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. 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 www.FindmyMarathon.com, 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.
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?