Once Upon a Time, I Ran a Marathon

I’m not sure if I’ve ever told my marathon story here. My story was posted on Legally Fit back in September, but I thought I’d share it here as well. Forgive me if you’ve read this before!

Once upon a time, I ran a marathon. Specifically, in March of 2007. I’d gotten into running two years prior and had completed two half-marathons and several shorter distance races. Before I discovered healthy living blogs, I discovered running blogs. A lot of these runners were training for marathons and the idea appealed to me. For some reason, I even though training for one was somewhat glamourous. (Later, I found out that there is nothing glamourous about being tired and hungry all the time and losing toenails.)

The idea bounced around in my head for a while. Atlanta has the Atlanta Marathon which is on Thanksgiving. I knew that I didn’t want to do that one because I usually go home to Maryland to visit my family. I also didn’t want to travel for a race either. Enter the Inaugural ING Georgia Marathon. To my delight, I realized that Atlanta decided to have another marathon, this time in the spring. My mind was made. I signed up.

I followed a Hal Higdon novice marathon training plan. Looking back, if I had done it over, I would have joined a group of some sort. 20 mile training runs on your own are pretty lonesome. But I did it. I followed the training plan the best I could and before I knew it, it was race week.

The race was in the end of March. I’d been training all winter. In the cold. (I might have a different definition of cold as you do, living in the South, but point was, I trained in wintertime.) Like any racer does, I became obsessed with weather.com the week of my race. And do you know what the high temperature was supposed to be on marathon day? 90. After training in 50 degree temps, I had to run the longest distance of my life in a freak heat wave.

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The race started out fine. The first hiccup was around Mile 6. There were “Powerade ahead” signs but no powerade ahead. My mother and one of my friends were supposed to be standing at mile 9. Fortunately, they were and they gave me a cold water bottle which I drank from and handed back. I was still doing fine at this point. After I left them, they agreed to meet me at Mile 11. It had started to get warmer out and at Mile 11, they insisted that I run holding the water bottle. I didn’t especially want to run 15 more miles with a water bottle in hand, but I did and looking back, I’m very glad.

I was fine until about Mile 16. The temps had gotten into the high 80s by that point and I was definitely feeling it. Around Mile 19, I started to alternate walking and running. My mom and some friends were standing at Mile 22 and after what felt like an eternity, I got to them. Later, my mom told me that I did not look good when I got there. I’d been filling up my plastic water bottle any chance that I could, but the heat was pretty unbearable. Maybe if I’d trained in the summer, I’d of been okay, but I trained during the winter and this was March!

My attempt to run pretty much dwindled at Mile 22. I tried to shuffle along, but my pace rapidly decreased into a walk. To make matters worse, I could feel one of my toenails falling off. My mom and more friends were at Mile 24. Just two more miles. Sounds like nothing but at that point, I was seriously considering giving up. My friend Erin made me continue on and encouraged me to finish the race running. She ran the last two miles with me. She was wearing flip flops which gives you an indication of just how slowly I was running.

That finish sign was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life. Only instead of happiness, all I felt was disappointment. I’m not a fast runner by any means and I’d sort of expected to finish the race in around 5-5:30 hours. Nope. Not even close. The marathon took me 6.5 hours. After we went home, I got really sick. Probably some sort of heat exhaustion or dehydration. I couldn’t stop throwing up and just felt awful. My mom went home the next day and that was it, the marathon was over. Months of training went into these few hours and I’d run a crappy race.

Going into it, I was hoping that I’d catch the marathon bug. I was hoping that it would be one of the best accomplishments of my life. But it wasn’t. It took me a long time to get over my disappointment with my time and how the race went in general. It took a long time to realize that so many factors were at play that contributed to it. The heat was unbearable, the course was hilly but, plus this being the inaugural race, they weren’t prepared. They ran out of powerade almost immediately and water shortly after.

Here it is almost four years later and I have yet to run another marathon. But, I’ve run the ING Georgia HALF marathon three years in a row since then. (They’ve since fixed the water/powerade issues). I think that sometimes, as readers of healthy living and running blogs, we see running a marathon as almost commonplace. But it’s not. It took me 6.5 hours and lots of walking, but I am one of those people who has completed a marathon. I have a 26.2 sticker that I earned. After the race, everyone asked if I’d run another one and the answer was a resounding NO. But sometimes lately, I think maybe I’ll give it another shot one day.

Not all marathon stories are triumphant. Not all races go as planned. But do I call myself a marathon runner? Yes, I do.

Thinking of running a marathon this year? How about a half-marathon? If you’re running your first half, take a look at My Ten Tips For Running Your First Half-Marathon that I wrote as a guest post on A Foodie Stays Fit last week.

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29 Responses to Once Upon a Time, I Ran a Marathon

  1. I’m still at the point where I can’t say that I ever want to run a full marathon. I’m sure after a few more halfs I’ll change my mind. It’s awesome that you even finished!

  2. I think its awesome that you went on to finish! I don’t think I have it in me to ever be a runner, let alone a marathon runner, so I am completely in awe! :)

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Lee. I don’t think I’ve read it before. You definitely deserve your 26.2 sticker – you did all of the training and finished the race, which is what matters. I think its important for people to realize what a commitment and difficult undertaking running a marathon is. I’m going to aim for a half-marathon in late March. I’m a little nervous but excited about my plan.

  4. WORD! You are reading my mind! You don’t have to be a marathoner to be a real and awesome runner! You don’t have to be fast either! You accomplished something amazing that takes months and months of training and bad luck struck, it was a horrible day to run [any distance]. You still rock, yo.

  5. Again, you are awesome. Any plans to run a marathon ever again?

  6. Thank you for reminding everyone that running a marathon is HARD. I see so many bloggers talking about their sub-4 hour marathons and everyone must think that it’s just so easy if so many people are doing it. What you did was amazing, 6+ hours aside, that is FAR!

  7. I don’t know if I remember reading through all of this in detail. I know I’ve heard the overall feelings you had before though. I definitely understand how something seems glamorous to accomplish but isn’t really. You did it though. And you earned it!

  8. Thanks for sharing! Marathon runners amaze me. I can barely run 3 miles! :) You rock!

  9. I honestly don’t feel the need to run a marathon unless I tackle a trail. My last trail half marathon took almost 5 hours. I used a full marathon training plan because I knew I would be on my feet for much longer than a traditional road half. I’m so glad I put in the extra training time. The elevation and heat (Georgia in late May) turned it into something like a death crawl at times. But, I can’t wait to do it again! One day, I may be healthy enough to do the full Twisted Ankle. Until then, I’ll stick to the half. :)

  10. It must have been so frustrating to be stuck without any powerade/sufficient hydration on such a warm day!

    I got sun poisoning once and I literally spent all night curled up on my bathroom floor puking everywhere…so gross.

  11. What brutal conditions. I can’t imagine running for so long in temps like that. And the hills, ugh. You certainly earned that 26.2 sticker.

    I’ve lost enthusiasm for marathons since having my daughter. I know I don’t have to time to properly train for one, and would rather run a great 5k or half, than a “half-assed full”. The marathon craze has taken over, and the shorter stuff doesn’t get the respect it deserves anymore.

    That being said, I still proud to say I’ve done them in the past and have a 26.2 sticker displayed on my car too :) It’s an amazing experience and challenge of fortitude.

    Ready to kick some butt this March?

  12. I cannot imagine running a marathon in that heat. You are amazing for being able to finish.

  13. Lee. This was awesome to read. Because it was so honest and so real and I could TOTALLY feel your emotions you must have been going through during that race. But you are so right. You ARE a marathoner. You DID it, walking/running and all and that is ALL that matters. Now that enough time has passed and you’ve gotten even more half’s under your belt, I think you’d rock a marathon. But that’s just me. I’m proud of you either way, you running inspiration, you! :-)

  14. I got sick after my marathon, too. I totally expected to spend the rest of the day sitting or lying down, but not sleeping. I didn’t even feel well enough to eat a celebratory post-race meal! I also had to write a paper… that really sucked.

    Finishing a marathon is impressive, no matter what your time is. Even if you walk the entire thing, it’s really difficult. You should be proud! Not many people will ever attempt what you did! But I hear you… it’s a lot of build-up and then it’s just over. Kind of a bummer.

  15. Great Job on finishing!! that was my goal for my first marathon. I didn’t know at the time but I was pregnant!! It was a wonderful ideal temperature of 65 degrees and the course was pretty much level. I finished in 4:34 mins. My husband got the kids dressed and dragged them out to watch my finish. They didn’t expect me to finish until 5 hours or so. Needless to say they missed me finishing. They were eating a picnic lunch with their backs to the finish line!! I really want to run another one!! baby coming in June.

  16. I don’t think people stress how HARD running is. I have never run anything longer than 5 miles and that was had. I was tired. I was starving. And it takes a toll on your body!

  17. Lee – thank you so much for sharing this and for linking your tips for Half Marathons! It’s always great to hear people’s honest accounts of their races because it can seem so easy (and intimidating) when you read recaps sometimes. I am still unsure if I even have the desire to do a marathon but I am planning on running two (maybe 3) half marathons this year. It really all depends on how the first one goes i think. but since i’ve only ever run about 6.5 miles at the most (and i walk/ran) I am still nervous about it. It really helps to have a dialouge! thank you!

  18. Wow….I knew your marathon was hard, but I had no idea you got so sick. I agree that 26.2, whether you run, walk, or crawl, is still 26.2 miles at the end of the day. You should be proud of finishing, especially considering the conditions!!

  19. Good for you for sticking it out! Sounds like the conditions were brutal. Having run several marathons in high heat, I totally know that awful feeling. It’s hard to stick it out but you did. It only makes you stronger. I hope you do another someday -you might get that amazing experience you were hoping for.

  20. It’s not easy to put these kind of moments out there, but you’re definitely a stronger and smarter runner because of this experience! Losing toenails is far from glamorous, ha, but that IS commonplace. ;) I agree that marathons have become a sort of “must-do” thing – the more you read about people training for & running them, the more reachable they seem. It can be an amazing source of inspiration and motivation, but it can also hinder us from realizing what an incredible feat it really is. Call yourself a marathoner proudly, and keep running at distances you Enjoy and have fun challenging yourself with!

  21. Lee, I think it is great you finished and that you shared your experience! I am in NO WAY a runner. I am ok with that, but am envious of those who do accomplish things like that. Most people wonder why I bother working out at all, but I like being fit and feel good! Thanks for sharing your story!

  22. Gee – congratulations on the marathon, girl!
    Way to go :)

  23. Omg Lee I can so relate to this post in so many ways. My first marathon (May in Rhode Island) also got up to the high 80s by Mile 16. I trained in the 30s and in the snow and here it was, race day, 80s in Rhode Island in early May (not the norm). I finished the race and I was also not very excited to run another but I had already gotten into NY. I ended up only running 4 minutes faster in NY even in perfect conditions… so I’m not sure I’ve caught the marathon bug either. PArt of me thinks its too hard for me. This year I’m trying to rededicate myself to half marathons and shorter. Ughh the pain from mile 18 on is too much for me right now!!!

  24. Wow. My sister Jess (EatBreatheDrinkSweat) did a half marathon together and I too had my worst run ON RACE DAY. It was awful and it was hard not to feel discouraged after all that training. So I totally get what you mean by all the training and not having a good race day. But damn, you DID it and I can’t imagine how. It was really hot on race day too (even for Sept in Boston)! but luckily, we had run all summer in the heat, so that wasn’t the problem…can’t imagine having trained in cold weather and then had to run in hot. Total body confusion! Awesome job!

  25. I just read this since you linked to it. THANK YOU. It’s like you were in my head the last few miles and when you saw the finish line and your time. I really needed this. And I think you could do it again – 90 degrees is ridiculous.

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