had done up until that point were small. I was blown away. There was so much STUFF. You could buy pretty much anything you needed there. There were also running celebrities, which I geeked out about. Jeff Galloway was there. I bought a book from him and he signed it just for me.
He’s an Olympian. I’m not.
Most importantly, I learned about something called KT Tape at the expo. Like I said, I had been battling shin splints. I thought it might be a stress fracture, but I really wanted to run the race. There was this huge long line streaming out of the KT Tape booth, and I thought there must be something worth seeing. I stood in line to get taped up, hoping they could help me. When I was done, my leg looked like this.
You can tell that leg isn’t mine because it’s tan. But you get the point.
After that, all I could do was eat some pasta for dinner and try and get some sleep. When I got to the starting line in the morning, I was so nervous that I wanted to throw up, and I almost did. Instead, I cried. Hysterically. Like a complete psycho. I was absolutely terrified. What if I couldn’t finish the race? How much would it hurt? What if I got trampled by a stampede? What if I had a heart attack and died? All completely reasonable concerns.
When the gun went off, I calmed down and just started running. There was nothing else I could really do, I guess. I got caught up in the race and didn’t notice the hills for a long time because there were so many people that you couldn’t see them anyway. There were 2,000 marathoners and 16,000 half marathoners, so I was definitely in the minority. The course was pretty as we ran past downtown Atlanta in the early morning hours, but it was pretty cold and slightly raining. I don’t mind that because I’d rather be cold than hot.
Oh look, another picture I didn’t take.
The course ran through a bunch of college campuses, including Emory, Georgia Tech, Agnes Scott College, and Georgia State. Agnes Scott was my favorite because all the girls were out there and were so enthusiastic. However, I got a snickers bar at Emory, so that was a close second. Running through Decatur should have been boring, but it wasn’t. The crowd support was great given how crappy the weather was.
Lots of people had those signs. They gave them out at the expo.
I was rolling along quite nicely until Mile 18 or so. That’s when I started to really notice the hills. Ironically, we were in the Druid Hills area of the course. This is where everything started to fall apart. My feet really, really hurt. I basically lost the will to live. There was a huge hill at mile 23. The biggest hill I’ve ever seen. Ben and his family were at the base of the hill, and he started running with me up it. I tried to talk, but I couldn’t breathe. I started wheezing and I thought I was going to die, so I made him go away. Little did I know that the worst part of the course was still yet to come at Mile 25.
At Mile 25, the children started running.
The children I saw were much smaller than this, but you get the point.
Apparently there is some program where the kids run a mile a week in school or something for 25 weeks (or two miles a week, or whatever) and then they run the last 1.2 miles at the actual marathon, having them effectively “run a marathon.” Don’t get me wrong. I think that’s great. Childhood obesity is bad, exercise is good, and I love running.
But oh, how I hated those children at mile 25. I was literally dying. On the brink of death. I could see the light and I was begging Jesus not to pull me in because I really really wanted that medal. The most disheartening thing in the world is to literally be barely moving (we’re talking a shuffle at best, certainly not anything resembling a run) and have a mob of children all of a sudden take off next to you at top speed. I wanted to punch them all in the face, and I am being totally serious. I have never been that angry in my whole life.
Once they left me in their adolescent dust, I picked up the pace a little because I knew Ben was taking my picture. That’s why it looks like I’m running.
“I hate everything.”
From where this picture was taken, it was right around the corner to the finish. I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. I was choking up and in tears as I ran towards that finish line. I was exhausted, angry, and unbelievably happy. It was the best I’ve ever felt.
The only reason this race photo is not hideous is because it was taken from very very far away.
My actual finish time was 4:42:something. I was absolutely thrilled. All I had wanted was to finish, and I did that. My second goal was to finish under five hours, and I did that. Given the amount of walking I had to do at the end, I couldn’t have been happier. Or more exhausted.
The best part, of course, was the medal.
Nice to meet you. My name is Jason.
I love that medal.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember too much about the course itself. I remember at mile 22 we ran through a park with a long out and back and it was terrible. It was like a war zone out there – people bent over in the grass, cramping. Moaning. It was awful, but I think the park was pretty. Some of the neighborhoods were really beautiful, and the crowd support was so-so. I didn’t know what to expect at the time in terms of organization, the expo, etc, because I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I do remember that the half marathon split from us around Mile 7 and then it became a no man’s land. There were very few people on the course after that, and it was hard to stay motivated in the later miles. The course was unbelievably difficult but mostly very scenic. I had no idea what kind of pain a marathon would bring, but I knew as soon as I crossed the finish line that I was addicted to it.
And so, friends, that’s the story of my first marathon. I lost a toenail, had a nasty bruise on the top of my right foot, and it hurt to move every part of my body, but I survived. In fact, the KT tape worked so well that the only part of my body that DIDN’T hurt during the race was my shin splints. Go figure.
And that’s how I became a marathoner.