On October 8, 2021, I finally ran my first marathon. It still doesn’t feel real, mostly because it was an entirely virtual race, meaning there was no finish line or cheering crowds. It also was easily the most difficult run of my life. While the finish line was virtual, the miles to get there were not any less real.
Running usually comes easy to me, which made the training for this first marathon both easier and harder. I signed up for the race originally in the spring of this year, but after an insanely busy spring and summer, I did not end up starting my training till July. In July I was transitioning out of my full time job, and I was entering into a busy season for our small business so it was a lot of life changes in a short period of time. Also Georgia heat and humidity came with a vengeance over the summer. Between the heat and humidity, and it raining almost every day, the weather played a major factor in my training (or really lack thereof). I found it difficult to run in the mornings, when the sun was not fully up in the sky, because the humidity was above 90%, and it felt like I was suffocating when running. If I ran later in the day, like after 10 AM, the humidity lessened to 80%, but the temperatures would start to creep to the 90s.
I found training in the summer in Georgia nearly impossible. I also found it difficult to dedicate the time needed for training each day. Training for a marathon takes so many hours out of your week (especially on long run days), and while also trying to avoid the high humidity, I would feel like I was running for nearly half my day. All of this to say, I was not very consistent with my training, and I ended up running on average 3 days a week.
I especially struggled on my long run days because my body was so undertrained and unprepared. Endurance was not my strong suit in this marathon training. I ended up running 18 miles at one point, which was planned to be my longest run, and it was easily my best run of my entire training, but I owe a lot of that to the most beautiful fall temperatures of the season on the day I went out for the run.
Running My First Marathon: Marathon Day
So skipping to marathon day, I did not feel the most confident in myself. I knew it would be a struggle from the start, mostly because I did not work hard enough for it. I woke up to temperatures being in the 80s and humidity starting out at 90%. I had a slow morning to myself, with my tried and true oatmeal breakfast and some quiet time with Jesus. I slowly got ready to let the humidity lessen. I was feeling great as I left my apartment, energetic for the race. All of my fuel and snacks were packed for my breaks. I packed a cooler with ice and water and towels so that if it became too hot I would at least have an ice cold towel on the breaks. I knew after the marathon I would have a lot to do still, as I still had some leftover work for the coffee cart since market day was the next day. I started my run mid-day, and I felt okay on my first couple of miles. My legs felt strong and light. I had saved so many podcasts and playlists to prepare me for literal hours of running. Nathan, my husband, was cheering me on while he was working, and I knew if I needed him, he was only a phone call away.
I told this later in the day to Nathan, but I knew just from the first couple of miles that this run was going to be an uphill battle. I felt fatigued going into the day, even after sleeping in all week to prepare myself for the race. It was incredibly hot out and with full sun shining on me, I did not feel very energized or motivated. Mile 8-10 for some reason always hits me hard, and this day was no different. After just leaving my car for my ice cold towel after mile 8, I only made it another mile before I ran back to the car. At this point it hit the full heat of the day, and it was oppressive to say the least. I made sure to take as many water breaks as I needed because I felt the first signs of heat exhaustion setting in, and as I was running by myself, I wanted to be extra careful when it came to safety. At some point later in the second half of the marathon, I switched from straight jogging to running intervals to ease some of the monotony of the run and day. This really boosted my energy, and I felt great up until mile 16. All of the sudden during mile 16 I felt excruciating pain behind my right thigh (pretty sure it was related to my IT band) to the point I had to sit for 5 minutes. After resting for some time, I got back up to continue my intervals. Every time that I increased my pace or tried to increase my stride, the pain would come back with a vengeance. I proceeded to run very slow intervals and eventually called my husband to talk over things on whether I should keep running, switch to walking, or stop completely.
He helped me decide that a virtual marathon was not worth any injury and to just bring it to a walk. He ended up joining me for the last 10k of the race, and at this point I felt defeated, exhausted, and disappointed.
For many reasons, I am so glad that my first marathon was virtual. I think I needed to know fully what I was getting myself into to know how to best go about my training, especially since I’m not participating in any group runs, and I am just training myself. I do think my training was not completely worthless, and the small amount of miles I put in each week did make a difference. I actually feel like I recovered quickly and was able to continue with my work obligations on Saturday and still get out and about with some walking on Sunday.
For many other reasons, I think doing a virtual marathon is so much harder than an in-person one. It is up to you to completely plan your course and water stops and meal breaks. I ended up doing a 5 mile loop that would end at my car each time so I could refill my water and eat a snack every 5 miles. At an in-person race there is always a medical team on site, and you know that if anything happens you will get treated to immediately. On a virtual race, it is up to you to judge your own medical safety, which is one of the main reasons I wanted Nathan to come join me for my last bit of mileage. Also you don’t feel that “runner’s high” or adrenaline you typically feel on race day. Hearing cheers and seeing people on the sidelines may seem like such an inconsequential thing, but truly makes a big difference towards morale.
Overall, the marathon was easily the most difficult run of my life, and while there is some disappointment with the outcome of it, I am proud of myself for finishing and completing the full 26.2 miles. It made goals of qualifying for the Boston seem so far away, but it gives me a starting point, and I truly can only improve from here.
Running my First Marathon: Future Races
I plan to run two more marathons in the next year and hopefully qualify for Boston by the end of next year (which is somewhat of a long shot after how this marathon went, but we are dreaming big dreams here). I already have my sights set on the Atlanta Marathon, which is scheduled for the end of February. This would allow me to rest for another couple of weeks before picking back up on a full 16 week training plan. With my next training plan, I definitely plan to increase my weekly and monthly mileage to as much as I physically can. I also want to incorporate a lot of strength training and HIIT workouts on top of my running. I find my best running is when I am also at my highest athletic performance overall. It is a little ambitious to try to run a marathon this quickly after the first one, but there are barely any races over the summertime in the South, and this will allow me plenty of months of training before my second marathon of 2022. My second marathon of 2022 will hopefully be in September right before the cutoff deadline for qualifying for Boston! I want this race to purely be for the goal to qualify or at least reach a new PR. I also hope doing summer training after coming off months of running and building a foundation, will make the summer months less strenuous and tough on training.
I do think it is a pretty incredible thing just to say that you ran a marathon, a full 26.2 miles. I’m always amazed at how our bodies can handle so much more than we could ever think possible. I also think it’s crazy how much of running and marathon training is a mental game, convincing your mind that you are capable when your body is fully ready for the race. I am trying to give myself lots of grace with how my first marathon went, and truly it can only get better from here. I remain hopeful for the future that if I put in the effort and hardwork, there is no way I can’t not qualify for Boston, it just may take a couple of years of effort.