It all comes from the story of Pheidippides, the man who supposedly ran 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon. And, as the story goes, immediately after telling of victory, he promptly died.
So I think at least some of the lore of the marathon is that fact that the guy who it's named after died. I think that makes us seem dangerous--dare devils, really.
Why I ran a marathon
For me, the marathon represented the pinnacle of physical fitness. It was the top trophy, an indication that you had indeed made it as a runner. Many people run, but not everybody runs marathons.
I put the marathon on a pedestal and revered the distance. I remember telling my parents when I started running that I would never run a marathon--ever, ever, ever. I didn't ever think that I could do it. That distance is ridiculous and there's no need for me to do it.
And then, there was a need. It crept up in me after my shoulder injury, and while still right arm in a sling, I signed up for the New Orleans Marathon in February 2008.
What attracted me to it? It was there and I didn't know if I could do it. And I had to find out.
Mentally approaching the marathon
It's funny. When you first start training, especially for your first marathon, you have this time out there in your head and you're convinced that you won't be happy unless you make that time. Otherwise, you'd be a failure.
I thought that, too. I looked at my typical runs in the 8:00/8:15 per mile range and figured I could finish in 4 hours, maybe 4:15 if I had to slow down. So that was going to be my goal and I wasn't going to be happy if I didn't get it.
Days before the marathon, I started to get really nervous. I knew I could do it, as I had done the training (or at least, my form of training). But I don't think I knew how to calm myself down before the race. That is, until I attended a first time runners meeting when I was down in New Orleans.
The speaker, a doctor/runner from Florida who didn't look at all like a runner, talked about the pre-race jitters. Yeah, got it. And that you shouldn't try anything new on race day. Duh.
But then he said something that really, really resonated with me. The marathon is your celebration for the training that you've done. You've worked hard and now it's time to celebrate. So enjoy the run. Look at the scenery. Talk to people. But, most of all, enjoy it, because this is your day to celebrate.
That was my wake-up call.
Advice for first timers
I learned a lot about the marathon that weekend. Though I discussed it in my post-race report, there are a couple of points I want to mention because they would have made a huge difference.
- Don't forget to take gels, especially as it gets near the end of the race. I had an electrolyte imbalance after I finished and couldn't remember how to tie my shoes.
- While destination marathons are great, I really, really missed having family and friends there to cheer me on. I only got to see my dad twice during the race but I looked forward like crazing to seeing him each time. If I had friends and family there, that would be a big motivator.
- Eat a protein-heavy meal within an hour after finishing. I had almonds and a couple Clif Bars immediately at the finish line and I think that helped my recovery.
- While some races bar headphones (and technically the New Orleans Marathon did too), I should have worn them anyway. While it was nice to hear the sounds of the race, I really, really missed my music because I ran the entire race alone.
- Though there are a ton of training plans out there, I really didn't use one and I was fine. I just made sure to do a 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 mile run in consecutive weekends that finished 2 weeks before the marathon. I'm just not that disciplined a runner to follow a plan, but a lot of people are.
Will I run another one?
Well, after the marathon, I had no inclination to run another one. Then, I decided that an ultramarathon was in the cards for me and I did that last October.
And there's a marathon in September in Allentown, PA, which is where I lived for the last 7 years before moving up to New Hampshire. That means that I'd have access to friends and family (only an hour away from Allentown). And Bart Yasso, one of my personal heroes, is the race director. How cool is that?
I'm still not sure but if I'd run another one, that marathon sounds like it'd be a good one.