My first marathon

I did it. 5 months of training. 5 hours to run. But I did it. I ran a marathon.Here’s how it went …

For those of us who are not naturally strong or athletic, the object of a first time marathon is simply completing it. There’s nothing wrong with having a specific time goal – but you have to be humble about it. I discovered this as I ran that last 1:45 minutes through the most punishing pain I’d ever experienced. At that point, I’d long made peace with my original 4:30 goal (perfectly reasonable for training runs that didn’t go past 32k).

The marathon begins at 32K

Most people have heard of “the wall.” This is the physiological point where the muscles begin to run out of glycogen. For most humans, this occurs around 32K, or mile 20. Heard of Boston Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill? It’s heartbreaking because it comes at mile 20 (AKA the wall). For me, I started feeling the heart break around 29K, as I watched other runners on their way to the finish.

Some of them chatted casually, while others powered forward. They were not so much running at this point but shuffling with staccato movements. Heads slumped to one side. Faces contorted, grimacing. Zombies! My empathy was very real and physical. I felt a little like they looked. Though I hoped I wasn’t going to turn into a running zombie when I got to the place they were at. After about 20 or so minutes of watching them, I realised it was best to look to the calm waters of Lake Ontario. Anything but those pained faces to my right.

Will I finish? … the inner battle begins

I didn’t have the answer at 32K. In fact, I was starting to contemplate the very real possibility that I might become a DNF (Did Not Finish). The pain was really excruciating. I had been running for 4 hours and I still had another 10K to go. I normally run 10K in an hour. I knew the last 10 would take a lot more than that.

And then I entered that place that everybody talks about. The mental and physical battleground you go to in order to visualise finishing. I had to connect with some inner strength I wasn’t sure I had. I needed to go down there and find it. It really was like Luke Skywalker in the cave, fighting Darth Vader only to discover his own face staring back at him from beneath the mask.

The CN tower, a visual reference throughout the race, seemed so far away. I was at High Park and Lakeshore and I had to, somehow, get myself to University and then up University and around Queen’s Park. I guess I became an automaton. I decided I would continue running until I literally seized up. If that happened, then I would stop. As I continued to run, and pass the landmarks along the way, I began to feel energized. I started feeling excited, actually. When I got close to Bathurst St., the 5K mark, I knew I would complete this marathon – still running. I think I experienced the so-called runner’s high along this last 5K.This surge of energy, joy and conviction took over any thoughts of doubt.

The last 2K up University was brutal – though I had friends and family cheering me on. Those familiar faces were like a shot of adrenaline. I almost cried.

mel_sprint.jpg

When I rounded the finish, I sprinted. My mother, my man and my marathon clinic instructor were all there cheering me on. I finished in 5 hours and 3 minutes but I finished strong. It was training, comradery and inner strength that got me there.

Next time you meet somebody who has just ran a marathon, don’t ask them about their time. Ask them: “did you finish strong?” What’s inside us at the end, that’s the real accomplishment.

Will I do it again? You bet. And again and again and again … until I qualify for Boston (given my current time, that could take many years). In the meantime, I have my heart set on my (original) 4:30 – or less – goal for next spring’s Mississauga Marathon. And why not?

UPDATED: Read Dorian Nicholson’s Toronto Observer article about my marathon experience
(caveat: Boston is way more than a few years away, but it’s a motivation for sure).

Further reading/viewing: Toronto Marathon 2007 – photos – John Bonnar