The (almost) 40 Year-Old Virgin

Sorry, kids, but Mama blew all the Harvard money on shoes and race bibs. So, who’s up for community college!? (Photo credit: Andy_Myers_Esq)

Most people I meet just assume I’ve already done it.

I mean, I exhibit all the signs. On any given day, rain, shine or snow, I can be spotted running against the flow of traffic sporting spandex, a sweaty old race tee and an incurable case of the crazy eyes. My feet are the stuff of horror films. The scary music crescendos whenever I reach for the flip flops. I debate for 45 minutes (and through five sample stations) whether to splurge on the $15 “nice” cardigan at Costco, but don’t think twice about depleting the kids’ college fund in order to replace my trainers every 400 miles.

If I had a nickel for every time a friend or neighbor said, “Hey, I saw you running….”, I’d have enough to register for the Boston Marathon. But not the qualifying time. Not even an almost-qualifying time. Because though I dress and run and very often smell like a marathoner, I’m not. I’m a 39 year old marathon virgin. There, I said it.

I suppose I’m what you’d call a late bloomer. I ran my first 5k when I was 33. I shuffled miserably to the finish and then promptly forgot how much I hated it. By the following year, I’d signed up for a 10k, the gateway drug of distance running. This time the shuffle to the finish was slightly less miserable. Thank you, ma’am, may I have another? One move and two years later, I toed the line for my first half marathon at the ripe old age of 36. I finished nearly 7 minutes ahead of my goal and felt like the king of the world (Move over, Leo, I’m trying to pose triumphantly here.)

I was hooked. I had to do this again, to go further or faster or both. Looking for my next hit, I started researching the marathon, daydreaming during long runs about a BQ (back when it was five minutes “easier”). I trained and raced another half marathon, shaving another 6 minutes off my PR. All the while, I kept thinking about that marathon. And it wasn’t just because all the cool kids were doing it. I wanted this. I was sure.

But I wasn’t about to throw myself at any old marathon, not without enough time to train and to give it the respect it deserved. So I waited.ย  I waited for The One, or in this case, The Twenty Six Point Two. And while I waited, I trained for and raced yet another half in the fall of 2012, taking the ugly face finish to a whole new level and subtracting another five minutes. Surely now my time had come? I could have finished a doctoral thesis in the time I spent perusing, looking for the perfect course, the perfect place, the perfect weekend. But then I learned that my husband would be out of town for my would-be peak mileage month. Aaaannd–minor detail–that we’d be moving 4,500 miles away in a matter of months. It wasn’t the right time.

I tried to assuage my disappointment by signing up for yet another half marathon, vowing it would be my last until after the marathon monkey was off my back. I set a scary stretch goal (sub-1:40!), and made the mistake of telling my friend Salty about it, leaving myself no way to wuss out when she offered to pace me. After suffering through a solid 5 miles of fighting the urge to heave and/or cry, I found the finish line, the same one I’d smiled through two years ago in my first half marathon. Only now I was here 15 minutes faster, looking considerably less euphoric. (This tends to happen when you recruit every last muscle in your face to sprint to the finish). Faster? Check. Next up: Further.

Belliard Home Run Swing
Come Janurary, I’m going for fireworks. (Photo credit: Scott Ableman)

That was last spring. The summer brought a crazy cross-continent move and my lowest weekly mileage in three years. And my new home state of Alaska isn’t exactly known for its late fall marathons. (Read: It snowed the first day of fall. As in YES, I had to send the kids to school with snow pants. In September.) So I’ve set my sights on a January marathon, somewhere with more than 5 hours of daylight and warm enough for flip flops (assuming I could wear them without scaring small children). I’m equal parts excited and terrified. Because there’s no more stopping at third base, at 13.1. Come January, in the year of my big 4-0, I’m going all the way.

Have you made the leap into the marathon distance? When was your first? Did you build up to the marathon with shorter races or dive right in? If you haven’t made the jump to the full 26.2, what’s holding you back?

Recovering corporate hamster-wheeler turned Alaskan hausfrau, mother of two and running enthusiast. Kind of a June Cleaver in tempo shorts...minus the makeup and vacuum. Will run to great lengths to get a moment of peace.

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  1. Love this…totally agree about the 10k being the gateway drug ;) So funny.

    Which marathon are you doing? Won’t January in Alaska still be cold, dark and wet?

    1. Cathryn, I’m doing the Carlsbad Marathon in California. You’re right that Alaska will be cold dark and snowy in January, so it will be a PERFECT time to leave. :)

  2. I just ran my first marathon at the age of 44 and exactly one year after my first half marathon, two years after I started running regularly. My theory is just go for it. It’s kind of like having kids, not really sure there is a perfect time to have them, I mean really, are any of us really prepared for what is involved in raising kids? I think the marathon is the same…wait too long and you might regret it! Good for you for choosing one for the new year. Even if all does not go as planned you won’t regret having tried it!

    1. I like that analogy–never an easy/perfect time, no way to really prepare and know what you’re getting into, but (I’ll add this part) totally amazing and worth it once you take the plunge! :-)

  3. I’m not sure, but if think we all find our “distance” that we like to race. For me, that has been a marathon. No matter how bad I do or feel after, I can’t stop thinking about the next one! Good luck in January – you will rock it!

    1. Thank you! All I know is….I like the HM waaaay better than the 5k. So who knows, maybe I’ll follow your lead and make the marathon my favorite distance.

  4. I began running 1/2 marathons in my 40s. I was 56 before I had the time and self-discipline to complete the marathon training. I have since run 18 marathons. I found I am a far better at distance running than I am at 5K or 10K distances.

    1. That marathon training really does take some serious time and discipline, doesn’t it? And now you’ve done it 18 times!! It’s amazing what our bodies are capable of. Stories like yours are really inspiring to me!

  5. If I could run as fast as you, I definitely attempt a marathon. I was 2 months shy of my 50th when I ran my first HM . . . I’ve run another 5 in the last 2 yrs & taken 20 minutes off my time, but I’d still be looking at a 6 hr marathon & I just don’t want to run that long!

    1. Judy, that’s awesome! I love hearing stories like yours. To run your first HM at nearly 50 and then take 20 minutes off in training just 2 years?! That’s fabulous!

  6. I started running about 5 years ago, at age 43. I just ran my first marathon a couple weeks ago. I ran my first half as a practice race as part of my training. The half was disastrous, but I learned important things and my full marathon was great. I was stunned.

    I decided to do the marathon just for the heck of it. I think I was a little crazy.

    1. I think we all have to have a little crazy in us to attempt a marathon–under any conditions. But it’s the good kind of crazy. :-) So glad to hear your first marathon went well! Congrats on finishing strong!

  7. I didn’t run my first until I was 31.5. Heck, I didn’t start running as an adult until I was almost 30! When we start later we can PR well into our 40s, so this is a great time to start. You’re going to do great and I’m sure you’ll be in for Boston 2015!

    1. Thanks! I like the idea of getting faster as I get older. The idea that we could somehow be stronger and more capable in old(er) age is like anti-aging cream for the mind….even if we don’t LOOK younger, busting out a new PR is guaranteed to make us FEEL like we are!

  8. You can always run the Mayor’s Marathon (I think that’s what it’s called) in June right in your new home state. I’m making the leap in March. I’m a little scared, but super excited!

    1. Thanks Erin! I am hoping to run Mayor’s as well. I just didn’t want to wait so long (until late June)–I was itching to race one sometime this fall/winter. Good for you for taking the leap in March. And I’m definitely with ya on being both scared and excited. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, but in the best possible way. Best of luck in your marathon training!

  9. I jumped into the full distance almost exactly a year after I ran my first road race, a half marathon. I tend to jump into things head first!