My First Marathon

This blog entry is a little different from the others you’ve read here. I recently had a chance to do something I’ve always wanted, while raising money for a great cause, and I wanted to share some of the experience with you. I hope both running and non-running readers enjoy it!

Over the years, when I’ve heard people talk about running marathons I’ve always thought, “I wish that I could do that.” But I always felt like I lacked the ability. So it basically sat in my mind as a semi-bucket list item, and I didn’t do much more than think about it. Then the opportunity came to turn what had been just an occasional thought into reality.

A few months ago, The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reached out to me and my colleague at Merkle Response Management Group, Kent Grove, to see if we would be willing to raise money for their organization by running the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon.

The invitation from AICR was my chance. I knew if I said yes, then I’d be committed and I’d have to do it – no backing out. Another year would not go by with me just thinking about, rather than actually running, a marathon. Plus, it was an opportunity to raise money for a cause that serves so many people.

AICR offered an on-line coach who put together an 18-week training program. I trusted his expertise and I’m so glad I did. I don’t think I would have been able to complete the race by just training on my own. Previous to this effort, I had only run in three 5K races.

The training regimen included moderate distance runs (3 to 8 miles) twice a week, with 10 to 20 mile runs on the weekend. There were many times during my training that I questioned why on earth I was doing this and could I do this.

My goal was to raise $1,000 for AICR, which I did, but it wasn’t easy and it gave me a new appreciation of fundraising. It’s not as simple as setting up a web page and watching the donations roll in. It takes much more effort than that. I turned to family and friends, of course, and posted updates after each training run on Facebook and Twitter.

I was also lucky to have amazing community support. We have a great neighborhood family-owned BBQ restaurant that we like to go to, Hempen Hill BBQ, and the folks there follow me on Twitter. Kathy Reeder, the owner, stopped me on one visit and said that they wanted to help me raise money. The restaurant arranged a deal with B.P. Lesky, a local beer distributor, where AICR would receive a portion of every pint of Coors Light sold in the month of October. They also held a raffle for a Coors Light cooler with all funds going to AICR. By the way, I won the cooler!

A local T-shirt printing company, B.J.’s Custom Creations, designed and donated awesome racing shirts for Kent and me. We knew that we would look good even if we didn’t finish well. It was wonderful to me to see my community come together in support of both a great cause and us.

The race itself was a great experience. Army and Marine veterans skydived into the start area, two Osprey airplanes did a “fly over,” and the firing of a M2A1 105mm Howitzer started the race. Spectators were able to track racers’ progress with an app that posted stats at 5K ,10K, 15K, etc., including average pace, actual time, and estimated finish time. This was important because my wife and my daughter kept track of my progress and moved around the course to watch me and offer much appreciated words of encouragement.

For me, the hardest part of the race was the mental part. I kept thinking about how I was going to keep the 12 minute mile pace I had set during my training. How do I do this for 26.2 miles? I broke it down into three goals:

1. Don’t die

2. Don’t embarrass myself

3. Finish the race

The first goal, “don’t die,” really proved the worth of the training I had. I wouldn’t have known how to approach running a marathon without my trainer, Seth Kopf, and I know I wouldn’t have finished. His advice and direction were invaluable. Of greatest benefit was his suggestion to use the Galloway Method, incorporating regular short walking breaks during a race to reduce fatigue, limit glycogen depletion in muscles, and maintain mental stamina. (Jeff Galloway, a lifetime runner, was an All-American collegiate athlete and a member of the 1972 US Olympic Team in the 10,000 meters.) The interval that worked best for me was the 5 and 1; run five minutes, walk one minute.

The last part of the race was the most challenging. By the final three or four miles, everything below my waist was in pain. My kneecaps were swollen, my left foot was “pins and needles” asleep. But I could deal with the pain because of the support from the crowds along the course, and the feeling of camaraderie and friendship from the runners around me. There were people of all athletic abilities, some running alone, some running for charities as groups, some running in remembrance of veterans. One veteran was on a hand cycle, with a Marine behind him, guiding him. I saw another veteran running on a prosthetic blade, having lost a leg. The cheering crowds were amazing, and even though the finish line was at the top of a hill, I ran it, getting high-fives from a line of Marines and hugs from my wife and daughter who were there waiting for me at the end.

I did it! I didn’t die, didn’t embarrass myself, and I finished. Mission accomplished! Crossing that finish line was pure exhilaration. It was truly an unforgettable day full of emotional experiences, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I was awed by the resilience and spirit of fellow race participants and the outpouring of support from the crowds lining the course.

The best part? We will have the final dollar amount raised soon, but we know already that AICR exceeded its $30,000 fundraising goal. Oh, and I beat Kent!