I love new marathon runners. So many say they will all run their first 26.2 mile race in some phenomenal time. They will finish with smiles and reservations to Boston next spring at the ready.
During the first few practice runs, I listen and I smile. A few will reach those lofty goal. Many will find themselves falling sorely short at the end of their first marathon. I mean, after all, Boston is an elite race because so few out of the thousands of us who run will qualify.
I hope that doesn’t sound condescending or judging. It’s not meant to. I truly believe in setting personally fulfilling and inspiring goals. It’s just that I was that new runner at one point.
I felt so sure I could hit my goal that first race. By the starting line I lowered my Boston qualifying pipe dreams through the reality of training, but I still thought meeting a speedy time I set should be a breeze. Then mile 19 of my first marathon hit and I hit the wall, or more poignantly, it hit me.
Overcoming the physical exhaustion, pain, and mastering the strange calculation of nutrition and exertion is not so easy. This isn’t even mentioning the unknown physiological limitations of my body.
Training for my fourth marathon, I am still shooting for the goal I set for my first. I listen to real Boston qualifiers, men 10 to 15 years older than me, who recently ran my goal pace and I believe my A-plan pace is possible. I’ll settle for running a few minutes faster than my last race though. That’s the acceptable B-plan I did not have that first time.
As a guy with a few races under his belt, my grandiose dreams are balancing with my realistic expectation. And hopefully I learned to correct for some early mistakes along the way.
The first race I felt great speeding up those hills within the first 8 miles of the race, not realizing that by mile 19 on the flats my legs would hate me for the earlier exertion. I learned I need to have a little in the gas tank if I wanted to keep running to the finish line. We won’t even talk about what over eating to “garb load” did to me in marathon number two.
Of course there is no way to translate this to the new runner. Coaches tried to tell me but my enthusiasm overcame my ability to listen. I can only learn.
I know my earlier description of the new marathoner isn’t a fair description of EVERY new runner out there. It is though a fair description of those I take notice of, because they are so like me – big dreamers in what they can do who may eventually be tempered by a bit of reality and humility.