I ran my first marathon in November 2005.
I began running after I enlisted in the Army National Guard in
October 2002, but it was only in officer school, where we were required to keep run logs, that I started running longer distances.
In spring of 2005, I was 35 years old and had just returned from a military officer course and felt I was in the best shape for running a marathon. I'd always wanted to run a marathon since I was 25 years old, when I set it as a goal to meet before I turned 40.
I signed up for the Richmond Suntrust Marathon and joined a marathon training class with the D.C. Roadrunners. I worked up to the 18-mile run in August, but then I got deployed for Hurricane Katrina in early September.
I did not really run much the whole month I was there. It was a real eye-opening experience to be deployed there in a time of such human suffering and I am glad I was there to try to help.
Upon my return, I worried that I had missed a month of training and debated whether to run the marathon at all.
I thought about all those people who had lost lives and homes and I figured I was lucky to be even thinking of such an opportunity as running a marathon. I decided to go for it. With the guidance of the marathon training coach, I did not try to make up for missed distance, but instead, did shorter tapered runs leading up to the race. I also got advice from a fellow club member who said to start much slower than I thought I would need to.
On the day of the race, I ate a huge early breakfast of spaghetti and a ton of water. I brought my energy gels and water on an elastic band to go over my hand.
I thought I arrived early for the race, but city police had already blocked off most roads in the downtown area and I could not find a place to park near the race start.
I ended up parking a mile away and by then was borderline late.
I ran the mile, mostly uphill to the start. The race was starting, but I dashed to the porta potty and then under the dividing tape and started running. Luckily, I had preregistered.
I went super slow at the beginning of the race and enjoyed the scenery. I had family members at mile 7 or so and I was happy to see them. Then, I realized there were no more cheering family members the rest of the run, so I felt a little down after that.
However, the sight of the James River was inspiring and I lightly jogged across the Huguenot Bridge and along the river. I felt great so far and was near the 4 hour, 30 minute pacer.
I ate my first energy gel along Forest Hill Avenue, perhaps around mid-race. It really worked! I started passing people. I still felt great. I ran through the Virginia Commonwealth University area and felt pretty good.
As I passed the Diamond, the baseball stadium, a man held up a sign that said, "are you crazy??" That got me wondering if I was crazy as my muscles were starting to feel a little tired. I still felt pretty good.
We ran up through some residential neighborhoods where people were handing out orange slices and I took one and re-filled on water and Gatorade in my water bottle.
Around mile 22, my legs did start feeling a bit like jelly, but I figured I had come that far and I had never run that far before, having only run the 18 miles in training. I kept going at a fairly good pace for me and ate my last energy gel.
The idea of the finish line kept me going until I reached the first spectators toward the end of the race.
Their cheering really kept me going until I reached the final stretch, which I bounded down at a high rate of speed feeling like an Olympic champion. I was totally worn out as I crossed the finish line at 4 hours, 15 minutes. I wandered around in a daze looking for the pizza tent, which I promptly found.
Then, I sadly realized that I had to walk, somehow, amazingly, back up-hill (how could that be??) to my car. I made it and felt the most satisfaction I've ever felt probably in my life. It was great. I decided to try for my second marathon this fall. I recommend running a marathon to anyone and believe it would be even better with complete training.
Karen Werner, Arlington, Virginia.