It was suggested that some of us “new marathoners” relate our first successful attempts at that ultimate (Jasper and Emmett excluded) racing challenge – the marathon. I imagine this request was to inspire others to “take on” this Herculean task.
I’ve often heard that a “first marathon” is a life-changing experience, similar to giving birth (“Pass!), getting married (“Oh… the horror…”), or something equally experiential, yet, hopefully, non-traumatic. In this regard, I am more fortunate than most in that I have 2 “first marathons” (creative accounting) under my belt. I offer this “inspiration” to those pondering their first attempt.
Many moons ago, when the Long Beach Marathon was in its infancy, I, too, heard the sirens beckon runners to THE RACE. Being young and foolhardy, I responded with an ambitious attempt to increase my 6 miles weekly “jog” with something more formidable. I devised a more rigorous athletic regimen. Soon, I was running 12 miles a week! Moreover, my usual long run (2-3 miles every so often) was protracted to 8-10 milers (again, every so often). A lean not-so-mean running machine! Of course, it was impossible to sustain this exhausting schedule, and I quit it after a month.
I arose that fateful morning, and made my way alone to the start (fearing failure, I avoided telling anyone I was running) to become an “official registrant.” The gun went off and we were “marathoning.” I maintained a 9-minute mile for a few miles (and walked a bit, drank water, took it easy, etc.). By mile 3 (the true distance hiding in the cobwebs of my brain), I “ran into” a colleague of mine, Jim Kelly, a former collegiate runner who decided to “pace” me. Soon I was breathless and Jim left me to “pace” other runners. In any event, I hit the wall at just 10 miles (or maybe I had reached my maximum running distance (see above)).
The course proceeded inland around Rec Park. All I remember is… walking… and walking… and walking… and walking. I remember a few beers and a bean burrito (with green sauce), as we made our way back to the beach and downtown. This was the era of the “fast” marathon where you were “really slow” if you topped 4 hours, so I was virtually by myself. Just me and the pavement… forever! I decided I had to finish… not for heroic reasons, but because my car was at the finishline. And I did. I finished THE RACE. Am I a racer if I didn’t actually race? No, I was a fraud. Was I a marathoner? I didn’t feel like one. I told no one, and no one cheered me in across the line. My only joy was that it was over and no one had stolen my car (which happened a few months earlier). I picked up the shirt, bought and ate a medium pizza and called a few friends to tell them of my 5.5 hour ordeal. No one said it was a silly thing to do, but that was still my impression. Several years passed before I responded to the “challenge” again.
My second “first marathon” was in January 2003. The last decade was not kind to me as I gained weight and suffered various aging-related ailments. About 18 months ago, I turned this around by increasing my mileage, running a few races, and joining AREC. Success breeds success and at long last, maybe I, too, could race THE BIG ONE. Don’t get me wrong; I love the Wednesday night runs at Limerick’s. But I also had to supplement by joining L.A. Leggers and running long on weekends. I attended nearly every Saturday and got to know Santa Monica and Venice quite intimately as we ran 5, 10, 15, 20 miles through these cities. We started in August, and by January, I was ready for my “second” first marathon, the Pacific Shoreline in Huntington Beach.
With Legger training and advice from Bernard and other ARECers, I had visions of qualifying for Boston, or at least “breaking 4 hours.” (I have now learned not to announce time goals.) I thought it would be a cakewalk, but I was “sore”-ly mistaken. Although I tapered for several weeks, my legs never felt refreshed. I went to the start with dead legs, sore toes (from an extended downhill a month earlier), and a touch of sciatica. To fix these problems, I removed the inserts of my new shoes, and took off at a conservative pace. Without the inserts, the shoes felt like concrete and I could hardly maintain 10-minute miles.
To ease my mind and body, I tried to watch the waves, but without my glasses, I couldn’t see anything. Soon, I was going 12 minute pace. As soon as I felt remotely comfortable, the temperature would rise and I would be back to struggling. By mile 18, I was walking slow, interspersed with a few jogs. So, at mile 21, I should have hit the wall, but I started feeling better (Maybe because I saw Frankie). This, too, passed, and 3 miles later, I felt cruddy again; my right calf was cramping. My Legger comrades finished their first marathons looked to be in pain as well. I finally finished in 4:43, as the crowd cheered us on like we were Phiddipides. Were we now “marathoners?” I felt again like merely a survivor. Maybe that’s the only way I’ll experience a marathon. At least I felt like a “success.” I controlled my muscular pain. I was civil to the lying (“You look GREAT!”) spectators. However, I know the real reason for my success – this time there were friends at the finishline.
Sunday is the Los Angeles Marathon. Even if this sciatica doesn’t abate and I can’t get rid of this cold, I’ll be toeing the line. You see, this is my third “first marathon,” unless I use it as a “training run” for my fourth “first marathon” in Catalina in two weeks. (But that’s more of a “trail” marathon, isn’t it?) Well, there’s always Boston!