“Experienced” marathoner

It may be hard to believe, but this summer is nearly gone. This means the next marathon is looming larger in the near future. For me and my training partners, that date is October 6, for the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York. Having now run seven marathons, I am more aware of what is coming. Standing out most clearly in my mind is recalling how, at some point in most of the marathons I’ve run, I tell myself how utterly crazy it is to torture myself this way. Why would I willingly choose to go through the muscle pain in my legs, the pains in my shoulders, the bleeding, the chafing, and sometimes the near delirium, just to say I had done it? While many in our club have run many more marathons than I, I am starting to get the gist of it.

We have several new runners in our club who are planning to run their first marathons this fall. Some have been running with us on our long Sunday runs, and a couple run on their own but tell me how they are doing. To a person, they ask for little advice, but mostly are quite fixed on their training plans. They all have that holy grail of the marathon runner in mind, the Boston qualifying time. When we (our Sunday group) hear this, like a chorus we say, “just work on finishing”. There is little one can say that helps the naive runner get through their first marathon. We offer the familiar advice of not going out too fast, sticking to a plan, hydrating, eating appropriate numbers of gels throughout the race, and preparing ahead with BodyGlide and bandages. Much of this is relative. What is appropriate hydration for one person may be way under or over for another. How many gels, how often, something other than gels, is pure guesswork.

Some advice is sound and well grounded. It is a good idea not to wear brand new anything, especially shoes, for your first marathon. Even that, though, I’ve ignored, when I wore brand new knee high support socks for a race last fall, not having worn anything like them before, and loved them. How to dress is a tough call. Personal preferences, temperature at the start, where that temperature is headed, sun, clouds, humidity, all figure in to that guesswork. I think I changed my mind about ten times the night before my first marathon. In a race that starts early and goes several hours, conditions can change dramatically. Or, they can stay the same. For my first marathon, Philadelphia, 2008, the temperature never got above freezing. It started in the low 20’s with a bit of wind. The water stops were sheets of ice, not very safe to run, or walk on. The next year, that same race started in the mid 40’s and rose to the low 60’s, practically perfect.

Another piece of guesswork is what to eat the night before. I doubt any marathoner would consider it a good idea to eat a huge meal, redolent with fat, and washed down with many glasses of wine. No, save that for the afterparty. Pasta is the standard, but anything light and easily digestible makes sense to me. Is beer okay? My feeling is yes, “a” beer is okay, and probably helps one relax and not be too wound up.

The first time on the start line of a marathon, the atmosphere is euphoric. Dropping one’s bag at the right spot, managing to make it to the portable toilet for one last squirt, finding one’s way to the proper corral, squeezing in with the other runners, and sensing the collective anxiousness makes for a unique, numbing experience. Other runners are wearing giant trash bags with holes cut for the arms and head. Some are stretching in their limited space. Some are chatting incessantly with friends, all of whom are wearing earbuds and probably already listening to some inspirational play list they have created. And some are quietly looking ahead, perhaps playing out the course in their minds. All of this is in a swirl around the new marathoner who is unaware of how the race will unfold.

I plunged right in my first time. It takes a while to actually get to the start once the gun goes off in the bigger city marathons. There’s a shuffling start, corrals move up, and then one gets caught a little off-guard when the start line is actually underfoot. I remember starting my Garmin as I crossed that first detection pad, hearing the faint cacophony of beeps as the chips get registered, like the sound of locusts. Then, one’s own personal best for a marathon is underway.

I am very pleased to see new runners in our club taking on this challenge. I think they will have an experience that will change them for a lifetime. If, like me, they wind up getting sucked in, and go back time and again to challenge themselves, they will really change their lives. Each time I head to the start line now, I don’t know how the race will end for me. I know that I don’t know. But I have become aware of the routine at the start, the way I asses my condition as the race progresses, and certainly the warning signs of trouble, like cramps that all too often befall me along the way. I am still experimenting with strategy, modifying my starting pace, the way I drink during the race, and learning to slow down in the first half to be able to go faster in the second. It is quite a commitment to take on the training, typically about sixteen weeks, all for the one day event which may have great conditions, or perhaps awful conditions. I wish our club’s new marathoners, and anyone else tackling this for the first time, a satisfying and fulfilling experience, that will cause them to come back again.

Frank

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2 Comments

  1. TonyWalter

     /  August 28, 2013

    There are so many variables running for 4 hours more or less it is a crazy endeavor. I think it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being a sports hero like walking out to the mound and pitching a baseball game. Even though I’m usually surrounded by other marathoners I think the cheering is meant for me and I always look at the results and think next year I’m going to do better.

    Reply

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