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5 Lessons I Learned After Running My First Marathon

Sometimes expectations of your first marathon don't match up to the reality of the event.

For most of my life, I had never been a runner. In fact, I hated running. Then after my 41st birthday, I decided to train for and run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon because I needed to get out of the house. Suffice it to say, I was naïve about the ways of the marathoning world. Here is what I expected my marathon to be like compared to the lessons I learned.

Start Line

Expectation: I imagined that I would calmly and serenely make my way to the start line, taking time to do some quiet mental preparation as I consumed a nice, light breakfast consisting of a bagel and a banana. Perhaps I would take a moment to warm up and visit the porta-potty for some pre-race unloading.

Reality: As I stood alone on the dark corner in front of my hotel at 4 a.m., I was nearly crapping my pants with anticipation. The bus that would take me to the start arrived late, further fueling my anxiety. I could not eat a thing because I was nauseous with nerves. Arizona in January is freezing in the morning. I had no clue about bringing “throw-away clothes” to the start line. I stood shivering beside a generator for warmth for an hour, all the while sucking in exhaust fumes. Never made it to the bathroom.

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Expectation: During training, I had tried to take in a gel every hour or so. My carefully orchestrated fuel plan for the marathon included consuming one gel every six miles or so for a grand total of four gels. I meticulously safety-pinned these gels to my singlet (I still have no clue why I didn’t use pockets–newbie move, I guess).

Reality: At mile 18, it was time for my third gel. When I finally got it unpinned and attempted to squeeze the oozing strawberry/banana GU into my mouth, I gagged. I had only taken two gels during the race, but my body fought back when I tried to give it more. Force the gel down and I might throw up. I threw it on the ground, preferring not to puke during my first marathon.

The Participants

Expectation: I was terrified of the other runners. They would all be crazy fast, fit and snooty. They had all probably run 20 marathons before this one and were so seasoned they wouldn’t give me the time of day. Hell, they might even trample me at the start.

Reality: The runners at the start and throughout the race were some of the friendliest people I have ever encountered. As we nervously made small talk waiting to start, I realized I was amongst an inclusive, not exclusive, group. Runners are cool!

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Mile 20.1

Expectation: Having never run further than 20 miles in training (or in my entire life), I had no clue if I would even be able to complete the last 6.2 miles of the marathon. I questioned my training. I wondered if I would cry, crawl or quit. My greatest fear was the unknown that would lie beyond the 20-mile mark.

Reality: I hit 20 miles and started to suffer. My body knew we had never gone this distance before. It became a struggle to just put one foot in front of the other. I had not “hit the wall,” but I was in hell. I did learn, however, that I was stronger than I thought I was.

Finish Line

Expectation: If my body could take me the full 26.2 miles, I would cross the finish line with tears rolling down my face and a smile full of accomplishment and pride. I would immediately fall into the arms of my waiting husband and two children, who would shower me with kisses, hugs and words of congratulations. I would drink a frosty cold beer. Finally, someone would rub my feet.

Reality: I did make it to the finish line. I did cross it with a forced smile and tears of happiness because it was over and I could finally take a dump. For the next 30 minutes, I searched for my husband and two kids. I cried again because I was tired and could not find them. Then I stole a popsicle from some tent and sat down on the hot asphalt and waited. When my family found me, they thought I smelled, so the hugs were short and distanced. I did, however, know how proud they were.

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