26.2 Miles

runningI ran a marathon once and hated it. Six years later I ran another one and loved it. Why? Training and experience.

You don’t have to be insane to run 26.2 miles under your own free will. You don’t even have to be a super athlete. What you have to be is committed (to your goal of finishing a marathon, not committed to a mental institution).

If you think you could never run a marathon, I’m here to tell you that you can. The hardest thing about running a marathon is training for a marathon.

Find a Training Buddy
I have run with the same group of women for over 15 years. My main training partner had probably run 8 marathons before I ran my first. If anyone could get me through the training she could. When it is 36 degrees outside and raining sideways you are going to want someone who will verbally beat the crap out of you if you don’t show up for a run. There’s guilt in numbers.

There are also a number of professional training organizations like Portland Fit who do group runs for marathon training.

Pick a Good Marathon
One of the reasons I had such a horrible first marathon was because it had the trifecta of bad ingredients for a marathon: a double loop, hot sun, and altitude. My first marathon was Pacific Crest in Sunriver, Oregon. The only thing that would have made it more miserable:  hills.

So when I picked my second marathon I decided to choose based on this list of “features:”

  • Scenery. It had to be a scenic route.
  • Weather. Mild climate. No chance of rain or heatwave.
  • Route. No double loops. No out-and-backs.
  • Location. Somewhere I wouldn’t mind spending a weekend.
  • My second marathon was Carlsbad (Southern California). Nothing like running along the beach in January, wearing nothing but shorts and a short sleeved shirt when it’s pissing down rain and 40 degrees at home in Portland.

    Train Like You Mean It
    This is the hard part. You have to give up half of every weekend from now until the foreseeable future. I run almost every weekend anyway, but I don’t get up at 5:30am and run 20 miles in the rain if I’m not training for a marathon. Just realize that you will not to be able to go away for a weekend during your training unless you can run 20 miles by yourself without the motivation of your training partner. I know I can’t, so I stay in town for the whole training period.

    Fuel the Fire

    There are two things I learned while training for the Carlsbad marathon:

    1. You need to fuel the pilot light as well as the body.
    2. Magnesium is a miracle mineral.

    I crashed during the Pacific Crest marathon because I wasn’t eating enough during the race. My “pilot light” went out somewhere around mile 22 (the proverbial wall). What I learned in training for Carlsbad is that my body needs a lot of fuel to keep that pilot light lit so I have the energy to burn my stored calories. My new rule is that if I am running for more than 60 minutes I will eat during the run. Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it eating. It’s more like drinking slimy goo from a plastic packet. Runners know I’m referring to the Power Bar Gels,  Gu,and various other forms of runner “food.” I estimate that I consumed 15 of those packets during the Carlsbad marathon.

    Any sustained athletic activity will deplete the body of Magnesium. And when you’ve just run 26.2 miles and your legs are screaming you will want a Magnesium capsule at the finish line, even better if there’s a hot guy (or gal) handing it to you with a smile. Your body will naturally replenish the lost Magnesium over a period of 24 hours, but who can stand the painful leg cramps for that long! Not me.

    Why do you do so many long runs?

    I can’t tell you how many people look at me sideways when I tell them I’m running 18 miles on a Saturday and the marathon is still six weeks away. You can’t run one 18-mile run before a marathon and expect your body to be happy about running 26.2 miles. You have to train your body for sustaining itself for long periods of time. So, if you want to run a marathon time of four hours, you’d better do plenty of training runs that last four hours. It gets your body used to the idea of running for that length of time. When I am done with my training I will have run three 18-mile runs and three 20-mile runs, with many other runs sprinkled in between.

    The Last Marathon

    When I finished my first marathon I said I’d never do it again because it was such a horrible experience. When I finished my second marathon I said I’d never do it again because it was such a perfect experience. Then I signed up for my third marathon. WTF? I signed up because:

    1. I needed a reason to get my ass out of bed all winter in this dark, dreary weather we have in Oregon.
    2. I wanted my “marathon body” back.
    3. I got some wild hair about running the Boston Marathon for my 50th birthday and I needed to qualify.

    So, training is almost over and the marathon is just a few short weeks away. The training did get me out of bed every weekend even in the pouring rain. I am fit and living off a runner’s high most days. But now I’m thinking once again that this will be my last marathon. I can hear you all screaming, but what about Boston!? After training all winter for this marathon, giving up every single weekend, and missing most of my son’s basketball games, I don’t think I want to do it again. I’d like to go back to my normal life of running 10-12 miles on a Saturday morning, which I can do before my kids even get out of bed, and I can do anywhere in the world.

    I may still qualify for Boston, but I probably won’t run it. I think I’d rather be in a hot air balloon somewhere over the Napa Valley sipping champagne on my 50th birthday next year. :^)

    Napa Balloon Champagne

    The Hillbilly Half

    I’m training for the Napa Marathon in March, and as such I have to do a lot of boring long runs on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, I do love doing a 10-12 mile run with the girlfriends every weekend, but when you’re training for a marathon those runs tend to be more like 18- 20 miles long and it gets old. We usually run out of things to talk about by mile 16.

    So I suggested we ditch the long run this past weekend and do a race instead. The only half marathon we could find in Oregon in January was the Cascade Half Marathon in Turner. Where’s Turner you say? It’s just South of Salem, four miles from Aumsville, which is now famous for having a tornado rip through town a few weeks back.

    CascadeHalf

    We all met in Wilsonville at 7am to carpool to Turner. There were five of us packed into the car, and all the way to Turner the conversation went something like this.

    “This weather sucks.”

    “This is really going to suck.”

    “I think we should do the 10k instead of the half.”

    “This really sucks.”

    We arrive at Cascade Junior High School in Turner at 8:15am and it is still pouring down buckets. There is no real signage anywhere to indicate we have arrived at the right place, so we just follow the steady stream of cars around the corner until we see someone in a fluorescent orange vest directing traffic.

    We park and reluctantly get out of the car to make our way to packet pickup. Once again, there are no signs as to where the packet pickup is or where the start line is, so we just follow the droves of people and hope they know where they’re going.

    We finally find the gym and the 900 other soaking wet people who are also picking up race numbers and getting ready to get even more soaked. It is now about 8:50am and the race starts at 9am. At this point we realize that none of us has actually seen anything that resembles a starting line, and we have no idea where we’re supposed to be.

    Then someone announces over the school P.A. system, “We’re going to have to kick y’all out now to get the race started. Just head to the front of the school.”

    All 1000 of us, minus the elite runners who opted for the early start so they wouldn’t have to deal with this cattle call, file through the gym doors to the front of the school. Thank heavens it has stopped raining for five minutes. I look over at my friend Kelly and say, “I bet there’s just a guy up there with a Nascar flag, and he’ll just drop it and say ‘go.’ Or maybe they’ll fire a real gun with live ammunition.”

    Two minutes later, the runners start moving forward. No bull horn. No starting pistol. I think I was probably right about the Nascar flag.

    We get to enjoy about 30 seconds of rain-free running and then the heavens open up as if to say, let’s just see how you do with soaking wet shoes and a 30-mph wind in your face.

    I had heard this would be a nice flat race on country roads and it is. I am running by cows, and chickens, and sheep, and getting into my groove until someone yells, “Car!” WTF? Car? It seems that the race course is not closed to traffic, so we are sharing this 2-lane country road with all kinds of motor vehicles, including the one that is nipping at my heels before I hit the 1-mile marker.

    Now that I know we’re sharing the roads with motor vehicles I am no longer able to bliss out on the lovely array of farm animals and hillbilly road kill. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. The entire race course was a Technicolor display of frogs, lizards, moles, and various other creatures who had picked the wrong time to try to cross the road. Who knew they had such vibrantly colored innards.

    The halfway point of the race is a guy standing by an orange cone telling you to turn around. I have never been happier to see a turnaround in my life. I am soaked to the bone, and when I make the turn I am running directly into the wind. Oh goodie.

    Remarkably it stops raining for 20 minutes, just in time for me to look up and see a pilot car coming down the road, followed by a double wide being pulled by a semi. I’m looking at how much space there will be between me and the multi-ton mobile home when it passes by, and quickly make the decision to get off the road all together, and run in the gravel until it passes. It turns out to be a smart decision when I see that one wall of the mobile home is just about directly lined up with the shoulder of the road when it passes by, and is probably going to take out a runner or two down the road if they’re not paying attention.

    MobileHome

    Four miles to go, and the rain starts again. Yeah, whatever, bring it on. I can’t get any more soaked than I already am.

    Two miles to go. Nice headwind of about 30mph. So, yes the course is flat, and the scenery is lovely, but the weather sucks!

    I finally see the high school up ahead, and there are no signs to indicate a finish line. I am dodging the cars of the 10k runners leaving the parking lot, as I try to make my way back to the front of the school. I started there, so I assume I finish there?

    Ah yes, I see a row of plastic flags and a digital time display. There are no timing chips for this race, so there’s no such thing as an official time. If you cross the finish line first you get a prize. If you cross second, nobody knows or cares.

    I sprint to the finish line, grateful to be done, grab my medal and head inside to find the rest of the gang.

    We head to the cafeteria to get some post-race food, which turns out to be cafeteria chicken noodle soup and oatmeal cookies, which sounds just fine when you’re chilled to the bone.

    We bitch some more about the weather, the cars, the wind, the roadkill and the mobile home. We change into dry clothes, jump into the car and head for home. And there’s one thing we all agree on, the Cascade Half in Turner will now be forever known to us as the Hillbilly Half.

    Kelly's B-HAG Bucket List

    I’m a list person. I can’t live without lists and goals. They keep me organized and motivated. There are the boring To-Do type lists and then there are the B-HAG (Big Hairy Ass Goals) and Bucket lists.

    I recently reviewed my B-HAG Bucket List and decided to make a few changes and additions, because I have actually checked off more than a few things in the past two years.

    Kelly’s B-HAG Bucket List

    • Run the Napa Marathon on March 6, 2011, and qualify for the Boston Marathon. I have to have a time of 4:05 in order to qualify. My time for Carlsbad was 4:15:10 so I think this is doable.

    NapaMarathon

    • And speaking of Napa, I still want to take a balloon ride over the vineyards whilst sipping champagne.
    • Run the Boston Marathon in 2012 for my 50th birthday.

    BostonMarathon

    • Finish the first draft of my “Confessions of a Dating Ninja” book by the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) November, 2010.
    • Build a house with the Habitat for Humanity team.
    • Attend Burning Man.

    Burning Man

    • Stay at a game reserve in Africa.
    • Visit the penguins in Antarctica (the only continent I haven’t been to).
    • Make a difference every day.

    The list has changed quite a bit over the years. It’s gotten quite a bit shorter as well, because I’ve lived a lot of life. It’s time to dream some new dreams and fill it up again. What’s on your list?

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