As a runner, there’s nothing more entertaining than a First Marathon Story. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s a rather small fraternity and that 26.2 mile bond makes even the port-o-john elements intriguing.
I’ve run many marathons…and even though it’s been almost twenty years ago…I still have vivid memories of my first time….
To tell my first marathon story would skip an important detail of when I was recruited to run it. In August 1992, a friend in the Villanova NROTC Unit asked if I’d join him for the Marine Corps Marathon in October - 8 weeks away.
I was a distance runner, a Navy midshipmen, adventurous…why not? For the next several weeks, I built up my long run to 17 miles…I was ready... or so I thought!
Race day came with butterflies and on top of precious few hours of sleep at our Arlington, VA hotel. We lined up with thousands of our comrades – stood at attention for the National Anthem…and then the starting cannon thundered…and we remained still for several minutes.
This was my first experience with anything like this and my competitive juices were going berserk! My stop watch was running and sadly I was barely walking. It would take me almost 5 minutes to reach the starting line and another ½ mile before I was able to run at a comfortable pace.
Today, I would downright enjoy that kind of slow start…but this was my FIRST marathon, so I took off like a rabbit to make up for “lost” time (ha ha ha – I know – what a dummy!).
This strategy worked out for about 17 miles (no magic that this was also my longest run)…and I experienced my first ever BONK. It didn’t come like a bolt of lightning. It came slowly. I started noticing people eating energy bars and feeling really hungry. I started wondering where the crowds went. I noticed that my legs were randomly missing steps (?!). I started looking for the Mile 18 marker about 200 yards after I passed the Mile 17 marker. I stopped caring about my stop watch.
By Mile 21, I was walking as much as I was running…and talking to myself. Not the kind of psychotic babble that you might think…the kind of words that would motivate me a few more hundred yards, such as: “OK, Mike – just run to that 3rd light pole and you can walk for a bit” or “OK, OK, You can do this..this is like running from the Mullen’s to home”.
By the time I reached the finish area, I couldn't care less about my time, my appearance or anything else for that matter – I wanted to be done! And as a cruel Marine Corps trick, the last 0.2 miles twisted uphill and around the Iwo Jima monument to the finish…ugh.
Well it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t textbook, but it’s my first marathon story…and it has become the launch pad for a dozen more, an ultramarathon, and hopefully many more to come!