“You know the first guy who ran a marathon died, right?”
“Good thing I’m a girl,” I joked back to whenever someone spouted this lovely piece of trivia to me upon hearing I had signed up for my first marathon.
I'd never had the desire to run a race before, let alone a marathon. In fact, I thought it was kind of insane. But after cancelling my gym membership earlier this year, a friend invited me trail running and I obliged. I hate running, and always have. But this time, something was different. I was hooked.
To me, running was hard, and not that fun, and something I wasn’t good at—I looked like Bambi learning how to walk when I first started running. But thanks to my type A nature, I decided that not only would I become a better runner, I would become a Runner with a capital R. I would run a marathon.
If you google how do I train for a marathon—which is exactly what I did—you’ll learn quickly that there are a LOT of ways to train. Tons of methods, coaches, and books are available to the novice runner. While most of the information starts with the same intent—running your first race is hard, and your goal should just be to finish—that’s where the similarities end. There are so many philosophies about how to train, run, eat, and sleep in preparation for a marathon that at the end of the day, you basically just pick the one you hope will work for you and commit to it.
So I started training, armed with a few supplies. Before a hard run, I'd take an amino acid supplement to help my body recover. During my runs, I'd nosh on a few different snacks: peanut butter with coconut oil for a boost of high-energy fat, Honey Stinger chews for a boost of carbohydrates to keep muscles from going during extra long runs, and of course, EBOOST to give me a little energy for those early morning workouts. Post-run, I'd pop a few turmeric capsules to keep my legs from getting too sore.
After training by myself for a few months, I started running with friends for parts of my long weekend runs, and then eventually a group of us formed a casual run club here at Thrive Market. I have to admit, the idea of running with other people was terrifying. What if I’m too slow? What if I run like an idiot? What if I trip over my giant feet and they laugh at me? But it was so much more fun than I thought. You laugh, you get sweaty, I still kind of run like an idiot, and sometimes you have a crappy run and you DO trip over your big feet, but in the end you just have a good time.
Plus, it held me accountable. There were definitely days that I didn’t want to go train: I was tired, my legs hurt, or I felt like I had too much to do. But then someone from run club would head to my desk and cajole me into lacing up my sneaks, and as soon as we hit the pavement whatever had kept me from running sort of melted away.
Finally, the big day arrived. It was time to run the Chicago Marathon.
Armed with Honey Stinger Chews (pomegranate flavor, duh), water, and my headphones, I was a ball of nervous energy at the start line. The Chicago skyline is beautiful when the sun glints off the high rise buildings, and it’s pretty inspiring to see the city draped in golden light right before you basically kill yourself trying to run 26.2 miles through its historic neighborhoods. It’s amazing to look back at a sea of runners pacing, stretching, and fidgeting with one goal in mind—finish this race.
And then we’re off. It. Is. Happening. The spectators lining the first five miles were unbelievable. I actually laughed out loud reading the funny signs that people hold up. (My fave? "If the Cubs can get this far, you can finish a marathon!") I saw my family with a huge yellow sign at mile two and was able to throw them a high-five, and then one of my best friends at mile 10. Having people I cared about on the course made all the difference in my race—for me, I needed the assurance that someone would be there just in case I needed them for a boost of energy or encouragement.
The middle miles are kind of a blur. They felt pretty good, and I had an awesome playlist which made running that much more fun. Towards the end, things got trickier.
Optimal race weather is somewhere between 60 and 65 degrees, with overcast skies and maybe a light breeze. Chicago had an unseasonably beautiful race day—temps got up to 80 degrees, and it was super sunny and bright. Good news for those cheering the runners, bad news for those running.
People start to hit "the wall" around mile 20, and in general the pace slows down. This is the spot where many people stop and can’t continue in most long races, but the hot weather didn't do runners any favors. Even though I felt pretty good, when I saw my family at mile 21 it gave me the extra push I needed to keep going. Around mile 23, I really started to feel the heat—my feet were really hurting, I was thirsty and hot, and I felt my body slow down even though I didn’t want it to. The very idea of picking up my speed seemed impossible, and running three more miles sounded like torture.
Luckily I was carrying my phone, and I saw a stream of messages come in. Friends, family, the Thrive Market Run Club crew! Everyone was digitally cheering for me via text or email. At the point where I almost considered walking, seeing texts with the tiny emoji running guy and confetti quite literally spurred me forward.
I finally got the to the last few miles, and the energy of the crowd is incredible. Their cheers and joy buoy your spirits, and then I saw the finish line in site. The mile markers that dot the course turn into a visual countdown—800 meters, 400 meters, 200 meters, 100 meters to the finish! Nothing could wipe the grin from my face during those last two miles—I almost couldn't believe that I was about to finish my first marathon.
Crossing the finish line was the greatest thing. They keep it closed off from any spectators, so it’s pretty much just the participants and volunteers. You keep walking after you pass through the finish (read: hobbling slowly) and volunteers give you water, beer (!), and then eventually your medal.
After that, it’s a big party. Everyone is happy it’s over and excited that they finished and high on endorphins—it’s fantastic! Plus, after expending over 2,600 calories during the marathon, you pretty much get to eat whatever you want. It’s a win-win.
Even though there were a few times during the race that I thought to myself, “I’m NEVER doing this again!”, only 48 hours later, I was already itching to start training for another. Anybody up for the L.A. Marathon?
Photo credit: Alicia Cho