Marathon Medal Mania

I never called myself a runner until I trained for a marathon. When people told me they "ran 10 miles" I thought it was hyperbole, more a product of a rounding error. Because who runs 10 miles? Forget about willingly! How? Who cares about why! Just how on earth is that done? Rounding errors. Definitely.

No, I was not a runner, not even in the most casual sense. So it makes sense I'd sign up to run a marathon and then actually do it in the summer of 2005. I'm fairly certain I'd never managed to run even one full mile, much less raced a 5k or 10k. Since that first marathon, I've run plenty of 5ks and 10ks and learned I really love the way running makes me feel.

My weight loss story ... is so lame.
My mom had died a year earlier. I didn't eat, sleep or go out much. I was so thin, ladies in retail stores would tell me how "teeny tiny" I was and then barge into the dressing room to dress me like a doll. I was deeply weirded out by this. I worried about the long-term consequences of sudden weight loss and I suspected I wasn't very healthy. So I found a dietician. She told me I was underweight because I wasn't eating. (Science is amazing like that.)

Outside her office was a sign promoting a marathon running group. My brain, all whacky from its chemical mishaps and meanderings, decided it would be a good time to train for a marathon.

Train for a marathon! Make 0 friends.
According to the sign, the group was for beginners. So it was a surprise to me when, on June 6, 2005, I was the very, very last person to return to base. Odd, I thought. And then I showed up two days later for the next scheduled group run. Again, I was last. In fact, I came in last for every training run. It turns out every member of the group except me was a seasoned runner and a beginner marathoner.

Still, I had nothing else to do, so I kept running. I didn't do any cross-training. (Zip. Zilch. Nada. Really.) That's not ideal, but I had little muscle mass and the training runs were exhausting what little I did have, at least in the beginning.

As the summer progressed, so did the length of those Saturday morning long runs. I'd get up at 3:30 a.m. so I could meet the group, be quickly abandoned on arrow-straight county roads and finish the long runs completely alone while the group watched from the comfort of their camp chairs. It's possible the coach made them stay so I'd feel included — they quickly disbanded as soon as I was actually finished. Yes, lots of lovely friendships were made, including an engagement, while watching me creep over the horizon that summer. I was just too slow for the friendship-making.

It didn't matter to me, a classic extrovert. Running solo let me focus on the pattern of my footfalls instead of my unending sadness. After a while, I began running the weeknight short runs solo, too. The group initially kept me committed and motivated. I didn't need that accountability. There was no question I was going to run according to the plan our coach gave us.

True, I missed a run here and there, including one long run. Your body, mind and spirit need to be prepared, and running the distance is the only way, my coach warned. I never missed a long run after that.

Running gear doesn't cost a lot unless you get a toenail blister.
One area that didn't require training was gear. Apparel. Shoes. Socks. I had a few pairs of shorts, shirts and a comfy sports bra and I ran with it. I bought just one new item: A pair of Asics from my local running store. (Pronate? I didn't know, but my local running store did!) When I got a blister on my heel and another UNDER my big toenail during a 15-mile run, I knew what I had to do: Pop the blister with a pine needle found in the cemetery and keep running.

That was a sign of the shoes' premature breakdown. (Don't sweat it, Asics, still love ya.)  So, I took my local running store's advice and started breaking in a second brand new pair of Asics (exactly the same) by alternating my shoes and runs. Aside from their budget-busting half-life, the Asics worked well for me. They should have lasted longer, but they didn't, and I had about 150 more training miles to go — too much for the old pair, but enough to comfortably cover the spread to race day.

Keep yourself motorvated.
About mid-way through my training, I wondered if I had what it took to be a marathoner. I needed to stay motivated.

In the most ridiculously childish way, I wanted a medal. And every single finisher of the race that day would get one - not a crummy ribbon. Would a hunk of bronze-colored metal suspended from a patriotic tri-colored ribbon be enough to fuel me across this racing rubicon?

Then I did the only thing I could: I registered for the race in late July — well before the Sept. 25 race day. There was no way I was going to leave an $80 registration fee and a medal on the table.

The Runner's Drinking Problem
On race day, I pulled myself out of bed at 4 a.m., threw up my toast and dressed myself in a garbage bag, which I handsomely transformed into a disposable rain coat on that drizzly morn.

We took off at the sound of the starting pistol (that's a real thing!) and soon enough I realized I actually wouldn't be last. There was a giant group behind me! Turns out, that was a wave of half-marathoners who started later.

On the course, I did as the coach dictated: I hydrated. I didn't meet a single aid station attendant I didn't like, and I sipped their bounty greedily. By mile 15 I was stopping at every single Port-A-Potty on the course.

Experienced runners will say "Race the way you trained." Who trains with aid stations? No one. Who takes a coach's instruction about destruction literally? Me.

Pacing for race day.
All the same, I ran 17.5 miles of the course. I ran-walked the rest of it. The time I posted wasn't envied by anyone — it exceeded six hours and most first-timers can finish in five.  My general slowness and all those pit stops had cost me, but I didn't care about any of it when the race volunteer placed the medal over my head and the angels sang.

Most people get excited or anxious in the days before the race. Truly, 26.2 miles is a lot! I didn't fear the distance at all. Victory already was mine: In my quest to run 26.2 miles in one day, I had run nearly 400 miles. I'd set a big goal in just training for the marathon! It didn't matter that I wasn't a good runner or a fast runner or that I was bio-mechanically incorrect. I was a runner, and I had set and met a goal even before the actual race.

Basically, I laced up on race day for one reason: That medal.

After the race.
Since then, I haven't attempted another marathon despite all the warnings I would "become addicted," "be obsessive, compulsive even" and "much easier to live w
posted by
Juliette Rule
Juliette Rule is a former social media and public relations manager for Sierra Trading Post. She loves riding her mountain bike or road bike - in every Colorado season. Juliette lives in Fort Collins, Colo., with her rescued Australian cattle dog, Maszlo.
Join the Conversation