How I Finished My First Marathon

Shelley's DiaryIt’s been about a week since the California International Marathon, and it’s still positively surreal to me. I actually ran a marathon!

And I finished!

One year ago, this wasn’t even something I was considering. I was planning my 2017 race schedule, including at least 3-4 half marathons, but a marathon was not even a glimmer of a thought.

Nowhere in the plan. At all.

And now, I am a marathoner.

How did that happen?

Well, I had great coaching (thank you, EFAST!) awesome support, and a race plan. In retrospect, I believe there were at least five things that helped me finish my first marathon:

Keeping it conservative

The first concern was that I would go out too fast, especially since the first few miles of CIM go slightly down hill. My coach had advised keeping the pace at about 12:40 for those first few miles. My friend Sarah and I currently run about the same pace. We agreed to stay together, at least at the beginning, and keep each other in check.

Running with friends
Sarah and me at the start of the California International Marathon

And we did keep an eye on each other. It was so tempting to run faster; our adrenaline was pumping, we were excited, it was downhill and other runners were speeding past us. “Let them go,” we reminded each other. “Save the energy for later in the race when we need it.”

We took the uphills slowly, too, walking even some of the easier ones just to be sure to save our energy for later.

Looking back at the splits we overcompensated a bit, with just over 13 minute miles for the first few. But it really did pay off in the last few miles.

Counting steps

I followed the same strategy as in my 20-mile run, which was to slow down and walk x-number of steps at each mile marker, no matter what. Sarah and I took turns choosing the number. 51 for my age. 27 for hers. 66, 48, 42, 39…at the completion of every mile we walked. It gave us a kind of rhythm, something to look forward to and think about as the distance went on.

Following the nutrition plan

My coach suggested I take nutrition every half hour.  I’d learned through training that a Clif Shot Blok every 30 minutes worked for me, along with drinking nuun. Since they provided both nuun and water at each aid station (and there were many), I kept only water in my handheld. We stopped at every aid station and I had a sip of nuun.

This all worked very well until I think it caught up with me around mile 23, but more about that in a bit (not too much, I promise!)

Keeping it positive

Staying positive was very easy to do with this race. The spectator support was awesome. All the way. Yep, all 26.2 miles, there were neighbors and family members and friends, cheering us on. The locals seem to make a celebration out of it, cheering us on from lawn chairs in their yards, standing on the corners with their cowbells and bullhorns and posters. Kids reaching their hands out, sharing their energy through high fives. Some were in costume, some were in pajamas and robes, some offered fresh fruits, red vines, and home-baked brownies. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Their signs were clever. So it was easy to smile and wave and thank them for their support. I drank it up like a lemon-lime nuun!

Yes, there were moments of doubt and fear, pain and trepidation. Worrying about the proverbial “wall”, as neither of us had been farther than 20 miles; concern about the fact that another 10K would follow. But we each had mantras we could repeat to ourselves (and to one another). “Just xx miles…we’ve run that far before, no problem. We’ve got this. We’re running really smart, really strong.” And finally, “we’re gonna do this!”

My personal mantras included “looking strong” and “you’ve come a long way, baby!”

Sarah said she had doubts as to whether she would finish. I didn’t allow doubt to enter my head. At one point I may have entertained the “one and done” notion, but as I looked around me at the support, and realized how good I felt about what I was doing (even if I didn’t feel good, physically, at the moment), even that thought fluttered away.

I felt strong. I felt like I could do anything.

Running with friends

I trained with friends, to be sure. And I thought about them often along the way…those I knew who were ahead of me, those who were behind, and those who had been unable to run.

And of course I ran with Sarah. As stated earlier, we had planned to start out together and help keep each other from going out too fast.

Throughout the race, there were plenty of times Sarah could have broken away and she didn’t. Rarely were we more than 100 meters apart.

We did the walking thing every mile marker; or, instead, we stopped to stretch. But we did it all together.

As we approached mile 22, I think, Sarah told me she wasn’t going to walk anymore, as she feared she was losing momentum when she did. So she kept running and I did my steps (51, I think).

Then shortly after the 23 mark, approaching an aid station, all those Clif Bloks  necessitated a pit stop. I knew I was going to be pushing the 6-hour time, but I wanted to feel good crossing the finish line so this stop was necessary.

I knew I would be a couple of minutes, so I encouraged Sarah to keep going. She headed for the aid station while I headed for the outhouse.

As I stepped out of the john, I first noticed my water bottle was not where I left it just outside the door. As I started to curse and look around for help, my eyes met Sarah’s. She had waited for me! “We started together,” she said, “we’re going to finish together.” I almost cried. It meant so much to me that as anxious as I knew she was to have this over with, she waited for me.

She even stuck close by when my Fitbit died, and I fumbled to recharge it while simultaneously connecting my wired ear buds to my phone so I could still have my music in the last miles.

What a great friend.

And speaking of friends, we were surprised as we entered the last mile and our friend K appeared. She, along with another friend who was following us online, had been concerned when we were longer than our goal time. I won’t call K by name, since I now realize that what she did is considered “illegal”. But she ran alongside us, pointing out the landmarks to the finish line and encouraging us along the way. She pointed out my coach, who was on the sidelines encouraging us with her bright smile and with a glittery sign for each of us bearing our names. Then K pointed us into the finishing chute and called out “congratulations, you’re marathoners!” as we closed the gap to the finish.

Running With Friends
Me and Sarah at the finish!
Crossing Over

And Sarah & I crossed over together.

And we became marathoners.

It was awesome. Friends are the absolute best.

We hugged. We collected our medals. I may have cried. (it may have looked like I was hyperventilating and I may have scared a volunteer, but it was all good).

And several days later, it is just now sinking in.

I ran a marathon.

I can do anything!

I'm a marathoner! I can do anything!

Author: Shelley English

Shelley is a wife, mom and executive assistant who loves to spend the rest of her time running and writing.

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