26 Takeaways from My First Marathon

Last Saturday, I crossed an item off my bucket list, finishing the Salt Lake City Marathon with a time of 3:52:18. I came in 138th out of 633 runners overall, the 102nd male runner out of 369 and the 9th in my category (male, 45-49) to finish.

SLC Marathon Results #1 SLC Marathon Results #2

Since this blog is all about shameful self-indulgence, I thought I would take a little time to point out 26 things I took away from my very first 26.2.

1. Mileage Can Be Key: I was thrilled that I was able to accomplish exactly what I set out to do, this first time out. My goal was to finish in under four hours, and I did that with plenty of room to spare. I think the key was the mileage I rain the months before April. Even though I had a minor knee injury in February (after completing the Double Dog Dare), I was able to clock 166 miles in January, 137 miles in February and 175 miles in March. Note that some of these were walking miles—I almost always walk on my no-run days because the dog still gots to pee.

2. Pass on the Lamb Shank: Carb loading is a big part of most runners’ pre-race-day dinners. On Friday night I went with friends to a Greek restaurant and stupidly picked the special of the day, Greek spaghetti with roasted lamb shank. I’m not absolutely sure, of course, but I think this choice may have cost me a few minutes on my finish time. (See below.)

3. Making Friends Is Fun: Race organizers arranged to give runners access to the light rail system to get to the starting line. This made sense because I my best buddy Doran was going to be meeting me at the finish line. With an hour on the train, I had a chance to “talk shop” with several other runners, including a very pleasant (and experienced) runner named Jenn, who was an important contributor to my success in this race. (See below.)

Ready for the marathon to start4. It’s Okay to Litter: I knew the start would be cold, so I brought along a disposable heat sheet that I’d saved from the St. George Half Marathon in January. I kept myself pretty well wrapped up until it was time to start. The problem was, the race organizers didn’t provide any garbage cans anywhere near the starting corrals to toss our blankets and garbage bags. I ended up doing the only thing I could—dropping it on the ground. Oh well.

5. Test Equipment Better: I always carry water in races, because I want to be able to hydrate when I need to. About three weeks before this event, I found a new type of belt, with the water bottles mounted on the back. I loved the design because my sleeves tend to catch on the spouts of the front-mounted bottles from my current hydration belt. I tested the belt in several pre-race runs and walks. On race day, I started off with three six-ounce bottles on my back. About a mile and a half in, the stitching between two of the bottle holders failed, dumping two of my bottles onto the road. I had to burn precious seconds as I ran back to collect the bottles off the road, dodging hundreds of other runners. At mile 4, the second set of stitching failed, dropping my third bottle onto the blacktop. Naturally, I wasted more time running back to get it. I estimate that I lost 30-45 seconds because I didn’t test this equipment long enough. Lesson learned.

6. SLC Folks Are Weird: Throughout this race, there were lots of DIY refreshment stations, from kids running their own water tables to a woman standing on a corner handing out red vines to any runner who wanted some. The weirdest came around mile four. A man and woman had a table set up with a sign that read “Temptation Station.” The table held several bottles of booze, and disposable plastic shot glasses. I didn’t see anyone take them up on their offer, but everyone got a nice chuckle.

7. Distraction as a Strategy: Around the first mile, I fell in beside Jenn, the woman I chatted with on the train. She was running the half marathon instead of the full, and she was doing it as a training run instead of chasing a PR. Her pace was right about where I wanted to be, so we ended up running side by side, chatting all the way until the courses separated around mile nine. Jenn later apologized for “holding me back,” but what she really did was help me pace myself. I started off a lot faster than I should’ve, and she helped me rein that in. Plus, our conversation was an amazing distraction from the actual running. I almost didn’t even notice those first nine miles, so I hit mile 10 feeling really fresh. I believe this helped me run a much better race, achieving a negative split (running the second half faster than I ran the first half).

8. Unoccupied Potty = Pure Gold: Probably thanks to the lamb shank (see above), I got into “potty trouble” around mile 10 or 11. I told myself I would stop if and only if I saw a port-a-potty with no wait. It took four miles, but eventually I spotted one—running inside and achieving a PR for a number two. No flushing required, just some hand sanitizer and back to the race. I estimate I lost almost two minutes making this unfortunate (but necessary) pit stop.

9. KT Tape Is Awesome: My left knee had been bothering me off and on since I ran the Dogtown Half/Double Dog Dare in February. I tried running with a brace, but it didn’t seem to matter. My friend and physical therapist Adam turned me on the “KT Tape,” also known as kinesiology therapy tape. He showed me the right way to tape my knee to help support it in longer runs. Thanks to the tape (and also the “taper,” meaning I didn’t run for a week before the race), I finished the race with zero knee pain. Truly a blessing.

10. Uphill Training Matters: Since Cedar City is so hilly, almost all of my training runs have significant uphills. I would’ve expected SLC runners to have similar experiences, but I found I was passing a lot of people on the course’s uphill stretches (and there were lots of them). Another good example of effective training paying off.

11. Altitude’s a Bitch: Cedar City’s official altitude is 5,846, but the altitude at my front door is closer to 5,892. The altitude in Salt Lake City is 4,226 feet, so I had an advantage there. At one point I ran for a while with a young woman from Austin, Texas, where the elevation is under 500 feet. She was really feeling the altitude in her lungs. I’m really glad I’m able to train above a mile high.

12. Funner Is Better: In most races I’ve run, the water stations were no-frills affairs with volunteers handing out water, Gatorade, and (sometimes) energy gels. Lots of the water stations in this race featured themes. At several of them, the volunteers were in hula skirts and coconut bras, with Hawaiian music playing. It didn’t make me run any faster, but it did make the race more fun for all of us.

13. Spectators Are Creative: This was only my second “in-town” race, where the whole course wound through city streets. Since there were lots more spectators, there were lots more creative signs to make me smile along the way. The one I saw the most was, “Hurry Up and Finish So We Can Drink.” (Maybe these people missed the “Temptation Station” at mile four.) There were old stand-bys, like “Worst Parade EVER” and “This Seems Like a Lot of Work for a Free Banana.” I saw my favorite being held by a kid at the 25-mile water station: “Run Like United Airlines Is Trying to Take Away Your Seat.”

I don't usually take photos during a race, but I made an exception.14. Sometimes, Friendship Is Blind: The very best thing I saw on this race, though, came right in the last mile. I passed two runners chugging along, one of them with his hand on the back of the other. It took me a moment to realize that one of the runners (the guy in the orange shirt) was blind, and the other guy was leading him to the finish line. It was so inspiring, I had to dig out my phone and take a photo or two.

15. I Could’ve Gone Faster: To my surprise, I never “hit the wall” or “bonked” in this race. To me, that suggests that I could’ve picked up the pace and still finished strong. I’m not disappointed at all, though. It was great to finish and not feel like I was ready to collapse. And of course, I now have room for improvement on my next big race.

16. Friends Are Awesome: My family couldn’t come with me to SLC because of other commitments, but I did have somebody waiting for me at 26.2, my best friend and partner in crime, Doran. He’s the guy who inspired me to start racing, and it was great to have him supporting me at the finish line. He came to watch me finish the Dogtown Half/Double Dog Dare last February, but actually missed my finish because he was expecting me to be wearing a different-colored shirt. This time I wore my traditional Kahuku Red Raiders jersey, and I even sent him a text to let him know I was passing the 25-mile mark. He got some great photos of my finish.

Almost there ... to 26.2 Believe it or not, I still had gas in the tank. Are those water bottles in my pocket? No, I'm just happy to be finishing.

Just a few more yards. A flying SLC Marathon finish This is where everything starts to hurt.

17. Other Friends Are Awesome: Speaking of Kahuku Red Raiders, I was fortunate to eat my post-race lunch with four good friends from my high school in Hawaii. I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, now that we live in southern Utah. It was great to catch up.

18. Stop and Walk: I was actually kind of nervous about the drive home. Though I tried to get to sleep early, my brain wouldn’t let me sleep until probably 11:00 p.m. … and then I got up at 4:30 to get ready for the race. Even more than drowziness, though, I was worried about my body cramping up during the three-and-a-half hour drive back to Cedar City. I stopped several times on the way home and walked around a little, and I think this helped prevent my legs from freezing up during the long drive.

19. Missing Roxy: It was great to get home to see my family, and also great to be welcomed by a very waggy Roxy, our shelter dog. If Doran’s to blame for getting me into racing, Roxy’s to blame for getting me running again. Almost the minute I arrived home, I took her out for a nice hobble in the hills.

20. ROLLING Spells Relief: Stretching is important, but it’s impossible to understate the importance of rolling out the long muscles in the legs. It wasn’t pleasant, but working my thighs, calves and IT band on the hard foam roller made a huge difference in helping my legs recover from the trauma of the marathon.

Saturday's step count for the day21. A Marathon Makes for a Long Day: For the second time in less than two month, I topped 50,000 steps on my fitness tracker. Yeah, that’s a lot.

22. Recovery Can Be Hard: To my surprise, I was in almost no pain the next day. I was sore, of course, but it wasn’t the painful, “can’t hardly walk” pain I’ve had after some of my early half marathons. I think the diligent after-care was crucial in making this happen.

23. Not Running is Even Harder: According to the recovery plan I’m trying to follow, I can have one run (2-4 miles, very easy) over the next several days. That’s it. I’ve taken Roxy on several long walks over the past several days, but I haven’t run again, yet. That’s been difficult, but I know I need to give my body time to heal.

24. It’s Not About the Time: Going into this race, I told everyone who asked that I was “running to finish.” My secondary goal was to finish in under four hours, and I managed to do that, too. I’m pretty sure I could’ve pushed myself faster and got a better time. If I hadn’t had lamb shank spaghetti and disintegrating hydration belts, I could’ve done better still. But I’m extremely happy with my results in my first marathon.

25. But It Is About the Time: I’m already registered for my next marathon, the St. George Marathon in October. I’m hoping to beat 3:45:00 on my second time out. That’s what I’ll be training for, anyway.

26. Running Buddies Make Running Better: Running is a solitary sport, and aside from Roxy I don’t usually get to run with anyone. But many of my races to date have involved my good friend Doran. He didn’t run this one, but we’ve already made a list of the other races we’ll be running together this year. They include the Mt. Green Half, the Parowan City Half, and the Snow Canyon Half, to name a few. We never run side by side in these races, but it’s great to know that one of your favorite humans is doing the same thing you’re doing, at the same time you’re doing it. (Oh, and happy birthday, Doran!)

Doran and me after I ran my first half marathon, last July

Here’s hoping this was just the first of many marathons!

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