First Time Reflections

ba_marathonThis morning as I was walking down the stairs sideways, slowly, holding on to the railing, and feeling each step in my knees and ankles I smiled knowing that for all this pain I would not change having just run my first marathon less than 24 hours ago.

There are still so many thoughts and emotions swirling in my head that I really don’t know where to start with this post. I want to write about the marathon from start to finish, and perhaps I will in another post. From training to the pre-race meals and planning to the morning of preparation, stretching, pace and form while running, gear, and post-race plans, I learned a lot and discovered many more questions that I have about this whole experience that is running.

For now, though we’ll just stick to the points closest at hand from running my first marathon.

The Weather

We got lucky with the weather. Early forecasts were calling first for 60% chance of rain in 37 degrees and the chance of rain slowly changed to 30%, then 10%, and by race morning, the rain had cleared, temps were in the low 30s and it was clear for the first 13 or so miles and then light snow started to fall which was actually pretty cool.

We had to go over a few bridges and one overpass and each of those had mushy snow accumulation making them slippery but not dangerous. The trail itself was fine. There was enough precipitation to notice and my running friend, Eric, and I were quite pleased with the beading success of his Patagonia R2 pullover. Good gear makes all the difference. Fortunately, there wasn’t much wind (early forecasts predicted 14-15mph, but again we got lucky) for most of the race and I noticed a breeze toward the end only because snowflakes were blowing into my face.

The People

I really love runners, I do. With mass amounts of us (836 in total, 246 for the marathon and the rest for the half) gathering in Severna Park High School and lining up to use the boys and girls restrooms, it was awesome to look around and know that each person was there with a goal. The routines that each runner has, the stretches, warm-ups, gear, that work for them and the groups and individuals all anticipating the same start is easily an overwhelming sight; and this is a relatively small race in comparison to others. I get goosebumps just thinking about this same scene with thousands of runners.

Friends who have finished marathons talk about the people they met along the route and articles share stories of perfect strangers chatting during a race and I’ve always wondered how this happens. Around mile 4, Eric and I were striding along with two runners behind us chatting and the next thing I know we’re all joking about sharing our water and Gu and that somehow leads to boats, engines, Kent Island, and another couple miles have passed. All of a sudden it made sense as to how you connect with the person next to you. What I find amazing about this experience is that I could fly next to someone for hours and we might never even say hello. But you run next to someone for 20 minutes and become friends.

Runners of the B&A, like every other race, were a little bit of everything–young, old, bundled up, shorts and t-shirts, patriotic outfits, professional runners, students, moms, dads, grandparents, and first-timers from every level of fitness. All there with a goal. I was proud to be a part of the group.

Family and friends cheering squad.In addition to the runners were the cheering squads and volunteers. I’m extremely grateful for my friends and family who braved the cold and managed to beat us to so many miles and cheer us through. Every time they showed up at the next mile it was like magic that they were there, smiling, clapping, taking photos, and motivating us on to the next mile. Every water station, porta-pot, turnaround, cross-street, and random places in between had a volunteer, or several, stationed to make sure runners were moving along and getting what they need. I tried to thank as many people as possible for being there; there is no way any race could be successful without its volunteers.

Running

I continue to be amazed at what the body can do. I asked mine to run 26.2 miles and it did. Training obviously helped and was critical to enduring the distance. I did not want to walk and though I was tempted I feared that if I stopped to walk I might not be able to start up again. There comes a point in distance running where it feels like you aren’t even in control of your legs. They just keep going. And because your legs keep moving, you keep moving, and each step is one step closer to the finish line.

B&A FinishEric and I ran together for about the first 20 miles. The B&A trail is somewhat boring and even with all the other runners on the trail, there were stretches where you could easily be alone or far enough from other runners that you felt alone. Having someone to talk to, breathe with, share a pace with definitely made the race better. I cannot imagine some of those miles alone. Our paces changed a little after the 20-mile mark and even though we were separated only by a 1/4 mile or so, it was still nice to know there was someone you were also going to share the success of finishing with.

The last four miles for me were tough. I had quite a bit of pain in my left IT band and a few times I thought my leg would give out. I limped through a couple steps and then would power through to a normal stride. I desperately wanted to sprint as much as I could across the finish line, and I did.

Recovery

Now that it’s over I’m thinking about what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I will do next. My IT band definitely needs my full attention, ice, ibuprofen, stretching, and minimal running for a bit. The other muscles could use equal treatment as well.

There are many schools of thought on how to recover after a marathon and how to build back up theĀ  miles and it always seems to boil down to your level of experience in running and training and what your body is capable of handling. My personal running goal is to hit an 8-minute per mile pace for the 10K Cooper River Bridge Run April 4th. I’d like to build a stronger core, work on my breathing techniques and form, and focus on overall healthy living.

You only get one “first marathon” and still seems a little surreal that mine is now over. The experience is no doubt unique, special, and memorable for everyone. What was yours like? Is there just one emotion that comes to mind when you think of your first? I don’t think I could sum it up in one word. Maybe it’s something that will become clearer after doing more and I welcome that clarity of what it means to run 26.2 miles.

I also welcome your insight and memories.

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