It has been over a year since I ran my first marathon and the memories are still so fresh in my mind. Indeed, the first marathon experience is always so special. Therefore, I want to pen down my experience even though it was a year back. Better late than never, right? Moreover I’m on a vacation this week and no better time than this to put my thoughts together.
Running has always been a part of me. Like most kids of my generation, I too had the pleasure of growing up playing lot of outdoor sports related to running. Fortunately, I never got too away from running even though I had almost a decade of dry patch due to other commitments and priorities. It was back in 2012 when I came out of the hibernation and started running again and this time with a clear goal of tracking my miles. Thanks to my colleague and friend Dan La Bud who suggested that if I wanted to seriously pursue running, then I should consider setting up a specific goal and work towards it. He emphasized the importance of tracking miles and the motivation that comes along with it. I was blown away with the idea and thus came up with the 500 mile challenge (conquer 500). What started then is still going uninterrupted for 4th consecutive year. I was so self-motivated that I didn’t need any race to sign up to keep my running switch on! It’s 2200 miles so far since I started tracking in 2012. 500 miles every year in 2012, 13 & 14. This year I revised my goal to 750 miles and have completed 700 till date.
Why not a marathon – If you asked anyone for help climbing out of a motivational slump, it’s likely that the piece of advice would be to sign up for a race. It’s a smart tactic; putting an event on your calendar can give your running a sense of purpose; a goal to work towards. As I always enjoyed running, I didn’t need the carrot incentive to run. I looked forward for the weekends to go out and get some big runs. I enjoyed the feel of running, the preparedness involved prior to the run and of course the joy of running in new trails and roads with varying distances and paces. The joy of running is a big motivation to keep me going. I never looked at marathon as a tool to keep me active (run). Some signup for marathons to keep their running switch on for at least 7-8 months in a year by training for the event. My 500 mile goal is so evenly distributed and keeps me active round the year. So I somehow didn’t see a solid reason to do a marathon; also, it was a little struggle to fit in the structured training plan into over scheduled life or the logistics or the race-entry fees. It’s like something always hanging on my head to get it done. Dan La Bud who has been running for last 15 years with putting 2000 miles every year had given up the idea of signing up for marathons. His reasons were;
- a) Focusing on time and speed turned his running into a completely different experience which he didn’t enjoy.
- b) Running began as a way for him to relieve stress and get outdoors. With not able to train on certain scheduled days when he had signed up for marathon caused him unnecessary stress. His point of view is that Running is to de-stress and not able to run should not be a reason for the stress. Good point! My wife too never likes to track her miles as it causes her unnecessary stress to accomplish. She would love to run and likes to get her miles (whatever she can) but just doesn’t track. Most probably she would end up running more than me in a month. But I myself liked the idea of tracking miles, setting up goals, metrics around running etc. So working towards a specific goal in a short time frame was never an issue. So I had not completely ruled out the idea of doing marathons.
- c) Dan’s approach was running is an opportunity for him to have fun, tackle difficult terrains, socialize with running buddies, and exploring new trails. Signing up for races didn’t really provided him that opportunity. I tend to agree with him. When you are focused towards a specific goal in a short time frame of 3-4 months, I guess it may be challenging to fit in unscheduled things.
With all these thoughts, marathon was never in my radar till mid-2014.I’m that kind of a person who likes challenges, loves to compete, enjoy running in the crowd, set personal records (in scheduled events) etc. If that’s the case just running in silo wouldn’t really do justice to me. I then thought about adding couple of marathons to my existing schedule I didn’t want the training schedule to take away my flexibility of running for joy (whenever and whatever distances I wanted to run). Again, I didn’t want marathon to be an instrument to keep my running switch on. Below are some thoughts on my reasons to do a marathon;
- Experience the feel of marathon running in different courses alongside fellow runners. This would potentially bring the best in me and help me improve my running.
- Networking; meet people of similar interests and passion. This helps to plan group training etc.
- To bring more discipline to my running schedule. Idea was to build a good project plan to execute my schedule.
- Bring more structure to my training.
- Marathon becoming an instrument (reason) to travel to new destinations.
- Be more competitive.
- Obtain bragging rights for life with all the medals etc.
- Targeting 25 -30 different courses of marathons before I retire.
With all these thoughts solidifying, I couldn’t wait to get my first marathon done that year (2011) itself. It was during Aug/Sep month and some of my friends were talking about the Chicago marathon. You won’t believe if I tell you that I was inquiring about doing half Marathon in Chicago!! What I mean to say here is that I was so ignorant and didn’t know that Chicago was just full marathon!! You wouldn’t expect it from someone who has lived in Chicago for last 5 years and who considers himself a runner. That was very fundamental. But to my defense its typical me. If something is not in my radar, I wouldn’t worry about gathering information on that. Less things to process in my little brain :). I didn’t even know that the registration had already closed in Feb and its 26.2 mi only As a matter of fact I had never ran beyond 13.1 miles and of course 26.2 was beyond my imagination. Well, So much I had heard about marathons I was determined to do at least one for sure. Actually I should say I was desperate to do one that year (2014) itself and if possible a big one like Chicago because I was not sure if I was going to be in Chicago or not the following year. I was looking for possible ways to get into the race. However the concern still remained that I had never trained for a full marathon. Rather than worrying too much now, I thought I’ll cross the bridge when I come to it.
How many times has it happened to you that you were looking for something and when that comes, you are indecisive!! I was exactly going through the same.I had what I need to run but was not sure if I wanted it! Now the search was over but had boiled down to my ability to do. Neither physically nor mentally was I ready to do. The farthest I had run was 13.1 miles and now had to run double the distance. I asked for a day to think through about this and went to bed but couldn’t get sleep as the lingering decision was just not letting me sleep. I discussed with my wife, mom and sisters and they all seemed very confident of my ability to do. They knew how passionate runner I was and so they just wanted me to go experience the feeling and have fun! I was still not convinced as the serious impediment was my readiness. I just didn’t want to go and be a failure in my maiden marathon. Finally after lot of internal deliberations I gave my go ahead to participate.However I knew that I had committed with unresolved thoughts. Now that the decision was made there was no looking back. I called some fellow marathon runners to get inputs on diet, routes, Things to carry, and all possible information. I had made the decision on Oct6th for the oct12th marathon I am not kidding, I had the feeling of butterflies in the stomach with 6 days to go! I was told that it is common with experienced marathoners too and here I’m doing my first marathon, that too unprepared. Nervousness naturally!
I tried to do small 3-4 mile runs during the week and guess it was due to nervousness, I was feeling that one or the other body part was aching more than ever before :). My training was a bit raw with less or no strategy involved; no analysis of my comfort pace and scheduled water breaks etc.. I just knew that I could run my half in 2.05 hrs (my PB) and couldn’t even extrapolate my finish time for the Full marathon from that as I was not sure how my body would react after 13.1 miles. With all these unknowns the week flew through and the day to go to expo came. I had heard about it so much but never had experienced. It was my first time to a marathon expo and it certainly was overwhelming to see the enthusiastic crowd in that big number. None in the expo seemed to have any kind of nervousness and looked relaxed. They were taking pictures, meeting friends, shopping etc. I talked to a few strangers and when I told them that this was my first marathon, their piece of advice was to go slow by a min or two from my regular pace. I was told the same by my friends also and so figured out that it must be something very critical. Other funny thing is, even though I had no clue of my pace, I registered at the Nike Pace team for an ambitious 4.30 finish time 🙂 I collected my bib, took some pictures, talked to some experts and finally headed back home at 5pm. It was close to 7pm by the time I reached home. Definitely it was not a good idea to spend that long day outside just a day before the race. I still had some things to pick up for the race. It was half past mid night by the time I called it a day.
Woke up at four in the morning. My friend Prakash picked me up and by the time we parked the car and walked to the venue it was around 6:30am. Well in time. Again, I was blown away seeing the ocean of people. The enthusiasm of the fellow runners certainly lifted my spirits. I was now warmed up and ready to go. My goal was to complete 13.1 mi, what I was trained for and then figure out the strategy for the remaining distance. A big boost was that my family was expecting me at the half way point. There was music all over the place. As someone said, it was indeed a carnival. So fun to watch millions of people across the streets of the 29 neighborhoods cheering you. I guess I was in Coral J and our turn finally came after a long wait. It was 8.22am when I took off. Thanks to Prakash for setting the pace without which I’m sure I would have gone too fast early in the race causing potential problems later. We ran 8 miles comfortably chatting throughout. The distance breezed through in no time. Unfortunately I lost Prakash in 8 Mile mark during water break. At least by now, my confidence level had shot up and had some better sense of the pace to maintain. My next goal was 13.1 miles where I would be meeting my family. So nice of them to come to cheer me especially my 5 month pregnant wife, my aged mother and my little girl. These are indeed my big supporters.
I was now enjoying my run and completed 15k in 1.35, 20k in 2.07. I was so glad to see my family just before the half way point. I had given them a heads up on my expected arrival time so they could spot me. Spent good 2-3 mins gulping half banana and some fluids. I had planned to change my shoes at half way point if in case I had issues with my new Brooks. Didn’t see the need of it so got going. Completed half in 2.17 at a healthy pace of 10.45 mins/mile. The break at half way point helped me and I was able to complete the 25k mark in 2.41. A gain of 12 sec/mile. I had even forgotten by now that I had not run this distance before at all. The crowd support definitely helped. I wasn’t even listening to the music as I was enjoying the crowd support and reading their creative placards. I completed 30k in 3.16 and 35k in 3.58. This distance between 30 and 35k was the tough one as I got cramps repeatedly. First time during the race I got a feeling of not being able to complete the race. Little stretches and break helped me to overcome that and I was able to slowly jog now. My pace at the end of 35k had gone down to 10.88/mile. I completed 40K in 4.37 hrs. I was exhausted by then. The last 2.195 was the hard enough. My legs were totally refusing to move. It took 15 mins. Finally completed the race in 4:52:57. I was tracking in Nike plus on my phone and the battery went dead. I lost sense of my time after 30k. I was just running at the pace comfortable to my body. So even though if I had any device to track, not sure how that would have been helpful. Probably I could have gone little slower between 20K and 30K. Whatever I got to know about my finish time was from one of the officials. Even though I paced to 4.30 knowing that it was not possible, I managed to do it under 5 hours. Not bad for a first marathon. I was happy to see my family after the race that I even forgot to do necessary stretches. Struggled with my walk of course. Came back home and ate nice home-made food and slept cherishing my eventful day. One year passed but the memories are still so fresh. I’m so glad Chicago marathon happened to be my first marathon. A day to remember for sure. 26.2 miles was achievable but 26.3 miles would have been crazy!
I dedicate my first Marathon medal to my mother for all the courage, determination and physical strength she has given me over the years.
What sprouted just a week before the Chicago Marathon turned out be one memorable experience!! A first marathon, that too a full (26.2 mi) and to go to it without proper training was indeed a risk. With lot of deliberations the challenge was well taken and executed in 4 Hr :52 Mins :57 Sec (11min/mi).
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- Great experience in Chicago marathon. Excited to do more marathons globally.
- While you inevitably try to pace with others in marathon, it is important to remember that you are always competing against yourself.
- Even though I continue to sign up for a marathons, I would like to follow my own schedule and build up my own distance.
- Planning is of course important in everything we do. However sometimes it’s fine to go ahead and take some ad-hoc decisions/ chances even if you know that you are not fully ready for it. As long as you have the will power to do it, you can certainly accomplish it.
- You have nothing to lose in your first attempt. Whatever the outcome is, look at it as a Thus the appetite for risk should be high. Always remember expectations are high from a seasoned player than a newbie. Make the best use of that tag and perform.
- Engage your family members in your activities. It builds their interest in your activities and so they would be able to appreciate your efforts and support efficiently.
- Build network, socialize, and do group running / events.
- Where do I go from here; Marathons, Ultra marathon (50K, 50mi, 100K).