You Never Forget Your First Time


You Never Forget Your First Time

No, not THAT first time! That’s just a faded memory. I’m talking about the first time you run/walk a marathon.  I’ve done 3- 2013, 2015 and 2016 respectively. But at this point in my race journey, 13.1 is my maximum distance.  This blog is about my amazing, determined, resilient, motivated and most of all, inspiring friends who overcame obstacles, injuries, mental and physical fatigue to conquer their goals!

On October 8, 2023, eight of my dearest friends completed their first marathon- Greenbrier River Trail Marathon in Marlinton, WV. And 3 of my friends did the Chicago Marathon- one of the 6 World Marathons!  The Chicago marathoner I am focusing on is Sissy. She is a 65 year old force to be reckoned with. Is she the fastest runner? No. Is she the most determined?  ABSOLUTELY!  She qualified for Chicago through the charity lottery, raising money for diabetes research. As a diabetic, it is a cause very close to her heart. Because I couldn’t be there to experience it with her, like I was for the other racers, I can’t give any details of the event. But I did get to ask her about her experience, which is included below.

GRTM is a trail race until the last mile or so.  And although the terrain is packed gravel, it is still a much different experience than a road race.  To my knowledge, they all trained either 100% or the majority on the road. After the race, many of them commented that their feet hurt more than they expected. Or that the “unbalance” of a trail caused leg and hip pain.  One friend, Amy, had very bad blisters on the bottoms of her feet. But she sure didn’t let it stop her until she crossed that finish line. I think they would all agree, even with the high level of training they did, their legs were much more tired than they expected.

Grrl Gang and Friends at the Start

The weather that day was below average temps for that time of year and windy. It’s not completely unheard of for those conditions in October. But when the whole time leading up to race day, including all the training, was done in 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s it was a bit of a shock to the system.  At the start of the race the temps were in the 30’s and at the end of the race it topped out at in the upper 40’s. Although they all knew what the forecast was and preplanned what they were going to wear- which was everything from shorts and tank top with compression sleeves, to long sleeves and gloves- you don’t really feel it until you’re out in it.  Talking with everyone after the race, they were all happy with their outfit choices. That’s a big deal because the last thing you want to do is obsess, overthink or second guess yourself for 26.2 miles about what you should have/could have changed. As a spectator who was out there for hours, not exerting any energy, I can tell you it was cold and windy. I was second guessing my choices the whole time. Needed more layers for sure!

The race had a time limit of 8 hours, which is extremely generous for a marathon. Many are 6 hours, some are 7 and I only know of one that has no time limit. But I think knowing they had 8 hours if needed gave them more confidence to get out there and do it. Our fastest runner came in at 4:43:54. Vikki used to be a ballet dancer, so she has always been graceful on her feet.  We call her our “tiny dancer”. And our final racers came in as a trio at 6:34:43, very respectable! When you consider Eunice is 71, doing her first marathon, that time is pretty incredible.

The Trio Bringing it in Strong

I had a chance to talk to some of the newly crowned marathoners to ask about their experience. Thanks to them for sharing their thoughts with me. Below are some of their responses.

What did you like most about the experience?

Tricia: Running through the tunnel & finding out there were Snickers on the other side!! 

Anybody got a Snickers?

Monica: Experiencing my first marathon with my best friends.

Chris: It was nice to share the house together, eat together, and have supporters come down to cheer us on. Even if you weren’t doing it or didn’t come, Grrl Gang Runners and Charleston running community all contributed to our successes. I really enjoyed chatting with other runners on the course, finding out about their running journey, other races, and the places they came from.

Todd: Hanging out, encouraging each other, and commiserating after the race while we laughed at each other’s pain was great.  I really enjoyed running under the trees and along the river.  It was peaceful and enjoyable, except for the last 5 miles or so when I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other.

Sissy: The people along the course. I was never alone.

What did you like least about the experience?

Monica: Training all summer in the heat!

Todd:  The aid stations.  They were a big disappointment.  I’m glad I packed well and didn’t count on the water stops.

Tricia: Not seeing anyone for miles. 

Chris: There was a fair amount of pain and mental anguish to overcome near the end. I half expected it.

Sissy: I can’t say that I didn’t like anything.

What was the biggest surprise?

Chris: That I was doing a marathon at 58.

Tricia: Getting pained with sciatica at mile 10. 

Todd: That I didn’t experience the 20 mile “hit the wall” and that I wasn’t very sore the next day.

Monica: How much of an emotional journey it was.  I expected it to be physically hard, but didn’t realize it would bring up so many emotions! Also the fact that I said all along that it was a one and done, but I’m already thinking about doing another marathon.

Sissy: How well the water stations were setup and the access to bio freeze, Vaseline, anything you needed was out there for your use.

How did it compare to your expectations?

Todd: I didn’t expect the race to be as hard as it was.  I did all of my training and had run 23 miles prior.  This was tougher than any of my training runs.  I was disappointed at how much walking I had to do at the end.

Chris: I knew it would get painful, I’d just never experienced that kind of pain before or the joy of finishing 26 frigging miles, so that was pretty cool.

Monica: It was harder on the trail than I thought it would be.  I’m used to running on blacktop/concrete and this was just a completely different challenge.

Tricia: I was expecting more hype & more snacks along the way. 

Sissy: It exceeded my expectations.

I had to get myself in at least one pic

How was your overall experience?

Tricia: I loved it because I was able to overcome a very tough feat. It was so tough and I felt dead a lot of times. But knowing 7 of my gang was on the trail enduring the same feat, made me push through the pain. We worked so hard to get to this point we were not going to let ourselves down. Having friends on the trail and at the finish made it literally the most amazing race! 

Monica: This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever undertaken both physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It was also one of my proudest moments when I crossed that finish line.  We always say that we can do hard things and this just reinforced that! 

Chris: It was a great trip, just nice to get out of Charleston, crisp fall air, some changing color, trail was beautiful, company fantastic, a great adventure.

Todd: I’m glad I did it.  I can say I’m a marathon runner.  It was one of the hardest and more painful things I’ve done; the pain will soon be forgotten to be replaced with the joy of having completed a marathon; I’ll definitely do it again.

Sissy: I would recommend this race to all my running friends looking to do a marathon.

It is human nature, when you are training for a marathon, to say “this is going to be my one and done”, which they all did. But it is also our nature to change our minds, which they all did. They are already thinking about their next marathon.  Two of which have already signed up for the next one in November!

My heart is just bursting with pride for all their accomplishments. There is no limit to what they can achieve.  And I can’t wait to see what they do next and share their journey with them.

Next up for me and many more of my running/walking friends is Marshall University Marathon and Half Marathon. Three weeks away! Stay tuned for the next blog.

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