What to Expect Before, During & After Your First Marathon

Written by Yuwanda Black – First-hand Account of One Runner’s Experience

I’ve been a jogger/runner for over 20 years, but the most I’d ever done at one stretch was 12 miles. This year, I ran my first marathon.

Being a writer, I was conscious to absorb every feeling so that I could, of course, write about it later. Also, between you and me, I didn’t know if I’d survive the darn thing or be able to do it again, so I wanted to remember what it felt like. The Feeling Two Weeks Before “The Big Day”

I trained for 10 months, but only got to 20 miles in my training. So, as it got closer to race day, I was nervous. I went into the marathon with two goals – to run the entire thing without stopping, and to finish in under 4.5 hours.

I revised my finish goal to under 5 hours after I learned that that is the cutoff point for getting a finishing medal. Boy did I want that medal!

As I only trained up to 20 miles, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish either goal. I berated myself, to the point where I trained LESS than I should have those last three weeks.

Looking back, I realized that part of me was trying to give myself an excuse in case I didn’t reach my goals. The night before the race, I went to a dinner party and stayed longer than I should have and drank more than I should have (I know, I know, I shouldn’t have been drinking at all). But, it was the holiday season, so what was I to do?

Thank goodness for friends, because my girlfriend (the hostess of the party) literally pushed me out the door around 10 and said, “You have a race in the morning. Get out and go to bed!”

I went home, but didn’t climb into bed until around 11:45.

The Morning of “The Big Day”

Alarm goes off at 4:30. I’m soooo sleepy, but am psyched, so I climb out of bed, dress, figure out how to tie that clock to my shoe, read the directions for all the gear I’m supposed to bring and where I should go, and wait for sis to pick me up.

NOTE: If you want to be timed, you have to wear a timing mechanism that race providers give you on your shoe.

5:15am: Sis arrives and we’re off to Turner Field, where the race starts.

My sister is a grand motivator and I need this right now because I’m nervous. What if I don’t finish; what if I get hurt during the race; how am I going to call somebody (I didn’t carry a cell phone as some did – which surprised me); what if I disappoint everybody? What if I disappoint myself?

6:30: We arrive at the starting line. We got there earlier, but left to find coffee and wound up getting lost in downtown Atlanta. So, once we found a nice police officer who literally escorted us back to the right place, we stayed put!

6:45: I run to a port-a-potty and hurry to get to the starting line. Apparently it’s a good idea to go to the bathroom before the race because there are lots of potties, and lots of bottoms lined up to use them.

I forego the snacks they provide you before the race – I’m too nervous to eat and don’t want to take the chance that food will affect me somehow (don’t ask, I just went with my gut that morning).

It’s cold, but not bitter, and daylight has finally broken. It’s a beautiful, clear morning.

When I arrive at the starting line, I’m thinking, it’s so informal. I thought it was going to be these intense-looking athletes focused on the race. People are chatting, some are in shorts, others in old sweat pants and the ages are all over the place.

Being a black female, I did notice that that were practically no African Americans, or other people of color (remember, this is Atlanta!), and most of the runners are male. But, everyone is extremely nice.

With not so much hullabaloo, the race starts.

And They’re Off!

I’m glad to be running because I was freezing my tightly clad buns off just standing there. Many people obviously have running mates because there is chatter among groups of 2, 3 or 4.

As I breeze through the streets of downtown Atlanta, I take note of the communities we’re running through. Nice houses. “Hmm,” I think, “I’d love to live downtown (I live in the ‘burbs). Wonder how much these cost? Probably a cool mil, at least.”

Around mile three, an attractive, 40-something black male starts keeping pace with me and we strike up a conversation. I’ve always been a lone runner (I like it this way), so it was unusual to be talking to someone.

During the course of our talk, I tell him that this is my first marathon. He exclaims, “Wow, you picked one of the hardest courses to run for your first.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because it’s hilly, and most of the hills are on the backside (second half of the course).” This guy had ran this course 7 times and has run marathons all over the U.S, so the more he talked, the more I wished he’d move on.

“I DO NOT want to be hearing this,” I’m thinking. “Don’t tell me about the hill at miles 17 and 21 when I’m only on mile 3.”

In spite of his chatter, we run together for a couple of miles and then he pulls ahead. “Cool,” I think. “Didn’t want to hear more of his babbling anyway” Nice guy though.

Mile 8: I can’t believe how easy this is going. I’m not even tired, and there have been some mini hills along the way. The sun is shining and the cheerers along the route are phenomenal. People driving along the highway beep their horns in support.

Others sport looks that say, “Y’all must be crazy!”

Maybe it’s my imagination, but black people I pass look at me with a twin sense of dismay and pride. To give a little insight, running, or in my estimation, any type of exercise down here below the Mason Dixie line is not as prevalent as it is in the north (I lived in NYC for 18 years), especially among African American women.

When I’d go to the track and run 3, 4 or 5 miles, invariably someone would come up to me and make a comment like, “Wow, how do you run that far?” Or, “You ran how many times around?!” Or, “I wish I could run like that.”

Around mile 8, I see a race volunteer offering runners Vaseline. I’m ecstatic. Why? Well, being black, once you sweat the salt from it forms a white ring around your face. I’m sure white people get it too, but it is more prevalent on us. So, I grab some and slob it on my face. Who cares what I look like; I’m forty and skin preservation is key!

Boy am I glad I put on long sleeves. I thought I’d be peeling off layers, but my new lycra wear is perfect for this weather. I’m not hot and I’m not cold – I’m juuussst right. So, this is what it feels like to wear professional running clothes. Comfy, comfy — they work!

Being a recreational runner, I’d never invested in high-end running wear. For the race, I did. Worth every cent!

Around mile 11, I see runners going the other way. “Huh?” Oh, those are the elite guys who will go on to finish in under 3 hours. While you’re making your way to the half-way mark, they’ll be heading towards the finish line. Showoffs!

Half-way There (Mile 13)

I’ve been running for a little over 2 hours and 12 minutes. I’m ecstatic that I’m on target to finish within 5 hours, but am still worried that I will hit a wall and not make it. Remember, I’ve never run more than 20 miles before. And, I know from my training that I slow down considerably after 15 miles.

But, I’m feeling good. I can’t believe I don’t feel tired yet. A little breathy, but I’ve been careful to pace myself along the way, all the while muttering, “The goal is to get that medal and run the whole thing. Nothing more.” I focus on this like a laser, running the script over and over in my head.

I observe that I’ve been running within a 30 second or minute of basically the same group of people. Sometimes we pass each other, eg, at the water stations, running up a particularly gruesome hill, etc.

So this is what it’s like – you basically find your groove and who you see around you after about mile 10 will be your running mates – unless someone has a major meltdown.

Mile 17: Okay, this is the friggin’ hill that guy was talking about. It’s brutal, but I’m handling it. My tactic is to slow waayyy down on hills. I let them come to me, I don’t go to them. Some of my running mates take the opposite tack. Some I manage to pass because they give out after taking a hill, others get even further ahead.

In my years of running, I’ve noticed that some people have a knack for hills, while they just totally defeat others (okay, me). The way you handle them in training is exactly the way you will handle them during the race. So, take note and just go with what works for you.

Mile 21: Okay, this one almost kills me. It is a hill of practically 1 mile. When will it end? I feel the weight of every step now. Am I moving? I must be because things are going by, but man, it is brutal.

Mile 23: I’m stopping extra long at the water stations to take in every bit of sport drink. I forego water at this point and only grab sports drink because I’m sure I need to replace everything inside of me to keep going – electrolytes, fluids, guts, intestines, etc.

The sun is still shining, the day is still beautiful, but why do I feel like there’s a tornado going on inside me – it’s dark, cloudy and scary. Everything hurts. Is that another hill? God no!

I can’t believe that skinny young girl just passed me. I passed HER about a half mile back! Damn these hills!

Mile 25: Only one more mile to go – and truly, it is the longest mile. It’s mostly flat and/or downhill. The jarring of my joints don’t like it though. But, I’ve gotten a surge of energy.

My bones know that the end is close – or they warn me that it better be because this is their last push. About a half mile to go – a little hill comes up. BUT, I’m taking that sucker! It ain’t stopping me – not now.

I SEE the finish line. People are cheering – the running community has awesome supporters!

About 200 yards to go РI flat out take off running. I give it everything. I see my sister and my fianc̩e cheering me on. They love me; they really love me!

I notice the numbers 4:39:06 as I cross – I DID IT! I FINISHED! And, I got my medal. A few weeks later I received my official time in the mail (apparently the numbers you see when you cross the finish line aren’t your official time). I did better than I thought – 4:36:19.

Yeah me!

After the Race

I am sore as all get out! I have to be helped out of the car. My fianc̩e runs a bath for me and I fall asleep in it. He later helps me downstairs, where I eat Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Walking is torture РI do it slowly, wincing from point A to point B.

48 hours later, I’m shaking my butt at a party like I wasn’t in dire pain the day before. Funny how the body recovers when there’s fun to be had.

I continue to be sore for the next few days, but within a week, am back to feeling almost normal.

Will I run another one? I said no way. BUT, a friend of mine from Ecuador who’s run professionally says in his beautifully accented lilt, “Honey, you have to do at least 2.”

My Scooby Doo response? “Huh?!” . . . A month later, I’m ready.

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