Running Your First Marathon: 26 Thoughts That Go Through Your Brain During the Race
I'm the world's laziest runner (if you can still call me a runner), but even I know marathons are nothing to mess around with. So although I barely trained for the races I'd ran before my February 2012 marathon, I knew I couldn't take prepping for a marathon lightly, so I stopped making excuses and motivated myself to train seriously — well, seriously for me — in the months leading up the race. But running is largely a mental sport and nothing can prepare you for something as psychically grueling as a 26.2 mile run.
Well nothing except for this: a look back at my first marathon experience. Maybe if you know what to expect, you'll be better prepared for it. Maybe. If you’re anything like me, here’s what running your first marathon might be like.
Right before the race starts your nerves are busy
You're abuzz with nervous excitement and energy. You're both eager to get started and evaluating your life to figure out what led you to this mad trek you're about to go on. If you have to wait any longer you might lose your nerve and run away. Will anyone notice if you do? Will they care? Or will they understand?
Mile 1: You're feeling confident
You know what you’re doing. Haha, look at all these chumps sprinting ahead of you, just totally wasting their energy. Don’t worry, you’ll breeze past them when they’re cramping at mile 13. Or so you think.
Mile 2: There's an inkling of self-doubt
Wait are you doing this wrong? Because it seems like everybody, their mama, their cousin, AND their toddler is passing you by!
Mile 3: Now you're just confused
OK, you were kidding about the toddler earlier, but a dad pushing a double stroller just passed you. Is your pace that slow? Wait, what even is your regular pace? Are you going too slow? Too fast? Oh god, you’ve ruined everything and you’ll either finish this marathon in seven hours or collapse at mile 7.
Mile 4: You've got some perspective on the race
If you’re running the Austin Marathon, you’ve been running up Congress for a while. A quick glance back at the actual hundreds of people still running behind you lets you know that your pace is just fine.
Mile 5: And you're confident again
You know your pace and you've settled into it. You're feeling good and comfortable, resting in the knowledge that you've (kinda) trained for this. Even if people are passing you by, you're also breezing by people too.
Mile 6: You decide it's time to ration
You’ve been alternating between water and Gatorade at every mile marker, but now your stomach is sloshing around, so maybe you should cut back a bit.
Mile 7: The first cramp hits you
The combination of nerves and too much Gatorade/water has got your stomach in a tizzy. But it’s too soon in the race to power down. Besides, this isn't anything you haven't dealt with before. You. Got. This.
Mile 8: When you can enjoy familiar faces
The sight of a friend cheering you on is enough to put some pep in your step — until you’re out of their eyesight and you start waddling along again.
Mile 9: The weariness starts to settle in
Yes, you've trained for this, but the most you ran beforehand was 20 miles. This is six more miles than that and you're paranoid that you're getting tired quicker than you did while training. How are you already this tired at mile nine?! That's it, you won't make it.
Mile 10: The moment of truth
Right before the 11th mile marker, the Austin Marathon and Half-Marathon, which up until now were on the same course, splits up. You know where you should go, but your body is crying for you to take the half-marathon route.
Mile 11: You realize you've made the wrong decision
You’ve made a terrible mistake. Not just about turning onto the marathon route, but about even signing up for this in the first place. YOU CAN'T DO IT, you're thinking, but you're in way too deep now.
Mile 12: But a little boost can go a long way
A shot of Gatorade is all you need to feel motivated again. You know it doesn't start working that quickly, but you allow yourself the mental relief of thinking it makes a difference. And that actually helps... for a mile or so.
Mile 13-14: Mental bargaining begins
Math has never been your friend, but you try to use the cold facts of arithmetic to make this easier to handle mentally. You just ran 13 miles, so you know you can do that. Now all you have to do is run 13 miles again. Just do what you just now did. So simple, c’mon girl. You can do it because math said so, duh.
Mile 15: Mental bargaining fails
Can math explain what is happening to your body right now? Because your mental bargaining (read: lying) isn't helping at all. It may just be 13 miles twice in your head, but your body can barely manage another step. At this point you've settled into a wog — a sad combination of running and walking.
Mile 16 – 19: When everything hurts...
All of a sudden everything starts to go wrong. Your right toe is completely numb, your knees hurt, and oh, you also have a crick in your neck. How did you get a crick in your neck in the middle of a race? Are those shinsplints you're feeling?!
Mile 20: Let's try a change of pace
The wog has gotten so bad that for a second you think it might actually be better to just walk. So you try it only to discover that walking somehow makes everything worse. You've been making the same repetitive motion for a couple of hours now so your body has accepted its fate. You start to run again and in a sad sort of way, it helps.
Mile 21 - 23: ... and nothing matters
Everything still hurts, but now a sense of numbness has settled over you. It's hard to talk about what this point of the marathon felt like because you actually don't remember anything. Kind of like birth amnesia. You've subconsciously decided that it's better not to think about what your body's going through.
Mile 24: The best thing you've ever seen
You see that 24 mile marker and it wakes you up out of your mental stupor. The last few miles were a blur, but now you've got just two more miles to go? You can do two miles! After this, you can do two miles in your sleep!
Mile 25: You're so happy you could cry
After the mind-numbing process of running over 24 miles, all of your defenses are down, including, you will later learn, your immune system (true story). You realize you’re emotionally vulnerable when you spot your family cheering you on less than a mile from the finish line — and you start crying (also a true story). But since it's difficult to cry and breathe while running, you manage to get it together pretty quickly.
Mile 26: The last burst of energy
It’s always a pleasant surprise to see the finish line and dig deep to discover you've somehow got some energy to spare. The sprint (or as close to a sprint as you can manage) across the finish line makes you feel strangely powerful. Yeah, that's right, you've been running for 26 miles and you still had more to give at the end. If this race was a dance battle, you just left everything you had on the dance floor.
After the race, you're worn out but...
Your body’s doing that weird thing where it keeps propelling you forward ‘cause it’s stuck in running mode, you’re exhausted and cold, you can't even look at other people running because it makes you feel weaker, and yet somehow, you feel absolutely amazing. You might even do this again.
Images: Giphy (10); Doyin Oyeniyi