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My First 26.2 Miles

October 11, 2011

Months of training, days of stretching and foam-rolling, hours of research and preparation, all gone in over four hours. And the harder you train, the faster those hard-earned hours disappear during the race. The human body is amazing. It’s unbelievable how fast it adopts and the endurance level it’s capable of achieving. Completing a full marathon is one of the ultimate challenges with your body and mind uniting together to carry you through 26.2 miles.

This past Sunday, October 9, I ran my first full marathon in Portland.

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It was the 40th Portland marathon and more than 8300 competitors gathered on the streets of downtown Portland to take on the challenge. The event was incredibly well organized. Everyone got assigned a corral that they had to be at 7am. The corrals were grouped based on your estimated speed and completion time (I was surprised how many people fudge on their application as many folks from my corral were going slower than required). Each corral started at a different time, but the timing chip activated once you crossed the start line. There were 10,000 spectators, 5000 volunteers, ~70 bands along the way to cheer runners on. Portlanders came out of their houses and watched from their balconies and front yards. Kids rushed to the sidewalks with quickly-made signs high fiving us as we went by.

I felt humbled and honored to run in this race as I spotted incredible individuals next to me: a guy with MS, cancer survivors, war veterans. My heart was overwhelmed with emotion as we listened to the national anthem and it was the day right after Yom Kippur (a Jewish Holiday known as Judgment day where you are supposed to reflect on your accomplishments in the past year and ask forgiveness from anyone you’ve wronged). I wanted to dedicate this race to my grandparents who could not be there with me nor could they hear about my achievement, but hopefully they got to see  me cross the finish line from a better place.

Eric and I headed to Portland on Saturday morning. After a big and healthy breakfast, I packed all the marathon essentials including a foam roller, a cooler of food, a toaster, and my cheerleader.

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We stayed at the Marriott hotel a few blocks from the start line. As soon as we arrived we headed to the expo to pick up my registration packet, timing chip, bib, etc.

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This was the biggest expo I’ve been to and it spanned two floors, but there were not many free goodies Sad smile . So many people were browsing through $50 used running shoes that at first I thought they were free giveaways. I don’t get it.

After a homemade dinner reheated in the hotel bar and a long foam rolling session we hit the bed at around 9pm.

I was up at 5am. My usual pre-run breakfast of toast, peanut butter, banana and Vitamin Water. I got a sample of Adams peanut butter at the expo which came in quite handy.

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Once at the corral, we had some time to kill so we posed for pictures, and 10 minutes later I was off.

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So what did I learn during my first marathon?

1. Have a strategy. It’s a mental challenge just as much as, or in some cases, even more than physical. One recommendation I have is to study the course beforehand and determine your strategy for tackling it.

Course Map

I broke mine into smaller chunks so I had something to look forward to as I completed each milestone. Eric and I arranged to meet at the 5 mile and 11 mile markers.

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(Looking happy and smiley at 5 miles)

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(Still going strong at 11)

There was a very steep hill between 16-17 miles, which I decided to walk and recover with a Luna bar. By mile 20 is when the mental block came. My muscles were feeling ok, but my mind was getting sick of running, so I made a little game of it. I decided to run to each water station, grab some water and then walk for a quarter mile. I also tried to get water from as many kids as I could, to see big smiles on their faces. I always try to push at the end and I sprinted to the finish line as fast as I could. It was a strong finish and I felt just a bit more tired than the half I did in July which means my training paid off Smile

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2. It’s ok to take a break! Unless you are trying to qualify for the Boston marathon, then enjoy the race and listen to your body. There is no shame in taking stretching, walking or breathing breaks. Naturally there was a group of runners that I spotted going at around my pace from my corral, and every single one of them took at least one break. Unlike the half marathon that I ran in the summer where I was more focused on the result time, the full marathon is more about the finish for majority of runners. Looking back, I can care less if my official time is 5 minutes less for the full, but it would matter to me quite a bit for the half. That’s a good thing too, because I got “trained” by Portland marathon twice, meaning I got stopped twice at the railroad tracks due to crossing trains. 

3. Glide everywhere. I thought I had this one covered, as I learned my lesson from my earlier training days, but you can never have too much glide. When you think you have it covered, some other part of your body will end up chafing. Unfortunately it rained during my run, which resulted in my top getting completely soaking wet. Wet clothing = even more chafing issues. This time it got my top half all along the sports bra borders and underarms. Next time, I am buying a tub of Vaseline and rubbing it all over myself.

4. Pick the right running shoes. I ran the race in my trusted New Balance 890s, which are the lightest shoes on the market (great for 5K-half), but not for really long runs where you need stability and cushioning more than speed. I also made the mistake of taping my feet even though those shoes generally hadn’t given me bad blisters. The tape worsened the blistering, so I had to stop to remove it at 4 and then 11 miles. By that point, my feet were already barking. Sad smile

5. Wear bright/distinct clothing so your fans can spot you. With 8300 participants and me being fairly short it was hard for Eric to pick me out of the crowd, but I saw him every time Smile. So maybe the rule is one of you should wear something distinct so the other person can recognize you right away.

6. Fuel appropriately. Diet is key to how you will perform. It’ll be close to impossible to run 26.2 miles with an upset belly, so get your diet in check a few days before the race.

7. Stretch, roll out. I hate stretching – it’s boring and it’s painful as my legs are pretty much always tight. I whine when I foam roll, but I do it anyways. I force myself after dinner to get on a foam roller and just do at least 5 rolls per leg. It helps massage and loosen up sore muscles so they recover faster and perform better. For me I can’t run with my muscles too loose. They need to feel strong and engaged to help prevent injuries, so I usually do a quick 2 mile run and hot yoga the day before the race to keep my legs awake and energized. I also made sure to stretch right after I finished the marathon, and it made world of difference later in the afternoon and the following day.

8. Get pumped with a playlist. You know you are getting old when you no longer listen to music much. We have numerous ipods and zunes at our house (we are gadget geeks), but ask me when I last synced it with my PC to upload new music and I have no clue, probably when I first bought the device. I need help putting together a good running playlist? Any suggestions? I have a couple of dance CDs (back from college days) that I ripped and keep listening to on repeat, but more often I just go with the radio.

9. Take lots of photos. Next time I am bringing my ipod so I can take even more photos during the race. The next morning I woke up not even believing that I ran a full marathon. It felt like a dream and the more photos you have, the better you can remember all the nuances of the race.

10. Comfy shoes for afterwards. I did not pack smart for my trip. I brought backup of everything for the trip in case one fails (2 pairs of running shoes, 2 sports bras, 2 music players, etc.), but I did not think of my post-race feet. Luckily our hotel was across from Nordstrom. Behold a new pair of comfy Ugg shoes to wear on the ride home.

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11. Celebrate. This is the best part! Once you cross that finish line the celebration does not stop. You get babied so much as a marathon runner. You are wrapped in a thermal heating blanket, and the medal is hung on your neck.

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There are flowers and tables full of food where volunteers peel bananas for you and open yogurt containers. You don’t have to do any work! When I saw Eric with a big smile on his face, a tear rolled down my cheek. I finished and I could not have done without him there. The tougher it got at the end, the more I thought about seeing him at the finish line, and the more I pushed. You need your support group there when you run a full, whether you run it with a friend and you cheer each other on or your biggest fan is waiting for you at the finish line, having someone to share this moment with makes finishing so much more special. Of course, we celebrate every race with a fabulous meal.

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(Blackened Chicken salad and a blonde ale at the Rock Bottom Brewery for lunch)

For dinner, we headed to Salty’s which was voted Portland’s best seafood place of 2010 by CitySearch.

I indulged in the organic greens, strawberries, chevre and local honey hazelnuts as a starter, while Eric sampled the clam chowder which was topped off with cream sherry.

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Main course of fresh baked sole with soy glaze and almonds served with asparagus. Eric had a Northwest Platter (Wild King Salmon, True Cod and Grilled Prawns).

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And free white chocolate mouse cake for dessert thanks to my marathon accomplishment (and my big bragging mouth Smile)

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This is worth running for!

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With my big goal behind me, I will still be running, but I am going to take it easy over the next month, sticking to easy 3-5 miles for now and let my body recover. But don’t you worry my dearest readers, I’ll have plenty of material to blog about as we have a couple trips coming up, and I’ll be picking a new training plan for the Arizona Rock’N’Roll Half Marathon I’ll be running in January.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. kristin tidd permalink
    October 11, 2011 10:13 pm

    Awesome work Jane! I am so proud of you. I can’t believe it was back in March when we went on our first run together & now you have completed a marathon. Such an inspiration – seriously you keep me going when I want to hang up the towel. Well done!!

    • October 12, 2011 5:28 am

      I have you to thank! If it was not for your training for the half and inviting me out for my first real run, I would not have never discovered my passion for running 🙂

  2. Mark permalink
    October 11, 2011 10:16 pm

    Congratulations!

    I can’t tell if your “this is worth running for” caption is for the cake or your hubby 🙂

    Are you going to expect him to peel your bananas & open your yogurt for you from now on?

    “Next time, I am buying a tub of Vaseline and rubbing it all over myself. ”

    TMI!

    • October 12, 2011 5:31 am

      It’s worth running for two things in my book: seeing my hubby and having a fancy dinner with him afterwards 🙂 I don’t know what you do with Vaseline, I was just planning to rub it on my back and shoulders before a long run. 😉

  3. October 12, 2011 8:05 am

    This is so great! Congrats!
    Loved reading this. You gave a lot of good tips. I can only imagine how it feels to run a marathon, and FINISH it. And finish it WELL. I lived vicariously through you (your post) just a little. 🙂
    I’m 3 sessions into my 5k training, and blogging all the way.

    • October 12, 2011 9:36 am

      You’ve got to start somewhere and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can build up your running if you stick to a good training program. So keep at it girl and soon enough I’ll be reading your marathon report 🙂

  4. October 12, 2011 8:20 am

    I love reading race reports, and yours is no different! CONGRATS on such an amazing job and accomplishment.You should be very proud:-)
    Oh, and loved all the tips!

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