My First Marathon Experience

Training for my First Marathon

When I started training for my first marathon in January of 2003, I had no clue what I was doing.

I had never been athletic and had no idea what running a marathon was all about. I did not realize that most people who start from square one (A.K.A the couch) spend at least six month training for their first marathon.

Training and Tracking

I “trained” for about four months before my first marathon. I didn’t follow a program or plan. My friends with marathon experience helped me, but I made a lot of the mistakes.

I kept track of my training over the years but between computer upgrades at work, system crashes at home and changing jobs, the spread sheets got lost. At the time the information did not seem that important, and in the greater scheme of things it isn’t that important.

When you are training for a race it is important to keep track of your training. It is also a good idea to track your progress over time. I would advise printing all spreadsheets and starting a running folder at home.

So I’m trying to recall what I did from memory. As the years go by, more seems to get lost than gets retained. I recall running three days a week at work, more or less. Sometimes I’d run with the guys, and as I learned the routes, by myself.

We had routes than ran approximately 3, 5 and 7 miles. I ran the 3 and 5 mile routes most of the time. A few times I went out on the 7 mile loop as my long run. My weekly total probably never exceeded 20 miles, and I thought I was doing pretty good. The driveway of our office parking lot was up a steep hill so we started our run on an uphill, which was not fun. All of the routes had some hills which probably kept me from killing myself running my first marathon.

My first Half-Marathon

My running buddy, Eric, suggested that we run the Boston’s Run to Remember Half Marathon. He said a lot of runners used this race as a way to gauge how well their training for Boston was going. It seemed like a good idea to me at the time. It would be my first race ever and it was kind of exciting. I don’t recall increasing my mileage to get ready for this race so I can’t really claim that I was smart enough to do so.

boston's run to remember, half marathon, marathon training

The race was held in Wakefield, Mass at the time. There is a large office building at the end of Lake Quannapowitt where we could pick up our numbers and get out of the cold. Did I mention that it was cold?

It was early March and the wind was whipping off of the lake in our direction. I’ve run on colder days since then, but this was my first race. I ran in Adidas nylon running pants and I think just a long sleeve running shirt with another one under it. I was wearing my first pair of running shoes, Asics GT-2080, that I bought at the old Runner’s Edge store on Main Street in Wakefield.

Eric and I hung around the lobby of the building and did some stretching. I followed his lead, this being my first race and all. Then we were told to go out and line up for the race. We stood there in the cold while a State Trooper belted out God Bless America or something like that.

I was standing next to a cute young lady and we started chatting. She asked about my shoes and told me that she never threw an old pair away and had dozens of pairs in her closet. Wearing my first running shoes ever, I just couldn’t comprehend that. The gun fired and off we went. I just had my first conversation with a runner at a race. She was off like a jack rabbit and I never saw her again.

Learning the Lessons

I don’t recall how I finished that race and the records appear to be lost to time. I do recall struggling throughout the race and never really finding my pace.

No one ever told me that your first race is more of an experiment than a test. You don’t know what your pace is or what it should be.

You don’t know what you don’t know. A race is different than a training run and until you run a race you really don’t know what to expect. I ran as hard as I could that day and finished over the two-hour mark and nearer the end of the pack than the front.

After you run a few races you begin to figure out your pace. Each distance is different and must be approached differently. For a long-distance race you run at a slower pace and conserve your energy. For a 5K or 10K the pace is much faster and most people don’t take any supplies with them.

You also start setting your Personal Records or PRs. For most runners beating their PR becomes their goal.

The great thing about running is that you are running against yourself and your own PR. It doesn’t matter what place you finish in. What matters is did you meet or beat your PR? Did you run the best race that you are capable of? Did you run the race you planned to run?

Very few of us run well enough to compete with the gang at the head of the pack. Often the winners of a 5K finish well under 20 minutes and Marathon winners just over two hours. Most of us will never compete at that level and winning is not what this is about. It is about setting goals and challenging ourselves. It is about staying fit and healthy and spending time with friends. It’s about feeling alive.

My First Boston Marathon

In April of 2003, I finished my first Boston Marathon with a time of 5:11 and swore I would never spend more than 5 hours running at a time. As a first time runner I was not ready for a marathon.

I had run the Run to Remember Half-Marathon six weeks before but my longest training long run was only about 7 miles. My highest weekly mileage was around 20 miles. Boston is one of the most challenging marathon courses and I was not prepared and up for the challenge.

I did a lot of walking during the race, especially the last 10 miles. After a while my legs were so tired and my joints were so sore that it was all I could do to keep going. Whenever I stopped to walk it was an unbelievable act of will power to make my body run again. My left Achilles was killing me and at times I thought my left calf muscle was going to cramp up into a tight little ball on the back of my leg. My body was telling me that I did not do enough training for this race and it was making me pay.

In addition to the sore joints, tired and almost cramping muscles, I had a lot of blisters. I wore the socks and shoes that people had recommended to me. Because I had not trained enough, I did not know how my feet would react to these shoes and socks on a long run like this. In the months after the marathon I lost three toe nails.

When I crossed that finish line in front of the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street, it felt like a religious experience; I was completely euphoric. I was in a lot of pain, but I was filled with joy and pride and a rush of emotion that is difficult to describe. It was one of those moments in life that I knew I was changed forever and that I would never be the same.

My First Boston Marathon Experience

It has been nine years since this race and memories do fade. I don’t even remember how I got from my house into Boston that morning. I didn’t hook up with my team from Hewlett-Packard that I was running with so I missed their bus and took a school bus out to Hopkinton. I sat next to a guy from South Carolina who had run many marathons before. Between bites of his bagel and cream cheese he told me of his exploits and that if I stuck with it I could knock an hour off of whatever time I finished in that day. It was exciting and encouraging to hear that from a veteran.

Walking into the runner’s village behind the high school in Hopkinton for the first time was a special experience. The race marshals made sure everyone had a race number on their shirts and nodded at you when they saw you had one. I felt like a VIP!

The place was packed and the field was covered with tents and runners laying and sitting around. There was water and Gatorade and I think they even had coffee for us. There were millions of bagels on tables for us and PowerBar and some other vendors were giving out samples.

I found one of my buddies from HP and we walked to HP’s mobile Photo Van. They were taking digital photos of runners and printing them on the spot. It was very cool and everyone wanted one. Then the HP team stood together for a team photo. I was the last one to line up and ended up behind someone in both shots. Oh well. I was excited to be at the Marathon and proud that my company was a sponsor and doing such a cool activity.

I learned how unpredictable kidneys and bowels can be before a marathon. I also learned that it can take forever to get into a porta-potty at a large race like this. I always tell people to get something to eat and drink and get in line for the porta-potty. When you are done, get back in line. It can take over an hour to get back though the line again and by that time you are ready to go again. I now feel that my body is very predictable: I always need to go every half hour or so before a race. I know this and plan accordingly.

I was in the last coral wearing one of the highest bib numbers that day. In 2003 we all started in one wave and it took about 20 minutes for me to cross the starting line. I had never been on the course before but had heard that the first few miles were all downhill. What a surprise I had around mile two when I saw a hill! It wasn’t a big hill, but it wasn’t supposed to be there!

I was fine through Framingham to around mile 10 in Natick. By this time I was past my long run distance, I was beginning to fatigue and I was getting blisters on my toes. I probably wasn’t hydrating enough and I didn’t bring any Gu’s with me. My Achilles was bothering me before the race and it was acting up. By the time I got to the hills of Wellesley I thought my left calf muscle was going to roll up like a window shade on the back of my leg.

I don’t remember when I started walking but I walked a lot during this marathon. I walked past BC (Boston College) and I seem to recall that it was not that loud there and the crowd was not that big. I ran through Cleveland Circle but walked a lot on Beacon Street in Brookline. When we got to Kenmore I managed to run and kept going to Hereford and then left onto Boylston Street. I was in bad shape.

boston marathon,2003, first marathon experience
Boston Marathon finish w/ Angela

My hips hurt and all the leg muscles near those joints hurt. My calves hurt and I could tell my feet had unbelievable blisters and that some had already burst. I was deep in the zone just trying to get down Boylston Street. As I plodded along all of a sudden I heard this little voice say “Hi Daddy!”. I was so shocked to hear anyone that close to me that I felt like I was going to fall over. I looked down and it was my 9-year old daughter! I was so surprised and shocked.

She was all smiles and excited to be out on the course. I took her hand and we jogged in the rest of the course to the finish line. Finishing my first Boston Marathon was special but having my oldest daughter with me was just unbelievable. I hope that she will remember that day forever, because I surely will.

We were lucky enough to get a good picture of us coming across the finish line. I don’t know if they had photo CDs back then, but I have a few copies of that picture.

When you run your first marathon make sure you buy a picture, a shirt and a jacket if they have them. You can never go back and get them. You’ll never know how special that moment is until later. You also never know when you will be crossing your last finish line.

boston marathon medals, award frame

So once again I’ve gone way over what seems to be an acceptable length for a blog post. I guess I remember more than I thought and I even left stuff out! I hope the lessons that I learned from this experience are useful as you start your journey. If you have questions please post them and I will do my best to answer you.

Thanks for reading.

© andrew nagelin 2012 – 2015

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Author: OmniRunner

9X Boston Marathon finisher, 17X marathons total. Sharing my love for running and the fun adventures and lessons that come with it. Helping non-profits increase fundraising and new runners celebrate their First 5K.

12 thoughts on “My First Marathon Experience”

  1. I’m glad I was able to find this blog. Another great post for anyone looking to take up running, especially for those that want to run marathons or even half. I am in the very early stages of running so I am not marathon caliber yet but, the lessons you have learned and share are going to be a giant help. Also reading and putting my future self in those shoes makes me want to go run more often and longer so it isn’t as far of a wait to get there. Thanks again!

    1. Joel,

      I tried to follow your blog but the page didn’t seem to like my wordpress address. I’m brand new to blogging and have no clue how the mechanics work. Do you know what I need to do?

      Regards,

      Andy

      ________________________________

  2. I love the part where you wrote that running is not about the out running/beating the person next to you…. it is about beating yourself and your PR. Very true, such a solitary sport. And when you get that PR— lawdddy, it is a good feeling!

    1. Thank you for your comments. Several people have commented on that idea. It is gratifying to know that something that I’m writing resonates with people. There is always the concern I’m off on a tangent and spewing dribble! Thanks again!

  3. Kudos to you from another fellow runner. I’ve done a marathon once a year (but had to skip this year due to a surfing injury) and it’s really great to get together with hundreds of others no matter what cultural, religious, ethnic, etc. background…and just run for fun!

    1. Frances,
      Absolutely. If it’s not fun why do it? There are often moments, even hours, when a marathon is not fun. But somehow looking back on all of those moments, it’s hard to put into words. I just look forward to the next one and always feel great about taking on the challenge and then getting ready for the next one. I hope I can do this untill i’m an old man.

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