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I Am A Marathoner…

…or at least that’s what I need to tell myself.

Before we get more into that, however, let’s take a look at some of the nitty-gritty stats:

What?: Charleston Marathon

When?: January 18th, 2014

Where?: Refer to the “What?”

Why?: Well, it seemed like the next logical step…

Who?: Yours truly!

Kicks: Brooks Ghost 5’s

Fuel: Clif Shot Bloks, Sport Beans, Pretzels, Gatorade

Tunes: Varied mix with heavy doses of The Gaslight Anthem, Pela, Fake Problems, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Frank Turner, Jukebox The Ghost, Spoon, etc

Results: 4:20:38 (9:56 Pace)

The very good news is that I crossed the finish line in my first ever full marathon this past weekend. The bad news is that I am admittedly my own worst critic and thus cannot say I’m satisfied given the fact that the race did not go according to plan (though really, what does?). The other piece of good news to finish off this good/bad news sandwich is that my outlook is shifting more and more towards the sense of accomplishment spectrum and further away from the “you suck” spectrum.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? First off, I do want to say that it’s my opinion that the Charleston marathon was organized well from beginning to end and executed extremely well on race day. I have heard others coming down on this race for one reason or another, and whereas it is true that there are indeed areas that the race directors can look to improve upon in future iterations of this event, it is my newbie marathoner’s (though not newbie racer or runner) opinion that this was an excellent event overall. Plus you have to remember that this is only the fourth year that this race has been around and the first time that the event sold out (it capped at a combined 5,000 participants for the half and full). In any case, the fact that 46 States and 10 countries were represented must mean that they were doing something right here! (or maybe just that people love to visit Charleston?…nah)

The race expo on Friday night was a no frills type of affair (which was more than fine by me!). I wanted to get in and get out, and the set up at the expo allowed just that. A free (well, with the registration fee) technical shirt and my race bib was all I was searching for, and so I snatched them up and got on out of there!

Shizz was getting real.
Shizz was getting real.

After taking the above photo of the ol’ race shirt, tweaking my marathon playlist a bit, and setting up my race gear for the morning, I set off to bed. I managed to get to bed around 11pm which is early for me and good considering the anxiety I was beginning to feel more acutely. I slept well and awoke to my alarm at 5:30am feeling well-rested along with a mixture of nerves/excitement. One cup of coffee, a peanut buttered bagel, and a shower later and I was out the door accompanied by my lovely driver/cheerleader/motivational speaker for the day, Alicia.

As expected, there was race day traffic near the starting line but nothing too crazy and the future ball and chain my beautiful fiancée was able to drop me off a few blocks from the jumping off point. While walking over to the starting area, a black cat did cross in front of myself and two other runners walking in front of me. Was this an ominous curse or a good luck blessing? I’m still not sure. Maybe I should try to find out how those two other runners fared so that I can establish a final verdict…

The race started at 8am, and it was sunny but cold (at least by Lowcountry winter standards). The temperature was around 34F when the race began and only rose to about 45F during the course of the event. Although it was a tad bit chilly while standing around before the race, the cool air felt good for the most part while running. I’ll always prefer cooler temps during a run as opposed to warmer ones given the overall lesser degree of stress on the body and hydration status. It is worth pointing out, however, that gloves may have been a good idea given the fact that I found my fingers to be largely non-functional the first time I went to grab some Shot Bloks out of my Fitletic pouch. Opening up the Shot Bloks packaging was also quite challenging. Yikes!

The sun rising and doing its best to warm us up as we stood waiting for the gun to go off!
The sun rising and doing its best to warm us up as we stood waiting for the gun to go off!

At 8am, the gun went off and the race began! The first four to five miles were jumbled as any race that draws more than a few hundred people is. These miles were perhaps the most scenic as we ran along The Battery and up along the “touristy” part of King Street. I focused on staying relaxed and not pushing my pace, keeping it around 8:40 per mile. I told myself to just enjoy the experience (“This is your first marathon and it’s awesome!”).

The problem is that I never felt good. You know those runs when you realize you simply don’t have it within the first five minutes? Well, this was one of those runs…and it was my first marathon! It would be one thing if this was a 10k or even a half marathon since then I could just say, “Meh, you’ll get ’em next time”, and take it easier than I normally would have while knowing that I would still finish (or at least most likely would!). Having never run more than 20 miles at a clip, I didn’t know what this all meant for my morning as I would ultimately be heading into uncharted territories…

I told myself things such as, “Well, they don’t call it a marathon for nothin” and “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it” to try to motivate myself.

Ultimately, around mile 6 I started to have some significant GI distress. I’ll spare you all the details, but suffice it to say that the Shot Bloks were not sitting well with me that morning. This fact was both surprising and a bummer given that this was the fuel I had been training with all along while preparing for this marathon, and it had never disagreed with me before. Did I say something to offend the Bloks? I’m not sure. Regardless, we were like an old married couple locked up in an epic argument that made it painfully clear we could not even be in the same room together.

After hitting a port a potty at the mile 8 aid station in an attempt to smooth over the disagreement myself and C. Bloks were tangled up in, I actually felt pretty good. There was a bounce in my step and I was able to pick up my pace a bit. I passed the 4:00 hour pace group somewhere around mile 13 and was feeling pretty good…

…until the Bloks and I began not seeing eye to eye again. This resulted in another call of nature stop at mile 16, but unlike last time no magical rejuvenation coursed through me after exiting the green construction site staple beacon of hope.

My pace again began to falter. I switched to Sport Beans, which were apparently friendlier on my system but didn’t work any miracles.The 4:00 hour pace group passed me looking like a group of Olympians. My left ankle began hurting (that was weird). My right quad began screaming out in pain. I felt like I was stuck in quicksand and I’m pretty sure a teeny, tiny ant zoomed passed me and shook his head in disgust.

Around mile 20, I began questioning whether it was even worth it to continue running. After all, I was a failure–I was significantly behind my goal time, I felt like death, and I was even considering walking. For some reason, that was the part that stung the most. I was ashamed to even consider engaging in such a preposterous and lowly act! How embarrassing would it be to walk past volunteers and spectators?! After all, this is a run! What would they think of me?

Now I don’t know where these ridiculous thoughts were coming from. After all, I am nowhere near an elite runner and am instead a middle of the packer at best on most days. Furthermore, I have always had a healthy dose of respect for any variety of distance runner (respect which has only grown since this past weekend).

Luckily, my brain was still functioning enough to realize it was indeed being absurd and convince my legs that walking is ok. “After all”, my brain said, “we want to get out of here in one piece”. They tried, but ultimately my legs could not argue with that logic.

So that’s what I did. After mile 20, I alternated walking with bits of running. When my body felt like it was going to give out during these running spurts, I stopped and resumed walking. I leisurely hit up the aid stations along this stretch and consumed electrolyte laden Gatorade. Around mile 23, I called my partner in crime, Alicia, to tell her that I would be nowhere near my goal time and would instead be lucky to cross the finish line. (She missed the first call and subsequently called back to ask if she had missed me at the finish–this was around the 3:41 mark; I wish!).

Still, I’m not going to say the last 10k or so of the race was easy by any stretch of the imagination even with the walking. There were still times when I thought about just throwing in the towel. How easy would it have been to have just walked off the course, sat down on a park bench, and called my chauffeur up?

I didn’t, though. Simply put, I didn’t want to quit. So I kept putting one foot in front of the other–sometimes it is as simple as that.

The volunteers and spectators were great as they offered support and kind words even when I dared to walk! (How bout that?) The cheers of the crowd were enough to motivate my legs to run the last 0.40 miles of the race and even pass a couple of other runners on the way down the straightaway (a girl in the crowd actually met my eyes and called out to me that I’d better “watch out” because a guy behind me was making a last kick and going to pass me down the final stretch; maybe I would’ve cared another day, but I didn’t on this day). I crossed the finish line and pretended I wasn’t going to die long enough for Alicia to greet me and act as a support beam as I became a lean-to.

In the festive atmosphere of the post race festivities, I wasn’t feeling good enough to stomach the free shrimp and grits or even much of the complimentary brews (though it should be noted also that it was Bud Light), but I did begin to feel proud of what I had accomplished out there on the 26.2 miles of pavement I left behind. Sure, the clock didn’t read what I had hoped but I persevered through one of the most physically challenging runs I have experienced and the most mentally challenging run. That is something that I’ll always remember and hopefully be able to draw from in the future.

Someone will need to help me off this bench...
Someone will need to help me off this bench…
Alicia got me roses for finishing. I told her she should have thrown them at me as I crossed the finish line.
Alicia got me roses for finishing. I told her she should have thrown them at me as I crossed the finish line (and I do mean “at” instead of “to”).
Celebratory grub (inhaled and thus not pictured) and brews (Dos Equis Amber) at Taco Boy.
Celebratory grub (inhaled and thus not pictured) and brews (Dos Equis Amber) at Taco Boy.


In the end, it's all about the bling (and the brews as provided by the lovely Alicia).
In the end, it’s all about the bling (and the brews as provided by the lovely Alicia).

Final thoughts:

1) Major thanks to the lovely and talented AJH. Without her support (emotionally and physically following the race), I would not have survived!

2) Next time (and let’s be honest–there is clearly going to be a next time), I’m going to nail down my fuel plan and have a stronger base going in.

3) I hope I at least look good in the race photos. Ha!

Until next time, thanks for reading!



26 thoughts on “I Am A Marathoner…”

  1. Congrats dude. The first time is always awkward… Now you can tell people you ran a marathon with Zola Budd.

    The first time I ran a marathon, I looked like hell and my wife and the medics kept trying to get me to sit down, and I kept telling them, if I sit down, I’m not getting up. Guess they never ran one of these before…

    1. Thanks, man! Yeah I didn’t realize Z Budd was there till after. Should’ve asked her to pace me…

      Geez sounds like your first was a hell of a time! Seems to be a trend peeps saying the first is the roughest. What do you think makes the difference down the road–better training? Muscle memory? Better fueling? Psychologically knowing you’ve been there before?

  2. Very proud of you! Hope you are proud of yourself. It’s a good sign that you are already even entertaining the thought of doing another one. Take care.

  3. Well done Matt. Still a great time for a first marathon, especially with some walking. My first one was 5.20 with even more walking. Only managed one more since then and was even slower with even more walking, despite successful 20mile long runs in training and sub 2 half marathon. Would kill for 4.20. Decided to concentrate on 5ks for a few years then build up slowly. Have my sight set on a sub 4 marathon in 2015. I’m sure you’ll get to sub 4 before me. Well done agai.

    1. Hey Gary, thanks for the comments. Seems like sometimes all the training can be there and it still doesn’t come together on race day like you’re talking about–somewhat scary stuff. Good luck to you on hitting that sub 4 mark!

  4. Congrats on finishing your first marathon!! Don’t beat yourself up about not finishing in your goal time. My first marathon experience was very similar to yours aka lots of GI issues and some walking towards the end. I think it’s that way for a lot of runners. I’m sure your next one will be much smoother!

  5. Congratulations on your first marathon :). Even if you don’t run another you will be a marathoner forever and that’s not a bad time at all, considering you didn’t feel so hot and the weather was definitely not on our side. I really like that the race is no frills- you don’t spend a lot of time or money at the expo, because well… it’s Charleston and everyone wants to enjoy the city anyway.

    1. Thanks! True–no one can take that away from me! I was disappointed at first (especially during the run) but started to swing more the feeling proud side once I crossed the finish line. The weather was definitely not on our side! Ultimately, I think I’ll stick to half marathons and below in terms of racing distances, but may give a full one more go.
      Yeah, exactly–I don’t need a big time race expo or race itself. I know some other peeps were coming down on the expo and the course, etc but I definitely like the low key vibe.

  6. Congratulations! I read every word with interest as I have just signed up for my first marathon to be run on 1st June (first day of winter down here). I would love any time under 6 hours so I think you are great!

    1. Thanks for reading and way to go on signing up for your first marathon! It’s definitely an intense experience (or at least it was for me)–my advice would be to put in the training, find out what works for you leading up to the race, and just try to enjoy the race (as much as possible) when you’re in it. There’ll be times when it’s super difficult, but fighting through it is definitely worth it in the end!

      1. I only started running in March 2012, when I was 40kg heavier than I am now. I will be 52 this year, so I am not expecting any great miracles, but I am going to do my best to complete it! I have completed a trail half marathon. Sadly the race can’t be in the city centre, still too much quake damage, but will be round and around the airport, so there won’t be many spectators I think. I suspect this will make things a little harder. Maybe next year we can use the city.

    1. Thanks! Yeah I’ve used the Blox before–may have just been a weird day. Who knows? I’ll have to nail down the race day fuel even better next go round…

  7. Well done, marathoner! You should be proud of yourself. Your account reminds me a bit of my first marathon, only you crossed the finish line where I didn’t. I dropped out after 40km having run myself totally into the ground. So you had an off day and you battled on – super well done! Marathons really aren’t supposed to be easy (if you ever finish a marathon thinking that was easy, you didn’t run hard enough! 😉 ) Incidentally, what’s the longest distance you have run in training? I suppose people differ greatly that way, but I find that only doing long runs up to 20 miles/ 32km is never enough to actually allow me to race a marathon. Sure, you can finish it, but the last 10km will be a struggle… In any case, you did super well for finishing your first marathon. Let the dust settle a bit, and you’ll probably find yourself hungry for more. Upwards and onwards!

    1. Thanks mucho! Yeah, for this inaugural attempt my longest run was only 20 miles (as prescribed by the training plan I was following). When I attempt to tackle the ol’ 26.2 again in the future, I am definitely going to build a stronger base of longer runs.

  8. This was great!!! I’m sorry for your GI nonsense. I’m approaching my first marathon and I’m scared!!!! I have a time in mind but know it may not pan out like I envision. I am so happy to read that you, like me, endure the pain and will continue to challenge ourselves! I hope you had a fee brews after!!! :)

    1. Thank you and thanks for reading! I hear ya about being scared before your first marathon–I was there, believe me! Honestly, it sucked having a rough race and not hitting anywhere near my time goal BUT I’m super happy that I did ultimately finish and I think I learned a lot more about myself having dug deep and struggled through than I would have if I had just cruised through. In any case, just run “your race” (super cliche) and try to appreciate the moment while you’re in it and you’ll be fine! It definitely does feel amazing when you cross the finish line! And yes, the brews afterwards taste all that much better…

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