Sunday, March 1, 2009

My First Marathon!

After 4 months of training with Team In Training, today I ran and completed the Napa Valley Marathon!  I did it!

I think many people who get over their mid-age crisis tend to get into endurance sports like marathon running.  It was a great experience for me too - be able to stay fit, meet a lot of other great people, and do something valuable for others in need.

Running a marathon is an awesome experience.  A lot of the fun, especially with Team In Training, is all the weeks of training that happens before the actual event.  Weekly training activities with a group of other similar people running their first marathon.  We're all in it together.

For weeks past Napa marathoners were telling us that the course is beautiful, and that last year race conditions were ideal - beautiful weather, and a fast tail-wind on a rolling but overall downhill course.   As we approached the last few days before the marathon (March 1st), the weather forecast indicated rain on race day.

So we ran the race in the rain - all 26.2 miles of it...   Race conditions could have been better.  But the Team reminded us that just as in life - there are some things we can't control, and some things we can.  We can't control the weather, so just deal with it, and prepare for wet conditions.  But we can use all the skills we learned from training to prepare our body and minds.

Since I started training for this in November I've done my fair share of running races.  3 half marathons, and many more 5K and 10K races on the weekends.  I'm happy that all the training has improved me greatly in all those races.  But today's marathon (in the wet weather) totally undermined me.  Even though I'm extremly proud to have finished and am very glad to have gone through this experience and would recommend anyone else to do so too, this was the most grueling, painful, and character-testing experience I have ever been through.

Running in the rain, I felt every mile step by step, watching each mile marker pass by, slowly.  I started off with a fairly fast pace, and did the first 10-13 miles pretty well.  But my legs died after that, and the entire second half was the most painful race I have ever run.  Part of this is that I always choose to run for a fast time and strong performance, vs. taking it easy to enjoy the run.  So I can only blame myself.   Watching the mile markers go by from 14 to 26 was painful.  From mile 20 my legs were cramping regularly, and I cried almost the entire final 5-6 miles, smiling only when passing the race photographers on the road.

The other reminder Team In Training told us was to run the first half with our legs, but run the second half with our heart.   When I ran with my heart I cried.  I wondered why I put myself up to this.  Why did I have to feel all this pain.   I just wish I could finish this race quickly so I could go take a hot shower and go home and be with my family.  But I also cried thinking about why I signed up to do this - to raise funds for cancer research so that we could help others who are in greater need, and who are likely feeling more pain than I am every single day.  I also cried for all the supporters and donors who helped me go through this program with all their contributions, to help with the cancer research, while I provide the vehicle to make it happen.   I could not let them down.

I will write down my marathon story at my Team In Training fundraising website shortly.  One lesson I learned from this experience, is that there are still a lot of good people out there, usually very different from the ones we assume.  So if there is one next step I'd like to do, it's to continue this training with more marathons in the future, not just as a participant, but as a mentor too, and to encourage other people to join a similar program, to help not just themselves, but to help others too.

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