Friday, March 20, 2009

Welcome First Timers

“The trick is to not mind that it hurts”
T.E. Lawrence (as played by Peter O’Toole) – “Lawrence of Arabia” - 1962

I want to talk to the first timers. You veteran marathoners and half marathoners can stick around too, but talk among yourselves, please.

With less than six weeks to go until the big day, you have no doubt started to get into some of your longer training runs. If it is the first time you have gone 10 or 20 miles respectively, you have probably started to notice it hurts. In fact, it probably hurts quite a bit. You are possibly wondering what you got yourself into. You may be thinking “If I can just get through this, by race day my body will be able to deal with it and it won’t hurt so much.” I know what you are thinking because I have been there myself.

In the Summer of 1998, I was living in Lexington. My running partner and I decided to run our first marathon - the LaSalle Banks Chicago Marathon. To execute our long runs, usually what we did was park one vehicle at a bank in Versailles, Kentucky and then drop water bottles every two and a half miles up a ten mile stretch of U.S. 60 to Frankfort, Kentucky. If you happen to know that stretch of road, you know it is not flat and there is no shade. Once we reached Frankfort, we would start our run heading back to the first car, changing out bottles etc., then run back down 60 to finish in Frankfort. Since the Chicago Marathon is in early October, we were doing these runs in August and early September which are (for those of you not from here) pretty damn hot and humid.

The first stretch – Frankfort to Versailles – was not so bad. It was ten easy yet hot and rolling miles past some lovely thoroughbred farms. I say it is “rolling”, but that is really deceptive. That road goes up hill for about a mile or so, then down hill for about a mile, then up for a mile, and so forth. The return leg, however, was never quite so pleasant. I recall one particularly hot day making the return. As I was passing the farm then owned by the late Allen Paulson (Cigar, Arazi, Azeri), I was watching a duck pond near the highway. The pond has a small island in the middle and there is a duck house on the island built to match the stud barns lining the landscape. I was so hot, so sore, and so wiped out, I began to fantasize about being a duck and diving into that pond. It is the first and only time in my life I envied a duck.

After completing the course the first time, I was seriously concerned I had bitten off more than I could chew. Every part of my body ached. All I wanted to do was sit there in the shade of tree where we parked and drink water. I had already done the mini a couple of times and had hurt late in those. But, that was nothing compared to what I was feeling after my first 20. But, we pressed on. Subsequent 20 milers went better. But they too hurt . . . a lot. I took solace in the fact that my running partner was dying as much as I was. I also thought that with cooler weather in October and this tough conditioning behind me, I would be okay come race day.

You too may be hoping that by race day, the conditioning will pay off and you can get through the race without at some point just wanting to die. Well, forget it. The ugly truth of the matter is that virtually no one can train for and run a marathon without suffering. That is just the way it is. Your body was not built to handle that kind of stress.

So, if pain is inevitable, why do it? My answer is that pain is certainly inevitable; but so is success if, like T.E. Lawrence, “you don’t mind that it hurts”. Endurance athletes have a common bond – whether it is marathoners, Ironman, ultra-marathons or just about anything else. When you complete your first full or half marathon, what you and I and so many before you will have in common is not that we have run races of equal distances (ever heard of 5k runners sitting around swapping war stories?). What we will have in common is that we both know the other is capable and willing to suffer like a dog through weeks of training and the 26.2 miles (or 13.1) of race day just to reach the finish line one time. Call it mutual respect. To an outsider, that sounds silly. To you, it may even sound pointless. If it hurts now, and it will hurt on race day, why bother? I know the answer, but there are not words to explain it. But, when you hit the finish line April 25th, trust me, you’ll get it. Until then, suffer . . . and don’t mind that it hurts.

Wendell L. Jones
Race Chair


Mary Henson said...

I ran that same course, US60 when I trained for my first marathon in Hawaii. Thanks for your description, it brought back memories of the no shade, flat, cars flying by runs to the cemetary and back. Made me smile!

Sandra Hogan said...

Thanks for this article. This will be my first full marathon and I am near panic. I have followed the training program like a recipe praying the final dish will come out right, but I know the mental and physical toll will be more extraordinary.

Lisa said...

I, too, thank you for this post! I am training for the Mini and have been running for 2 short years. It is just a few days from the race and my legs hurt so bad from my last run I was feeling pretty bad about my readiness. After reading your post, I am relieved to hear that this is normal. I can deal with 'hurt' if thats what its supposed to do. Thanks for the reassurance.

Melinda said...

Thank you so much for this. This is my first half-marathon and I hope to do a full one someday. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, I did it! It was my first time doing any half marathon and I finished on Saturday in 2:32. I had a great time and didn't mind the heat too much. I do have some suggestions though on the race. One, can the shuttles from the end to the start pick up people outside of the marathon route? We sat on a hot bus with a sick runner for over 35 minutes trying to cross the marathon runners. If the buses picked up people at 4th and Main, they could get on I-64 at 9th street immediately and avoid the traffic waiting inside the route. Secondly, I recently saw a race that had three cash prizes for us non-elite runners. Basically anyone who finished had a chance at three $1500 cash prizes, drawn randomly after the course closes. This would not only attract more runners to our race, but encourage people to become more fit and active.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Wendell. I enjoyed reading this article. Yes, the pain is tough to overcome sometimes but I had such an awesome feeling of accomplishment after finishing that windy hot Derby Festival marathon than almost anything I have ever done in my life. Funny that this year we had just the opposite training experience from what you experienced many years ago. All our weekends leading up to the April 25th were unseasonably cool to cold. I wilt in the heat & didn't come close to my goal finish...but I did finish! There's always next year, and I am ready to go back thru all the pain and 4 AM wakeup calls Saturday mornings. Thanks for a great race!