In this series, I've humored you with some past races of varying distances. But there is one particular distance that sets the average runner apart from the fanatic...and that would be the marathon. When I first started running, I knew as much about the marathon as your regular couch potato. I mean, I heard the word before (as in "Brady Bunch Marathon"), and I could spell "marathon," but in conjunction with running? No way.
The first time I heard about the idea of running a marathon I was a sophmore in highschool and involved in 4 team sports (swimming, basketball, soccer, and softball). I did not much care for running; in fact, I hesitate to mention in here that I once said running was useless unless it was after a ball...on a field or court...in pursuit of a goal or basket. I did not get this concept of running for sport. This just shows how far I have come. So a coach of mine had trained to run the Chicago Marathon, and I overheard her talking about the experience with a fellow classmate who happened to be a cross country star. Apparently he had run it too. Yes, I was impressed and entertained by their stories, but not enough to make me want to do it too.
Fast forward 5 years. I'm a junior in college and all of a sudden some sort of runner. After taking two PE classes (Running 130 and Marathon Training), I've got the bug. The "running bug" that is. And I'm signed up to complete the Madison Marathon in order to pass the required 10 point quiz for Marathon Training. No kidding. I did my first marathon to pass a quiz :)
Race Name: Madison Marathon
Race Distance: 26.2 miles
Location: Madison, WI
Race Date: May 28, 2000
Since I was doing this for credit, I had to turn in (approved) training plans and participate in twice weekly runs with the class. One day a week was a lecture in which my ears were treated to phrases such as lactate threshold, VO2 Max, and wider hip situation. Another day was either a mid-distance run or a speed workout. I'll never forget some of the key components of these workouts: two fifteen minute run tests and a sixty minute run test. Basically you ran as far as you could in the allotted times. I dare you to try a sixty minute run test sometime (insert evil snicker here). Another helpful aspect of the class was the option to run long runs on the weekend with fellow classmates as well as with directions and water provided by our coach on his bike. Needless to say, I was sufficiently prepared.. at least physically.
The night before the race was spent with friends (Team Stick!). We attended the Expo for packet pickup, enjoyed a pasta dinner, and hydrated (which could seriously be a full time job). We also drove the course, which I recommend doing before any marathon if at all possible.
Race Day emotions? You name it. Luckily, my apartment was only a few blocks from the start. But a college student rarely rises before sunup, so the wake up call in the fives was still quite jarring. It was misty and threatening to rain at the start. But bumpin' music and a to-do list about 26 miles long kept me busy. Let's see... there was checking bags, using the port-o-facilities, smearing on vaseline, writing all over myself, stretching, assuring the parents I would be fine, snacking on a banana, stretching some more, sipping some water, making my way to the start. I realize now that Madison is an extremely small marathon compared to the biggies. You could actually see the start line from where you stood waiting for the gun to go off. But at that point, I was more concerned that the rain would hold off and that I'd make it through this 26 mile long "training run", as I preferred to think of it.
The run itself was kind of dreamy. I took it easy, maintaining a consistent pace throughout. I never walked once (since we had trained to sip water from a cup and eat a powergel while on the run). Here is what I remember:
*I ran alone at times
*I wore a (gasp!) cotton t-shirt over a singlet (it was colder than I thought)
*My parents videotaped parts; thus starting a "marathon" tape
*A certain recent college graduate cheered me on
*After the halfway point, my left tricep and quad started hurting
*I went through three gel packs and took water at every aid station
*At mile 23, someone held a sign reading: Your legs will forgive you....eventually.
*My friend K met me at mile 25 to run me home
*A state capitol, a college campus, an arboretum, and two lakes later, I reached the finish chute
*I ran 10:15 splits
*First half was 2:14
*Final time was 4:28:22
*I lost my first toenail.
*I damned my 3rd floor walk-up apartment to hell (no offense Spooner...)
This marathon was particularly meaningful because it was run on my "home" turf. The marathon course was basically compiled of every training run I had done in preparation. So there were no surprises. But putting all those routes together made it seem really special. Also, it was my first; you never forget your first.