My First Marathon Story
Disclaimer: This happened in January 2016. I’m going to share some of my past stories, along with my future experiences.
For my first marathon, I chose Tiberias, Israel, mostly because it was the closest marathon I could find (I lived in Israel for a year). It happens to be a unique marathon, taking place entirely below sea level, it’s the lowest marathon course in the world. It’s also a relatively flat and fast course.
Most of my training took place in the Jerusalem hills, so I was looking forward to running a flat course and I assumed my race speed would be faster than my training speed. Little did I know…
As much as I was looking forward to the race, I wasn’t confident in my ability to run 26.2 miles. I missed a few of the training long runs and the longest I had run to this point was around 16 miles. The forecast was calling for a light rain in the morning, with temperatures from 45-50 degrees. Almost perfect running conditions, for me.
I stayed with my family at an airbnb apartment with amazing views of the kinneret. The apartment was beautiful and comfortable, which was unexpected for my first airbnb experience.
The Calm Before The Storm
The night before the race, we went out to explore the town and get some dinner. The weather was perfect and we had a great time chasing our 2 year old around town. We took some pictures around the starting line and headed back to get some sleep.
I Don’t Need No Stinking Pants!
Before I went to bed, I started laying out my clothes and equipment for the race.
Earphones – check
Hat – check
Garmin watch – check
Apple watch – check
iPhone with music loaded – check
Shoes – check
Socks – check
Shirt – check
Underwear – oops!
Pants – um, oops! seems I forgot two tiny little details. Fortunately I was able to find a pair of gym shorts, on short notice.
It’s Important To Get A Good Night’s Sleep Before A Marathon
Or so they say, didn’t happen for me. It started raining before I went to sleep, which actually helped me fall asleep. I’m not sure if it was the food, or just nerves, but I woke up at 3am with a major stomachache. While taking care of business in the bathroom, water started leaking through the ceiling right onto my head. Oh what fun!
I was feeling so sick and nervous at this point, that I couldn’t go back to sleep. I got dressed and triple checked that all my electronic devices were charged. I know it sounds ridiculous to run with two watches and a phone with runkeeper, but I wasn’t sure which to keep and I figured the marathon would be a good test for all of them.
The Starting Line
I was so early, that I had no problem finding a parking spot close to the starting line. The light rain from the forecast, turned out to be a steady downpour, which showed no sign of stopping. This was a fairly small race, with somewhere around 2,000 total runners, so most of us found shelter under local store awnings.
This wasn’t just my first marathon, it was my first timed race. I had no idea how things worked, and I didn’t speak the local language, so I was wandering around confused and looking for English signs. Eventually I found a Japanese runner who spoke English and was able to tell me how the timing system worked.
I had expected the announcements to be in English, considering that it’s an “International” marathon, but alas they were all in Hebrew which I probably wouldn’t have understood if I could have heard them above the noise of the rain.
As the starting time approached the “light rain” had turned into a torrential downpour and the road leading up to the starting line was completely submerged in water. I half expected them to cancel the race, but as I learned, runners are kinda crazy.
And We’re Off!
Finally, the moment was here the starting horn went off and people started running. It looked too crowded to me, so I hung back for about 7 minutes. The race used timing chips that runners tied to their shoes to keep time, so starting late shouldn’t add to your time.
As soon as the road cleared up a bit, I took off, as I crossed the starting line, I started my Garmin and Runkeeper. I saw the owner of the running store that sold me my shoes up ahead of me, pushing a disabled kid in a wheelchair and figured I’d follow him, since he probably knew what he was doing. Bad idea, he was way faster than me.
The first mile was utter chaos. There were parts of the road with over 6 inches of water covering it. Some runners were doing everything possible to avoid the water, weaving in and out like a bunch of drunks. Most of us realized that it was futile and just ran straight through, even in the parts we could have avoided standing water.
Aside from the rain, the first three miles went really well. I was actually warmer than before the race and you can only get wet once. In hindsight, I was way overdressed for the run and instead of keeping myself dry, I had to run covered in wet clothes. I would have been much better off in shorts and a short sleeved shirt.
“Smile If You Have To Poop”
Most of the marathon horror stories I’ve heard involve stomach problems and bathroom emergencies. You can’t run far without seeing someone holding a sign that says “smile if you have to poop”. About 5 miles in, my stomach started feeling unsettled, but there was nothing I could do about it. Being such a small race, the port-a-potties were few and far between.
I was convinced that I would have to drop out, but I didn’t see how that would even help. As far as I could tell there was no way back, except walking. Finally, at around mile 9 I found an empty port-a-potty and got some relief, until some guy practically pulled the door off the hinges and burst in…awkward!
With my stomach feeling better and a good portion of the race behind me, I started feeling good about my chances. I was used to the rain and actually enjoying it, even if I couldn’t see anything more than a few feet away. My Apple watch wasn’t working during the rain, but my iPhone was OK, playing my music and giving me runkeeper updates every five minutes. Then it stopped. Runkeeper crapped out on me and I couldn’t control the iPhone at all, because everything was too wet.
Fortunately my music was still working, unfortunately I made a nostalgic playlist of mostly 90s pop songs, which didn’t do anything to motivate me. Still, I was feeling good and making decent time, even with my bathroom break.
Where Am I?
Around mile 15 I started to feel lost. Being a small race and considering the weather, there were no spectators along the course. There were times when there were no other runners in sight and I was wondering if I made a wrong turn somewhere. There was nothing to do but keep going, so I did.
At this part of the race it was just me, alone with my thoughts and that is never a good thing! Physically, I was feeling fine, my heart rate was normal, my breathing was fine and my legs were holding up better than expected. Mentally, I was overwhelmed by how much further I had to go.
Why Am I Here??
At mile 20, I wasn’t feeling as great physically. My legs started cramping and my fingers were tingling. I kept telling myself that I only had a 10k to go until the finish line. Then I would think “I have to run another 10k!”.
I remembered the advice someone gave me before the race, “just put one foot in front of the other and repeat”. I tried to stop and rest a few times, but resting in the cold and rain was not helpful at all. I kept asking myself why I was doing this. Nobody made me get out of bed and go out in the pouring rain to run a bunch of miles, just to get back to my bed.
A few times random strangers ran over to me to give me encouragement and help me out. I got passed by a runner who must have been over 80, he stopped and handed me an energy gel. Then he kept going, passing other runners and giving out more energy gels. That motivated me to keep going through mile 23.
Home Stretch? More Like Road To Nowhere
Just 3.2 miles to go, might as well have been a million the way I felt. Every step I took was excruciatingly painful. Walking breaks didn’t feel any better, they just made the pain last longer. I sat down at the side of the road, feeling way past my breaking point and trying to figure out what to do. Until now, the one thing keeping me going was the image in my head of crossing the finish line. At this point, that didn’t do it for me anymore. I was torn between not wanting to be a quitter and not wanting to move, so I was just sitting and waiting.
A lady running by stopped and reached out for my hand. I didn’t understand her Hebrew and it was easier to just run with her than to try to communicate, so I started running again.
It seemed like each mile took an hour, but eventually I found myself coming up to mile 26. I called my wife and found out that she wasn’t going to be at the finish line, so I took one more quick bathroom break and sprinted to the finish line.
You Didn’t Die, Here’s Your Medal!
I was so exhausted, physically and emotionally that I couldn’t stop crying after I crossed the finish line. I was dazed and confused and didn’t know where to go. I expected someone to be there handing out medals, but there were just a few volunteers giving out water bottles. I asked a volunteer about the medals and he said “No”, but I figured it must’ve been a language thing. I kept walking and found the place to return the timing device. There was a guy there, speaking English, wearing a medal and I asked him where he got it. He said “oh, they actually ran out of medals”.
I wasn’t going to let a stupid medal get me down, I had just made it through the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and I was on cloud 9. My wife met me with a change of clothes, which was great, except that I lost so much weight during the race, that my pants wouldn’t stay up if I let go of them.
On our way out of the hotel where the race officials were set up, we stopped to check my official time, 4 hours, 50 minutes and 22 seconds. 7 minutes slower than my watch said. Turns out the timing clocks got swept away in the flood and everyone’s time was started from the opening horn.
I’m Never Doing This Again!
For the rest of the weekend (the races are on Fridays in Israel), I could barely move. I was so sore and sick that I swore I would never run another marathon. On Monday I signed up for the Cleveland Marathon in four months. 🙂
I did eventually receive a medal in the mail, so all’s well that ends well?
Congratulations, you made it to the end of this post, sorry no medal for you!