I remember like it was yesterday my first marathon.
My old college roommate, Jim from Huntington Beach in southern California, was visiting me in Napa for the holidays and he asked me if I wanted to train and run a marathon. In college I was more the athlete being a varsity wrestler and soccer player. He was a total couch potato.
So, startled, I asked him how far a marathon was, and he replied, “It’s 26.2 miles”. I remember responding “Why the hell would anyone want to run that distance? Are you crazy?”. He laughed and responded that it was a life-changing experience.
Well, after a few cocktails and him convincing me that I could do it, as an extra bonus, we decided to run overseas and signed up to run the Dublin marathon in Ireland. Amazing how a few drinks can inflate your confidence!
The marathon being the following October, I had a solid 9 months to train. Most marathon training programs are between 3-4 months, so I had more than enough time.
Jim became my coach and personal trainer. I started slowly and ran my first mile. I was tired and out of breath. Not really being a runner nor knowing what I was doing, I simply ran down the street a half mile in my gated enclosed community and ran back.
That half mile stretch and back became my training street for my entire 9 month marathon training!
Back and forth and back and forth.
Each month I would add a few miles and after about 3 months I was up to 12-13 miles or the half marathon distance. But as the spring approached and Napa Valley is known for getting quite hot, I started to falter in my training and got extremely tired.
I could not get past the distance.
I spoke with Jim about this on the phone one day and we went through a litany of factors from shoes, my gait to weather conditions.
Finally, he asked how much water was I drinking and I said “water? I need to drink water?”. Jim almost died from laughter and replied “You idiot! You have to hydrate or you will die!”
I had no idea. What a novice I was. Sure enough, when I started to regularly hydrate with both water and Gatorade, I started to increase my distance.
As the months passed and I trained during the summer, I added weight training. I would go to the gym three times a week. This training was very helpful to me.
I also started to add a little hill repeats and speed work. I had this mantra that I repeated over and over again when I became tired. I would say to myself “Just one foot in front of the other”. I bet I repeated that phrase a million times.
As I approached the distance of 20 miles, it was very hard, but I felt stronger and stronger. I was able to get my standard 3-4 long distance runs in and even ran a 24 miler. In marathon training, you never run the full 26 miles. There is no need to. The crowds and adrenaline pull you to the finish line.
Finally, the big day approached and we flew to Ireland. I actually stopped in New York for a few days to break up the long flight and see friends.
However, I soon caught the Air Lingus plane to Dublin and met up with Jim 2 days before the race to rest and get over a slight jetlag.
The day before the race we went to the expo to get our race bibs and tour the Expo. We then did a tour of the Guinness Brewery which was fantastic and had a free pint in the bar on top of the brewery. You could see all of Dublin from up there.
Race morning arrived and I had a few jitters. I got up and cautiously put on my race attire and shoes; ate some breakfast and made my way over to the race start with Jim.
There were a lot of runners and I had a million thoughts going though my head, mostly of doubt and if I would be able to finish. Jim, being the clown he was, decided to wear a chicken hat. I still remember a little girl in a thick Irish accent telling her mom “Look Mommy, that man has a chicken on his head”.
It was a bit chilly and like most days in Ireland….raining off and on.
But then it started.
I spoke with Jim the first 4-5 miles but because I was a bit faster than him, he dropped behind and I fell into my own pace.
As I ran through the streets of Dublin and the surroundings, I saw many people cheering us on and quite a few bars. They said that any runner who stopped in the bars would get free beer. I thought to myself “Damn, I should have just signed up for the race, got my bib and just spent the whole day drinking for free.”
As I approached the 20 mile mark, I felt a little tired but soon passed the 22, 23 and 24 mile mark. There were a few hills at the end but nothing drastic. As I saw the finish line, I remember getting very excited and thinking to myself “I’m actually going to do this and finish a marathon!”.
I finished in 4 hours, 3 minutes something. I was overwhelmed with joy.
I did it!
Jim came in over 5 hours which as I soon got to know was typical of him. He wasn’t very fast but had already completed over 50 marathons. He asked me what my time was and I told him. He responded “Damn! You almost did a sub 4.”
I had no idea what that meant. He said that only 20% of the runners come in under 4 hours and only 6% come in under three. I would soon realize what that meant.
We celebrated that day after we went back to the hotel, showered and got into some dry clothes by visiting a few traditional Irish pubs. It was quite fun.
When we got back to the hotel, Jim surprised me with a trophy of a little slouched running man that he gives to anyone who runs his first marathon. I was thrilled.
My 2nd marathon was Chicago the following year where I took over 10 minutes off of my time and my 3rd marathon was three weeks after in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (my home town) where I took another two minutes off. That is when I became addicted and became a marathon runner.
I would soon then go on to run many more marathons with Jim around the country. Now I have over 40 under my belt and Jim has well over 75. I can honestly say that it took over 25 marathons before I called myself a true marathoner and understood the distance.
I now consider myself a marathon runner.