Monumental Steps – My First Marathon

A couple of years ago, I set a goal for myself to train for a marathon. Many of my friends had achieved this feat, and I was inspired by their effort and discipline training for such a rigorous achievement.

A couple of years ago, I set a goal for myself to train for a marathon. Many of my friends had achieved this feat, and I was inspired by their effort and discipline training for such a rigorous achievement. Back then, school got in the way and I didn't set aside the time needed to prepare for such a workout. With school finally out of the way, and with plenty of free time in the evenings, I set aside hours daily to simply run. Eighteen weeks of doing just that...

On Sunday, November 29, 2015, I had completed my first ever marathon. 

I want to share my experience from the start of training to the finish line of the marathon in hopes to inspire others who are wanting to follow in my footsteps, like the many who have inspired me to do the same.

Disclaimer: I am neither a running "expert" nor a sports medicine specialist/doctor. These thoughts are my reflections on training for and running the Seattle Marathon.

My Running Background

The first comment reservation that I hear from people when talking about a marathon is how they "are not a runner". I have never really considered myself as runner for the longest time. I mean... sure, I was on the high school track team for two years (until the coach decided to enforce cuts the following year), but ever since then, I was unmotivated by running. After not running consistently during my college years due to a busy schedule and a lack of discipline, I started packing on some weight.

Now that college was over, I had plenty of time to re-shape myself and work towards something that would improve myself. After seeing many of my peers complete their respective marathons, along with myself wanting to get in shape, I decided it was my turn.

Baby Steps

Now that I had decided to run a marathon, I had to figure out where to begin. Thanks to the Internet, there are so many resources that experienced runners have provided. After doing some research, I came across a professional an experienced runner's website - Hal Higdon. Turns out, he's the grandfather of a college buddy of mine (who was also a runner), so I figured his training plan would be effective! I followed Hal Higdon's Novice I Marathon guide and scheduled my runs based on his suggestion.

WEEKMONTUEWEDTHUFRISATSUN
1Rest3 m run3 m run3 m runRest6Cross
2Rest3 m run3 m run3 m runRest7Cross
3Rest3 m run4 m run3 m runRest5Cross
4Rest3 m run4 m run3 m runRest9Cross
5Rest3 m run5 m run3 m runRest10Cross
6Rest3 m run5 m run3 m runRest7Cross
7Rest3 m run6 m run3 m runRest12Cross
8Rest3 m run6 m run3 m runRestRestHalf Marathon
9Rest3 m run7 m run4 m runRest10Cross
10Rest3 m run7 m run4 m runRest15Cross
11Rest4 m run8 m run4 m runRest16Cross
12Rest4 m run8 m run5 m runRest12Cross
13Rest4 m run9 m run5 m runRest18Cross
14Rest5 m run9 m run5 m runRest14Cross
15Rest5 m run10 m run5 m runRest20Cross
16Rest5 m run8 m run4 m runRest12Cross
17Rest4 m run6 m run3 m runRest8Cross
18Rest3 m run4 m run2 m runRestRestMarathon

Source: http://halhigdon.com/training/51137/Marathon-Novice-1-Training-Program

The first two weeks are the hardest... (until you get to week 5). They help you pick up your mileage. If you're used to running a mile a day, the first work outs will build you up to running 5Ks as the minimal workout. 3 miles sounds like a lot, but by the end of the second week, running three miles/5Ks will feel like second-nature.

Don't freak out if you miss a couple of workouts during the week. It won't set you back that far (I was on-call for a week which prevented me from running far from home). However, it is imperative to not skip the Saturday long runs. I'll explain more about this later. 

The Amica Insurance Seattle Marathon

Each marathon course is different: runs in the midwest are flatter than ones here in the Pacific Northwest. In case anyone plans to run the course in the future, here's my breakdown of how I felt during the route.

Mile 1-3 - Journey Down 5th Avenue

The race begins at Seattle Center along 5th Avenue, with the starting line adjacent to the EMP Museum. I signed up for the "marathon walk" to start early and allow myself some extra time to complete the marathon. When the horns sounded, I took off in front of 82 others and led the pack for the first three miles. I was hyped that I was participating, and I felt great. However, I had to pace myself; I couldn't use up all of that energy with 25 miles to go... I paced myself to walk 1 minute after running every 7 minutes. When that first pace cue came in, I slowed to a walk and allowed others to pass me. For me, it was determination to complete the marathon, and not to "race" against others.

The first two miles are along 5th Avenue from Seattle Center to the International District, where the I-90 Express Lanes start. With it being a cold day along with the humidity, the bridges were icy. I slipped a couple of times, so I walked up the ramp being careful not to fall down.

Mile 4-8 - Roadrunner Along I-90

It's not every day that you can tell someone that you've run on an Interstate. The Seattle Marathon course continues onto the I-90 Express Lanes from SODO to Mercer Island. This was the easiest part of the course - elevation was flat, and runners follow a straight path for several miles. In the tunnels, everyone was screaming and ringing bells, which added some morale and energy to the run (but then again... that's what I wanted to conserve). Along this path, a runner patted me on the back and gave me a thumbs up as he passed me. Talk about encouragement!

Mile 9-13, 14-17 - Lake Washington Blvd

After running on the bridge, the course continues along a quiet part of town down to Seward Park. In my opinion, this was the least scenic part of the journey. To the left is a lake, and to the right are plenty of houses. On the bright side, people watched runners pass their residences cheering by ringing bells and holding humorous signs. The path goes all the way to Seward Park, which is the midpoint of the marathon. This is where I decided to re-fuel with some Cliff bars that I brought along with me. After circling the park, participants head back on the road in the opposite direction (Mile 14-17).

Mile 18-20 - Muscles Tighten

After completing the park loop, the route continues through Leschi. This is where I started feeling tense muscles and wanted to walk more often. I slowed down to a walk and felt "stuck" at that pace until another participant jogged next to me, gave me a pat on the back, and encouraged me to push myself. I acknowledged, smiled, and picked it up. Along this road, the pavement had many potholes, so it wasn't a stable road which may have swollen my feet. The medical team handed out GU Energy Gel (my first time trying it) and it really helped me pick up some of the time that I had lost by walking. At this point, the course is still pretty flat, but the worse is yet to come.

Mile 21-23 - Hills and the Arboretum

The course ran along the bottom of a huge hill in the Leschi neighborhood. Now it was time to go up it. It was a steep 200 foot climb, but I took it one step at a time. An elderly gentleman ran next to me and said positively, "we love hills don't we?". I smiled, and said "yes we do". I kept up with him and paced up towards the top of the hill. The course then dips into the arboretum, a section of solitude away from bustling traffic. But of course... it was an uphill climb all the way

Mile 24 - Out of the Woods

I was in so much pain from running up hill that I proceeded to walk for a mile to let my legs recover. The course crosses over I-5, and from this point on, I could see the Space Needle. I knew that I was inching close to the finish line, but I questioned myself thinking "how is the Space Needle that far away..."

Mile 25 - Dream Big

After going down some steep ramps, I saw Mile Marker 25. How on Earth did I make it this far...? I was a little over a mile from finishing. I needed some extra motivation. I put on my favorite song to raise my spirits - Dream Big. I picked up the pace from a gait to a jog for the final mile while continuing to listen to inspirational songs. I swear I could smell the scent of someone chopping onions on this block... I got a call from my friend asking if I was OK, and that they were waiting for me at the finish line. Talk about a last-second motivation!

Mile 26 - Race to the Finish

The final stretch was along Mercer Street and then forks into Memorial Stadium. I was greeted by thunderous applause, Seattle Seahawks cheerleaders, and most importantly, my parents and best friends at the finish line. I finished in 6 hours, 24 minutes, and 17 seconds - I wasn't striving for time; I was just thrilled that I had ran the furthest in a single session in my life.

Lessons Learned

Training for this marathon helped improve my personal fitness, strengthened my discipline, and taught me that I'm much stronger than I thought I was. Over the course of 18 weeks, I learned some invaluable lessons. Here are some tips/pointers to get you started toward your first marathon:

  • Never Give Up - It takes about 4 weeks to form a habit. Even if you're tired in the first few weeks, don't give up. Running longer distances outside of your comfort zone will build your tolerance to handle longer distances. I remember wheezing and barely being able to run 12 miles from Redmond to Bellevue. On the third instance of running that route, I was able to run 14 miles with little difficulty.
  • Don't Skip The Saturday Runs - Sore legs are not fun. They also are a sign that you've over-used them. You will not be able to jump from running 12 miles to 20 miles in a week. If you attempt to do this, your legs will be sore, and you could potentially do some damage to your joints. The training plan gradually adds miles each week (and offers some recovery weeks to build you up to running 26).
  • Pace Yourself - I originally practiced my long runs by running as far as I could without stopping and then walked more often towards the higher mile counts. I discovered that this practice is counter-intuitive. Instead, walk for a minute or two after running several minutes. I found out that I performed faster and felt less sore by practicing this technique.
  • Sign Up Early; Tell Your Friends - When you decide that you're going to do a marathon, go ahead and sign up for it. When you're shelling out $100 or so for a marathon, you've committed to the event. There is no worse feeling than throwing money down the drain (besides sore legs, but that's for another day). Often, you get a discount for signing up early so use that to your advantage. The point is this, by committing to it and telling your friends about it, people will hold you accountable which gives you the motivation to run. My parents even booked plane tickets to see me run this event - I surely could not let that go to waste!
  • Lay Off The Soda/Stay Hydrated - When running this often, it's important to stay hydrated. I found myself performing better by drinking water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Invest in some gear - I had to get some extra running gear to keep me dedicated for training.
  • Familiarize Yourself With The Course (to an extent) - This is a personal preference and it depends on your goal. If you are wanting to be a the marathon with a goal time, it's important to understand the course path and the types of hills there are. In my case, I just wanted to finish the course. I studied the map, but I didn't visit the course itself. I felt that if I knew exactly what was up ahead, I would get discouraged. Instead, I took the opportunity to "explore" while running on unfamiliar roads to keep my mental state busy!
  • During the marathon, listen to music you heard during training - I applied a principle of psychology here. If you study for an exam in one state (for example, chewing a certain flavor of gum), you will perform better taking the exam chewing that same flavor. Same applies here. If you train to a certain playlist, play it during the marathon! You'll recall the feelings you had during training, and potentially perform better
  • Keep your head up - Not only physically (because it reduces strain on your spine), but mentally as well. Over half of the marathon is mental toughness. Instead of counting miles early to go, think of something positive that keeps you happy. Take the race a mile at a time. As a song in Peter Pan once said, "Think of the happiest things; it's the same as having wings". Soon enough, running the marathon will be like walking on air.

Special Thanks

I surely wouldn't have accomplished this in the first place if it wasn't for the following (in no particular order):

  1. My parents for flying out over Thanksgiving to witness me crossing the finish line, and keeping me accountable during the weeks training
  2. My friends and co-workers who kept me motivated and accountable to train even on the busiest of days
  3. Saili, Stanley, Vincent, and Scott for freezing their butts off waiting for me to cross the finish line
  4. Hal Higdon for such an effective training plan
  5. Friends who have inspired me to sign up for a marathon

I am more than happy to answer any questions about my experience; leave a comment below! I hope I have inspired those who are wanting to make Running a Marathon a bucket-list item for 2016 to sign up!

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