Even though I have run very little this year, after last year's dozen marathons, I have still been following a number of folks who've been training for their first. Their journeys have been inspirational, heartwarming, funny, and sometimes frustrating. I have relished each training report, whether posted on a blog or a social media site. They have provided many an hour of early morning reading over that first cup of Blue Bottle coffee...and through many a second.
For one special runner, the training journey is over now. Sunday is race day, in Athens, Greece. Freakin' Athens, people, where this goofiness began some 2500 years ago. I was supposed to be there, but will not be. As we will not be running together, I will not get to share all my "wisdom" with her in person...so I'm going to do it here. This is what I know...about the marathon.
It's a long way. But, the distance gives you so many opportunities for brilliance. There will be many moments when you'll lose control and focus...only to ravenously snatch them back a few steps farther on. You'll then lose it all again...and gain it back..and on and on and on.
It's going to hurt. During...and after. But, it's an amazingly good hurt. Really. It's a pain that comes from having done "it"...spending everything you had on "it". Collapsing on your bed for the first time after the race is run...is like being on it at no other moment. It's like going home.
There are so many snapshots your mind's camera will take..that you'll draw upon well after the pain is gone. You'll see so many joyous faces, as personal mountains are scaled and conquered. You'll never forget seeing someone give up. You'll wish you could help...but will quickly realize that you only brought enough of your own "right stuff" for you.
Time doesn't matter. I firmly believe that first time marathoners should be intent on nothing more than figuring out how to finish..however long that takes...and relishing the completion. The first time is one big class about respecting the distance. The distance is the boss...and always will be. You can not beat the distance. But you can learn to manage your reaction to it. Subsequent marathons can be about time...if you want them to be.
Mile 17 is not where major life decisions should be made. It's somewhere in the 17-20 mile range where many first timers, perhaps out of boredom or desperation, begin to contemplate relationships, career goals, career changes, major purchases, spiritual pathways...anything to distract them from the insanity of the remaining task at hand. This is not good. I have an English Mars bar at every mile 17. They distract me, with childhood comfort, at a time when distraction is priceless. Whatever your equivalent is...don't be afraid to use it.
You'll be thrilled when it's over. For a few minutes. If your experience is as fulfilling as I hope it will be, you'll very shortly begin to consider your next marathon adventure. It's been said that fewer than 1% of everyone in the world will ever run a marathon. You're about to join them.
You've got this. You've done the work. The training's over. It's time to party.