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The marathon virgin blog: 8 things I learned by running "Around the Bay"

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My first-ever finisher's medal.  Photo by Daniel Mosher

1. Kilometers are better than miles.

At the “Around the Bay” 30K last Sunday, I ran 5:28 splits for the first time in my life. Okay, that’s because the race was in Hamilton, Ontario, where they believe in the metric system, but just let me have my moment.

2. I still don’t know how to dress for a long race.

I love running, but I hate running in the rain. Maybe someday I’ll buy a nice rain-proof running jacket, but until then, I use a windbreaker that my aunt and uncle gave me for Christmas when I was in high school. It’s not designed for running, and if I zip it up for more than 15 minutes my core overheats, but it keeps me dry.

The forecast on race morning called for showers, so I tied the windbreaker around my waist. I was also a little chilly when I got out of the car in Hamilton, so I made a mistake I really shouldn’t be making anymore: I put on an extra shirt. Less than 5K along the route, I had already started sweating through both shirts. I didn’t want to stop, though, so I managed to pull off a trick I’m rather proud of. While running, I was able to: take off the two shirts I was wearing, pull the long-sleeve-shirt out from under the short-sleeve shirt, unpin the pin that was holding them together, re-pin my number, put the short-sleeve shirt back on, and tie my long-sleeve shirt around my waist.

I never needed the windbreaker.

3. When ya gotta go, you gotta go.

In 7th grade, I stopped during a 3200 and tied my shoe (I still won). In college, I dropped out of a 5000 because I couldn’t breathe. Other than that, I’ve never stopped during a race. Ever. Not even when I sprained my ankle halfway through my first varsity cross-country meet. I ran past my coach and pointed at my ankle and said, “It really hurts!” He said, “Keep going.” I did. Talk about blind obedience to authority.


Balloon Man makes it easy for friends to find him.  Photo by Daniel Mosher.

So the idea of stopping during a race is just odd to me. The way I’ve always seen it, if you’re not running, you’re wasting time, because no matter what you do with your wristwatch, the race officials won’t stop the clock so you can tie your shoe, grab a Gatorade, or use the bathroom.

But I hydrated during the race—I learned from the big mistake I made during the Lockport Y-10—and by 12K, I really had to pee. As I approached a bank of port-a-potties (they were called something like “Jimmy on the Job”), I had to accept that I couldn’t safely hold it anymore. Neither, unfortunately, could a dozen other runners.

The restroom break, especially the wait in line, cost me 3 minutes. It was worth it.

4. In a long race, it’s also okay to walk for five seconds while drinking Gatorade.

Because then you’ll get more Gatorade into your stomach than down the front of your shirt.

5. Buffalo-area runners Jon French and Elizabeth Randall are wicked fast.

Once I was back home, I browsed through the race results online and saw their names—names I often hear at the award ceremonies for local road races, usually at the end of sentences beginning, “And your overall winner is…”

French ran 1:44:30—that’s 5:36 a mile--to take 8th place out of the whole darn race. Randell finished in 2:04:52, 12th of all the women and 146th overall. To put that in perspective, 5,702 runners officially finished.

I got 2217th, and I was delighted.

6. I’m about as fast as I thought I was (but a little slower than I’d hoped).

I pride myself on the fact that the overall winner of a race has never quite been twice as fast as me. I managed to continue this streak (if you can call it that) at the “Around the Bay”—I crossed the 15K at 1:24:47, and the men’s champion, Reta Alene, crossed the finish line in 1:32:21, whopping 7 ½ minutes later. I rule.


The finish area in Copps Coliseum.  Photo by Daniel Mosher. 

Before the 30K (about 18.6 miles), the furthest I’d ever raced was 10 miles, which I did in Lockport this February. I had trained up to 17.5 (slow) miles and done several 12-15 mile runs, but most of my training consisted of 4-7 milers and only a few speed workouts. I set myself the vague goal of running between 2:45 and 3:00 for the Around the Bay and approached it as part race, part distance workout. My chip time was 2:44:35.

If I’m being, honest, though, I guess I was hoping vaguely for a time a little closer to the high 2:30’s. My mile splits (chip time) were 8:50, which is already twenty seconds slower than the pace I’ll need to maintain over 26.2 if I want to qualify for Boston. My goal for my first marathon is to break 4 hours, but after that I’ll shoot for a Boston qualifier because, well, why not? I believe a 2:30-ish 30K and 3:40 marathon are within my reach, but I realized on Sunday that it’s going to take a lot more work.

7. DeFeet running socks = the best 8 Canadian dollars I ever spent.

Most of my running socks are cotton or cotton blends, because those are the least expensive kind around. At the pre-race expo, however, I splurged and bought an 8-dollar pair of specialty running socks to wear during the race.

I did not get blisters.

8. If you show your finisher’s medal to a nonrunner, they might think you won.

On our way home, Dan and I stopped for lunch at a little strip-mall restaurant called “Two Cougars and a Café, LLBO.” I assume the “LLBO” is the Canadian equivalent of the American “LLC.” Dan says it stands for “Long Lost Burger Oasis.”

Anyway, we asked our waitress to take a picture of us. As she readied the shot, I said, “Wait, I have to hold up my medal.”  I was talking about the bronze finisher's medal they give to everyone who comes in after 2:30 (for women; 2:15 for men).

“Whoa!” she said. “You won a medal!”

“Yeah,” I said, without thinking. “They give one to everybody.”

But really, I could have just told her I took 3rd place. 

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