I Finished my First Marathon and Learned a Valuable Life Lesson II: The Marathon

In Part I, I walked through the months of preparation for my first full marathon. In Part II, I literally walk you through the marathon itself and the simple life lesson I re-learned.

Since I was so excited about the day, I ended up going to Kiawah, a good hour drive from the house, two days before the event to get my package, that is my timing chip and race number. My wife and I arrived in plenty of time the day before the marathon to leisurely be ready. We ate the big pasta dinner, but not too much the night before. My friend Jimmy had safely arrived; I talked him into doing his first half-marathon. After four months of training, he was ready. He also relied on for his training schedule. At first he was intimidated by the long distance. However, he built his confidence with the slow mileage buildup. He was ready. I was ready. The big day had finally arrived.

We were both up good and early to eat a light breakfast and get ready. I had one equipment problem; I forgot my belt. I had lost so much weight that the pants I used would not stay up (with the drinks and items I carry) without a belt. I tried to fill the void with an undershirt. This helped moderately, but the pants staying up were still a problem.

800am finally arrived. The weather was perfect for me, 40 degrees at the start. I could wear shorts and a short sleeve t-shirt at that temperature. The high temperature only got to about 53. We heard the gun go off from far away. Of course, we were in the back with the slow joggers and the other walkers. It took us about 4 minutes to get to the starting line. I was not sure how long Jimmy and I were going to walk together. We decided we would walk the first 4 together, then play it by ear. As expected, the first mile was tedious since there was a mass of humanity. (It is stated that 4000 enter the full and the half which start at the same time. However, only about 2000 finished the “half” and 850 the “full”). Either way, it took a mile or so for the sea of humanity to spread out a bit. We finished the first mile with a clock-gun time of 17 minutes. This meant it took us 13 minutes from when we made it to the starting line.

We settled into a good routine. We consistently did 13 minute miles, sometimes a little faster, but always right at 13 minute miles. My friend Jamie runs marathons and he always gives us “over-unders”, prediction times for the runs, and so Jimmy and I made over-unders. Jimmy made his 2:55 and I made mine 5:37. These 13 minute miles would do it for him and it would put me right at it. Jimmy does not jog at all, I jog 10-20% of the whole distance, sometimes more. However, walking with Jimmy and just walking had many benefits:

  1. Walking together, we encouraged each other
  2. He kept me on a good pace while still saving enough in the tank for the second half when I would be on my own
  3. I simply enjoyed having this experience with a good friend

After 4 miles, we were still right at that 13 minute pace. We decided to stay together at least one more mile. This would be the last discussion we had about not walking the entire 13 miles together. I did have to take a “pit stop” at Mile 8. I told him to keep going at the same pace. He did- I jogged and caught up with him pretty quick.

The miles racked up- we reached Mile 13. We shook hands, he went to finish his half-marathon and I went to start my second lap. I had only one training walk with Jim- we have different schedules and live in different parts of town. So I quickly put on the I-pod and went back to my thoughts. I started to jog some, especially around the mile markers. I was putting in roughly 11-12 minute miles from 14 to 20. I would have gone faster but for the damn pants without the belt! Once I would get running at a good pace, the pants would start to fall down. I had them strapped up at some points with the undershirt, but they would go loose again. I just dealt with it and did the best I could.

Except for the damn pants, everything was going good until Mile 21. I was worried about experiencing some duress around this point, in the last 6 miles or so. Would it be a cramp or a knee? Would it be back problems or my foot problems from October? No, it turned out to be a blister on my right heel. It was a very sharp pain. I had fought up blisters before in the right heel and a large callous formed from all the walking in the last year and a half. The callous probably saved me from the injury being worse. I stopped to assess the injury. After taking off the sock and shoe, I saw that it was not bleeding, it just hurt bad. I took another minute to compose myself- what do I do now? Well, I was not going to stop, that was for damn sure. I had come too far on this day and in the last six months not to finish. After another couple of minutes, I was able to walk again, slowly, and with just a little pain. Mile 21 was by far the slowest mile, but I got through it. By the middle of Mile 22, I was able to walk with a normal technique again.

Just before the problem with the blister, I was thinking that I was hitting a mini-“wall.” I hear marathoners talk about hitting the “wall”, i.e. the start of an energy crash around Mile 20. I had forgotten about the wall since I was worried about the blister and since I had walked at a much slower pace from the middle of Mile 21 to the middle of Mile 22. Now that I was walking close to my normal pace, I was getting really tired period. However, again, I was too determined and focused to stop. Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat. Keep good technique.

I was glad to see that I was back on the bike path which represented the end of Mile 24 and just over two miles left. This, to me, was the beginning of the end. Everything with my body, including the blister, was stable, just tired. But there was no stopping me; I plugged along the bike trail and these last two miles. I “ran” across a nice woman from Cleveland. She was walking all the way with great technique and determination.

Finally, I reached the turn which led me back to the town center and the finish line. There was a man just in front of me and it warmed my heart to see his family engage him. They could not wait for the end; they embraced him with everything they had. It touched me so I slowed down for a second. Then I caught myself, I need to finish this thing myself.

I saw the finish line and I ran toward it! It was the first running I had done since Mile 23. I was ready. The damn pants fell down again! I just kept them pulled up with one arm and everything else continued to get me over the finish line. It was a clock time of 5 hours, 42 minutes and 41 seconds. If you take 4 minutes off for the “chip” time, I was just “over” my 5:37 prediction. Not bad!

My mother was there along with my wife and Jimmy, who had cleaned up and returned to see me finish. My mother saw me first. She gave me the biggest bear hug she ever gave me. “I am so proud of you,” she said as we both started crying. Then I found Jimmy and Julie. I high-fived Jimmy and gave Julie a very long embrace as well and started crying some more. It meant so much to have them all there.

Going back to the title of this article, what was the life lesson? It is very simple. You-I can do anything your heart desires as long as you work your butt off to do it. There would have been no marathon medal and a life time of memories and staying that thin without the 6 months that led up to it. Very simply, you have to have a goal and be willing to do whatever it takes to get it done.

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  1. PLease read my most recent article on why I keep walking.

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