When I first started running for fun, something drew me to the marathon. I’m not sure if it was because I was naïve or because I wanted to challenge myself or maybe it was a combination of the two. The idea of running long distances just appealed to me – at least in theory.
Growing up, I never really enjoyed running too much, especially if it wasn’t part of playing another sport. Then in college, I started running a couple of times a week around my college campus and really started to like how it felt. Sure, it was rarely, if ever, easy, but the good feelings at the end of the run always outweighed the feelings before or during it.
It was also around this time that a friend of mine ran in the Boston Marathon and I thought that running a marathon looked like something that I would like to try.
So maybe that had something to do with me wanting to start off my racing career with a marathon.
Before signing up for the Marine Corps Marathon, which runs through northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., I had only ever done one 5k race for charity.
I wanted a marathon that was big and close to home and the Marine Corps Marathon met both of these desires. It was the closest big marathon to where I grew up, with about 20,000 finishers in 2005. Running in a big marathon would also ensure that I always had runners or spectators near me in the event that I was really struggling.
At the time, I didn’t know that it would also be where I would complete my second, third and fourth marathons, but don’t let me get ahead of myself.
So the date for my first marathon was set for October 30, 2005.
And with that, the real training could begin. As I have said before, I didn’t follow any specific training plans earlier in my running career. Instead, I just ran the distances that felt comfortable and then just thought that I could rely on my youth to get the job done on the day.
As you will see in a few minutes, this was only one of the several mistakes that I would make in preparation for this race!
Even though I had run sporadically before this, training for this first marathon was the first time I would say that I ever ran with anything resembling consistency.
Training presented a lot of new challenges, including runs of longer distances than I had ever run before. However, the positive side to this was that because of my lack of experience, everything felt like an achievement because everything was something that I had never done before.
With that being said, looking back on it now I definitely didn’t prepare in the best way possible. My months of training were riddled with rookie mistakes.
Besides not following any real training plan, I also remember getting home from work and frequently deciding not to run at all. In fact, when I got to the start line of this race, my longest run was only 14 miles!
If you have ever been in a similar position of not being fully prepared for something, you might know how this feels.
It wasn’t necessarily a feeling of doom, but rather a feeling of knowing that the race was quickly approaching and I was stuck in an unprepared state. As race day got closer, I was constantly trying to temper my own personal expectations.
In other words, I was just hoping for the best!
My confidence was so low that I didn’t tell anyone at my job that I was even running a marathon. I took off work the day after the race and didn’t even give a reason because I didn’t want people to ask any questions about the race just in case I didn’t do that well or finish!
As I was about to learn, the marathon can be a very humbling experience!
Ready or not, the day was here. October 30, 2005. The 30th Marine Corps Marathon.
Of course, I had some pre-race nerves but I was also excited to see what this first (and maybe only?) marathon would be like. I don’t remember that many things in the immediate lead up to this race, but I know that my only real goal was just to complete the distance.
Without the experience of having run other marathons or even other races, it would have been difficult to truly know what to expect. Because of that, in many ways, I went in to this race blindly.
As I got to the starting area and was waiting for everything to get underway, I remember that the weather was perfect and the crowds of runners and spectators were huge. The cooler temperatures would allow me to start the race at a comfortable pace. And that’s exactly what happened.
In fact, the first several miles went by without any problems, but it seemed like there was always a feeling of when not if I would begin to unravel. The only hope was to push that feeling back as long as possible!
Turns out, it wouldn’t be that long before things began to fall apart!
As I was approaching the U.S. Capitol building, which was around the half way point of the course, I started to feel my energy level dropping and I needed to do something in order to keep myself moving towards the finish line.
Biggest Mistake of the Day
I took my first GU gel. This was without a doubt the worst decision of the day.
I picked a few of these up at the race expo the day before the race. The only problem was that I had never had a GU gel before and therefore I had no idea how my body would react.
Spoiler alert: not good!
Within 1-2 miles, I had to make my first pit stop and unfortunately, there would be several more stops over the the final 13-14 miles!
Between the several pit stops and the general tiredness, I was more than relieved to eventually get to the finish line in 5:49:54.
The feeling of crossing the finish line is difficult to describe. It was a mixture of many emotions – relief after a tough few hours, pride at having completed the race and mostly happiness to be able to go home and eat!
Physically exhausted and mentally spent, it was still a great feeling to cross the finish line and have a medal placed around my neck by a United States Marine!
After getting a lot of food and drink in me, the only goal the rest of that day was to rest and begin my recovery.
Then, came the time to reflect on the experience.
In the days after the race, besides being physically drained, I was also somewhat frustrated that I had allowed myself to take on this challenge with such a lack of preparation.
But mostly, I think I was annoyed and slightly embarrassed for letting myself take the GU Gel without having tested them prior to the race.
Ultimately though, I was happy and proud to have completed my first marathon!
Even with the feelings of frustration, annoyance and embarrassment in the immediate aftermath of the race, I also knew immediately that I wanted to do the race again the following year because I was confident that with better preparation, I could improve on my time.
The Course Layout – Running Through the Nation’s Capital
In terms of the race organization and the route, I can’t speak highly enough about it!
As you would expect with a race put on by the military, everything was very well organized from the registration to the expo and the race day itself.
The route begins next to Arlington National Cemetery, then goes directly by and through almost every major landmark in Washington D.C. – the White House, The Capitol building, The National Mall as well as the Washington Monument and Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. To name just a few!
And after running past the Pentagon, the race finishes spectacularly, with an uphill climb to the finish right next to the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial)!
Looking back now, there isn’t anything I would change about the experience of my first marathon. Ok, maybe I wouldn’t take the GU gels or at least I would have tested them prior to race day, but overall it was a great lesson in humility and gave me a good idea of what completing a marathon takes.
Without a doubt, I used many if not all of the things that I learned in my first marathon when I was training for and completing the Marine Corps Marathon each of the next three years.
And in those next three years, I continued to improve my time for the marathon from 5:49:54 (2005) to 5:28:25 (2006) to 5:13:19 (2007) to 5:01:30 (2008)! Also, it was during these years that I really gained an appreciation and understanding of how much hard work can pay off.
But most importantly, it was during these years that I really started to love running!
So, not only was my first Marine Corps Marathon in 2005 a great learning experience, I really believe that it set the foundation for my continued improvement in each of the next 6 marathons that I have completed.
I often think back to these races when I am in the middle of a long run while preparing for a marathon now or even when I am running a marathon. The pictures above might look like these races were bad memories but I really only think of them as positives now. They were the very beginning stages of a long process which is still going on now.
Now, when I think about these first few marathons, I am able to see how far I’ve come and understand how much I learned during these races and in the many races and miles since then.
Have you had a similar experience in your first race or any other races that you’ve done? What were your best or most important learning experiences from races that you’ve taken part in?
More From RunPatRun:
- In Part 2 of RunPatRun Race Series, you will hear all about my first big race in almost two years! The Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon, which I will be taking part in this weekend is one that I’ve been looking at for a few years because it kept showing up on best half marathons to do lists.
- The experience of my 1st few marathons gave me many Racing Mistakes to Avoid. Also, some of these lessons learned appear in my What Running Has Taught Me post.
- The main reason that I keep running and testing myself at races is to try to get better everyday. Continuously striving for improvement is Why I Run!