Two Saturdays ago, on the 6th, I ran my first marathon, the St. George Marathon. It was an amazing experience for me. I wanted to write a little about it and some of the many lessons I learned along the way.
Last year I went to the finish line for 2011's marathon to cheer on a few people I know who were running the marathon. Watching my sister in law, Camille, cross the finish line was very motivating. It's very emotional seeing her and many others cross the finish line. It was also very inspiring to see so many people give their all to a significant achievement -- running 26.2 miles. Camille finished in about 4 hours and 45 minutes. I thought to myself that if Camille can do it, surely I can -- running a marathon is just a matter of building up endurance to run for nearly five hours, which I thought I could do. Once I put things in time perspective rather than distance perspective, it made this goal seem more achievable. I talked to my brother a little about it asking he if wanted to do it with me. He said he would, so I had a little bit of validation.
But I didn't do anything about it. Until January 2 of this year.
I wanted to get more fit so I reset my car's odometer and charted a 1 mile course -- from my house to River Road and back. I got on my shoes and jogged. I was completely winded before I even hit the half mile point, yet I pressed on. I was so out of breath and my legs hurting around the 2/3 mile mark that I hobbled and walked the rest of the way home. I was shocked that I couldn't run even 1 mile if I tried! My legs were sore for the next two weeks.
I was determined to be able to run a mile so I kept at it. I would go running in the evenings or early morning. I wasn't trying to be fast but to build endurance. But in a matter of a few weeks the 1 mile jog seemed very natural, and I didn't felt like I could run farther. I remember one Saturday I ran about 3 miles and it felt wonderful -- like I could run forever. I listened to audiobooks to keep my mind occupied during my runs. Jeffrey came with me on occasions.
Another lesson I learned was the importance of proper shoes and gradually building up your running distance. As I gained confidence, I challenged myself to an 8 mile course. It was brutal. I did it but it took me over two hours to complete. My knee hurt very badly. Turns out it wasn't good for many reasons. First, I didn't have good footwear -- the shoes I had did not support my feet at all. I also ran on the balls of my feet, which isn't good for distance running either. I also didn't run much earlier that week nor the previous week. Like many things in life, you need to slowly and patiently build up to the level you want to be. There's no shortcut to being a fast, elite runner. Your body strengthens its muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments slowly over time.
I went to the running store and bought an awesome pair of shoes that supported my gait -- the way I walk / run.
I learned that running on the balls of my feet isn't proper for distance running, and that the best form is to land with your whole foot on the ground at the same time. This lets your whole foot support your body's weight, not just a part of your foot. Also, when I was running on the balls of my feet, my calve muscles would be flexed and the impact of my body's weight on the muscle and tendons, including the ligaments in my foot, made running very hard on my body. Jamie Lords introduced me to a book called Chi Running that talks a lot about having good form while running. Leaning and posture are also important, and the idea is to run with your legs as relaxed as possible and let gravity work for you, not against you.
I signed up for the marathon at the last minute. It cost $80. My sister-in-law Camille invited me (or moreso allowed me to invite myself :) ) to run with her and her friends on our long runs on Saturday. It was fun making new friends and learning from others. I also got my social fix. I also re-learned that girls talk about very different things than guys do.
One of my most memorable Saturday runs was at the point in my running schedule where I was to do a half marathon -- the 13.1 miler. I didn't have a running partner on this run and up to this point the longest I ran was probably around 11 miles or so. I was a bit nervous with the challenge of running 13.1 miles! I left my home in the morning towards the Washington Fields, up to Washington City, and then took the bike trail along the side of the river all the way back to St. George at River Road and Riverside Drive. I then ran down River Road back towards my house, a 13.1 mile course. I was quite exhausted and planned on walking the last tenth of a mile to cool down, but when I turned the corner to where I could see my home, I saw my family outside waiting for me. They had the hose on and were ready to give me a welcome home for a job well done. It was quite emotional to see them, so I ran as fast as I could towards my finish line rather than walking. It was refreshing to get sprayed with the hose, too. And even more refreshing to kiss my lovely wife.
Todd gave me a Nike sports watch for my birthday that has a built in GPS. It helps track my running distance, pace, and a few other interesting metrics (such as calories burned). According to the watch, I burned over 3,200 calories on the Marathon alone. The watch became a wonderful running companion and helped me set goals and work towards them. When I ran with Camille, she used her iPhone's GPS and the Map My Run app to track her progress. Her GPS and my watch's GPS didn't agree, though. Hers always ended up with shorter distances than mine. We would discuss which one was more accurate during our runs but of course, the device showing the more favorable numbers (e.g. the one saying we're running faster and farther with less effort) won.
I used a website called MapMyRun to plan my running routes. You draw on a Google Map where you want to go and it measures the distance for you. It helped a lot with route planning. I enjoyed the tool because it allowed me plan runs through streets I wasn't very familiar with, so I got to see a lot of new areas I haven't been to.
One Saturday I was scheduled to run 14 miles on a long run. Long runs are difficult to do alone. A running partner makes a big difference -- having someone to talk to and share stories with takes my mind off of how badly my legs hurt, etc., and it seems to make the time go by faster. Camille wasn't able to run that Saturday so I ran with her friend, Kayla. Kayla is a very nice and friendly woman. It was awkward, however, to run with just one other woman. I'm a married man, and she's a married woman. Our conversations were perfectly fine, but it was still something I probably won't do again.
The day of the much anticipated race finally came. I couldn't sleep very well at night because I was afraid I was going to sleep in and miss the whole race. After tossing and turning all night I finally got up at 3:50 AM and got myself ready. I rode up with with the Guymons and Aaron Schimbeck who live in my ward. It was great having friends to go with. Once we got to the starting line I got in line. I was surprised to see hundreds of porta potties. I used the bathroom twice to make sure I got everything out of my system. At the starting line they had the fires, music, and the darkness of morning and the beautiful stars and moon, the gentle breeze. Then the race started at 6:45 AM. With thousands of people crowded by the starting line, it took me about 7 minutes to cross the starting line.
I made a conscience effort to run the marathon slower. My strategy was to finish gloriously, not to burn out too quickly. I conserved my energy for the first half of the race and then upped my effort a little more for the second half. I saw my wife's parents, Brent & Kathy, in Veyo near mile 7, again at snow canyon, again at mile 23ish, and again at the finish line. To my surprise and delight I saw my wife and children at mile 23 as well! I thought they were going to be at the finish line only.
I carried my own water bottle so I didn't need to stop at every aid station. I thought that gave me an advantage because I didn't need to stop. The aid stations are crowded anyway and slow people down, so it was nice to be able to zoom right past them. I also carried my Shot Blocks and took 3 shot blocks every 5 miles to keep some energy in me. Towards the end of the race I would stop at aid stations and eat a few bananas, oranges, and other goodies they would have available for us.
One thing I was afraid of was an upset stomach. However, I got lucky -- I didn't over drink or over eat during the run, for which I am grateful. Sometimes on my long runs during my training I got an upset stomach and felt yucky all day. But that didn't happen to me on race day -- I think my training and figuring out what my body needs during the run really paid off.
In my training the furthest I ran was 20 miles. During the race I remember crossing mile #20 and thinking to myself that I've now run farther than I ever have. I then realized that at my current pace I still have another whole hour left until I finish the race. Wow, this long run is VERY LONG... I can run the marathon in the time it takes me to drive from St. George to Salt Lake City.
The most difficult part of the race for me was the last 4 miles. I was exhausted. I decided I would walk a little bit to conserve some energy. I was very thirsty and drank a bit too. The worst part of the course was Diagonal Street. It's about a mile long but feels like five miles... it felt like I'd never get to the end of that road (there's about 1 mile left after you hit the end of Diagonal Street). I remember slowing down to a walk and a lady ran past me saying, "Don't give up now! You're almost there!" I thought to myself that although she's right, I need to conserve my energy to have a glorious finish. Looking back, I think my body was capable of pushing through and running rather than walking those little bits towards the end. But my mind was exhausted. Next time I'll be more prepared.
I pushed through for the last half mile. The streets are lined with people on both sides cheering us on. I saw my sister, Jai at about a tenth of a mile left to go. I then saw my wife and children in the stands at the finish line. I then sprinted as fast as I could, passing dozens of people to the finish line. The marathon was finally over, I was given my medal, and I cried a little. It's very emotional at the finish line and an overwhelming feeling of "I did it! I did it!" It was very lovely to see my family, Todd & Marti, and Emily's parents, and Camille's parents cheering me on at the finish line. My finish time was 4 hours and 28 minutes, which is close to a ten minute mile average. I was very happy with this outcome for my first marathon!
The recovery area was AWESEOME. The popsicles called "Bombs" were my favorite and I wish I had eaten one or two more. I had a slice of Great Harvest Bread, chocolate milk, gatorade, ice cream, grapes, and two Bombs. I kept my family waiting because I was enjoying the food so much. I hobbled my way out of the recovery area and reunited with my family, Camille, and Kayla. I then hobbled to the car, and hobbled my way around for the rest of the day.
I was feeling OK on Saturday but Sunday was I was really sore and exhausted. But it was sooo worth it.
I hope to run it again in the future. Perhaps I can shave a mine per mile off of my time and finish in under four hours.