Fall is approaching and runners all over the world are in high gear training for upcoming marathons. For some it will be their first and for others it may be their 51st, or 101st. No matter the number, completing a marathon is a uniquely wonderful experience that only fellow marathon alumni can understand and appreciate. But nothing, I mean nothing can top that feeling you experience after crossing your very first marathon finish line.
Mine was NYC '97. I had been running since 1984, but had never done anything longer than a 15K. I'm not sure what sparked my interest to delve into the world of endurance running, but 1997 was the start of my love of the long run. Fourteen years ago, doesn't sound that long ago (my 20-year-old son just reminded me that he was only 6 at the time...guess "long time" is relative, huh?), but back then the Internet or the World Wide Web (as it was then called) really wasn't the first venue for knowledge. Believe it or not (you young whipper-snappers), I actually drove to the local books store (yep back then Barnes & Nobles weren't on ever street corner nor Starbucks....I know...how heathen!) and found a book on race training. I think there were a total of 4 running books in the store. One happened to be Hal Hidgon's How to Train: The Best Programs, Workouts, and Schedules for Runners of All Ages. It was early '97 so I had a few months before I'd actually start training, so I purchased the other three books at the book store too--Jogging by Bill Bowerman, The Complete Book of Running by James Fixx, and This Running Life by George Sheehan....quite the classic collection.
With really no clue on what I was doing, I began on this new journey into the world of long-distance running. Not sure how I survived the cotton shirts and scrunchy socks during the summer training. I did discover the WrightSock about this time and luckily avoided major blister issues. Chaffing...now that was another story (I'll spare you the details). Hydration? LOL! Yep, I think I got some water in before, during and after...maybe. There wasn't anything like GU back then. Somehow I made it. Somehow I prevailed and actually completed that training.
Now keep in mind that the biggest race I'd ever run, probably had a couple hundred people in it. My mind could not even comprehend the fact that I'd be running with close to 30,000 other runners. I made the trek to NYC with no major complications and before I knew it I was hopping on a bus in Manhattan headed to Staten Island for the start of the race. As we got closer to the military base where we'd be camping out until the start, I was amazed at the sea of buses pulling into the area. Thousands of runners spilling out each with a look of awe, amazement, bewilderment, and fright! There were people from all walks of life, all parts of the world, all ages, and shapes and sizes. Many were donning trash bags which I thought to be extremely odd until I realized it was for warmth, not because they were homeless.
I was entering this compound of characters by myself and I was a bit overwhelmed. I had traveled so far by myself, the family back at home not quite understanding what had gotten into Dad, waiting for the call that I had finished. Surveying the grounds, it kind of looked like a refugee camp for wayward runners. There were groups huddled trying to keep warm, others were down by a big stage doing aerobics led by a group of ultra perky ladies in leotards, some runners were even wearing costumes from superheros to cartoon characters. There was even an Elvis or two.
This was oddly reassuring. Hmm, if these characters can do this, I certainly can. Then I heard someone clearing his throat at a mike saying, "Testing. 1-2-3. Testing." I turned around to another stage and saw an MC type person getting ready to introduce a group a people. Turned out he was introducing the oldest runner running in the race that day. He was 95 and he was running with his son (in his 70s) and his grandson (in his 40s). Yet another reassurance....If this 95-year-old can run this, surely I can too.
For what seemed like an eternity I milled around absorbing all the sights until it was time to get in the appropriate starting corral. At the corrals, I noticed these huge construction dumpsters and wondered what they were for. Soon the answer was revealed. That MC guy got on the mike again and announced that the race would start in 5-minutes. As soon as he finished, clothes began to fly off. Runners were hurling their extra "keep-me-warm-till-the-start-clothes" into the air toward the huge dumpsters. Evidently the clothes were later given out to local shelters. Caught up in the flying clothing, I almost missed the starting gun. But didn't really matter. Took us 6-minutes just to cross the starting line. (No timing chips back then. Only a gun time. So you had to keep track yourself at how long it took you to actually get to the starting line after the gun sounded.)
All was going well until about mile 21 or 22 in Harlem when the bottom fell out. Nowhere else in the entire glorious state of New York did it ran that day, but in Manhattan. And boy did it rain. About 1-inch fell in about 15 minutes. It rained so hard that I couldn't see the runners around me. But I plodded forward, each foot now about 5lbs heavier soaked with rain water. I kept telling myself that that 95-year-old was out there doing the same thing, so I could do it too. Adding insult to injury, once the rain stopped, I was faced with the winding hills of Central Park. Something happened though. I actually picked up the pace and flew across the finish line (probably more like a speedy trot, but I remember it as blistering speed). Speaking of blistering, all that rain water caused major blisters on the ole tootsies and even one blackened toenail which even today ain't quite right....a nice memento of that first marathon.
Sometime after crossing that finish line, having that first marathon finisher's medal placed over my head, and someone wrapping that warm silver finisher's blanket around me I realized I was crying. Actually it was more like balling. I'm man enough to admit it. All that adrenaline in your system, all those hormones raging in your body, and then all the emotion of crossing that first finish line is enough to overwhelm even the toughest Navy seal. There I was, wrapped in sliver, caked in salt, sore as hell, dehydrated, and balling like a baby and the happiest man alive.
I've run 10 more marathons since that chilly November day in 1997 and each has been memorable for various reasons, but none will ever top that first marathon. I learned that day that I'm a strong individual...mentally and physically. I also learned that anything is possible if you have enough determination.
Tell me about your first marathon experience.
Share what your first marathon experience meant to you. What did it teach you? What did you learn about yourself? How has it affected your life since? Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name and if possible include a picture of yourself (doesn't have to be from the race). Be sure to put "First Marathon" in the subject line of the email. Each story will be featured on the blog and each submitter will receive a RunnerDude's Fitness sports water bottle. I can't wait to read about your experiences!