First Marathon- Publix Georgia Marathon (2011)

“A marathon is like life with its ups and downs, but once you’ve done it, you feel you can do anything.” -Unknown

One thing I was extremely excited about for my first marathon was going to be the crowd support. I live in Atlanta and we have the Peachtree Road Race on the 4th of July every year. It’s the largest 10k participant wise and the crowd support is one thing that makes the race so special. For the entire course, people cheer you on and at some point the crowd is 3 or 4 people deep! Tons of people are decked out in patriotic fare and many are holding beers and Bloody Mary’s bright and early just to watch the race. I had high expectations for the marathon. If so many people come out for just a 10k, how many will be there for a whole damn marathon? I read about Chicago, Boston and New York City marathons having amazing crowd support, so I assumed Atlanta would too.

The gun went off and the corrals quickly crossed the starting mat. Immediately I was having to weave in and around people. There were actually a lot of people walking…already! They weren’t getting over to the right so the runners could go on the left. They just decided they were gonna walk wherever the hell they wanted, oblivious to the golden rule of races. With my goal time set in stone, I knew my average pace I would have to hit. I was freaking out the first couple of miles. I was well off pace and people were in my way.

Pretty much right after the start too, the crowd support was basically all gone. Occasionally there would be a small group of people cheering everyone on here and there, but all in all it was nothing like I expected.

By mile 4, I was settled into my pace. I was comfortable and relaxed. The frustrations from the start of the race were out of me and the runners had spread out enough by this point I was able to just focus on myself. The aid stations were every two miles. I was getting water at one, then the next Gatorade. I switched back and forth the whole race. At mile 6, I was thinking I could do this all day. I was going over the hills at ease and staying on my pace.

Miles 6 to about 12 went by smoothly. At this point there was the split off for the half marathoners to head back to the finish of their race. Up until this point, the roads had runners all over them. Being able to run with so many people going at my speed was incredible. Then the split came and the first thing I noticed was how quiet everything seemed to all of the sudden become. Looking around, pretty much everyone took the half marathon route. I guess this was the point that separates the men from the boys. The fun and games were over, time to push on.

Other than water and Gatorade, I had never experimented with any nutrition during a run. For some reason I was a little scared to try the gels, beans or blocks during a run, thinking they might mess the hell out of my stomach. Not knowing how I would react, I never gave them a test. At the next station in the race, I got some water and grabbed a GU. My plan wasn’t to take it unless I really needed it. I held onto it, sort of like a lifeline.

Reaching the 13 mile mark felt awesome. I was cruising. I thought about the bet my friends made and knew who was going to win. I thought about anyone who might be tracking my race online. And I also thought about the tattoo on the back of the leg of the runner ahead of me at this point. He had the Ironman logo on his calf. I thought that was so badass. I thought, after I conquer this marathon, that is my next big goal!

From the halfway point and beyond, I picked the pace up a little. The next miles flew by. I hit mile 18 feeling great. No issues at all. In just a few more miles I would be at mile 20 and from there I would just have a 10k to go. Easy enough, I’ve done plenty of 10k runs before. I even tossed my GU that I was holding onto away.

Right at the mile 19 marker, a switch all of the sudden flipped in my head. Literally I was just saying to myself “doing good.” Out of nowhere my mind goes to saying “walk, just give up. What are you even doing? This is pretty stupid.” I gave in. I didn’t even try to fight my mind. I caved. I hit the wall.

I started walking. I was feeling fine until my meltdown. Now my legs were twitching and threatening to cramp. And my sides were stitching. “Oh man, at the next light pole, I’ll start running again.” I started to run again, but it just didn’t feel right. I felt defeated. I didn’t keep the run up for long. When my mind told me to give up and walk, I did. People started to pass me that I had passed earlier. This sucked.

After flipping from running and walking, I mostly stuck to walking. I felt embarrassed. I figured my friends and family were tracking my progress online. My dad drove me to the race and I told him about when to expect me to finish. I felt like I was not just letting myself down, but a bunch of other people too. I really really wanted to run to the rest of the race, but I just didn’t have it in me. I was starting to get cold because I was barely running. All I wanted to do was be done with it.

A few miles into this march, a lady on the side of the road yelled “pick your head up and smile! You’re doing a marathon. Almost there!” I was beyond the point of being able to cheer me up. The hills in the last part were forever long it seemed like. Once I got to the top of one, it seemed like another one started! I was not ready for this. I was pissed at myself for giving in so easily.

So from mile 19-26 I pretty much walked with running breaks sporadically sprinkled in. It was the longest 7 miles of my life. I was miserable, cold, hungry and beat. With .2 to go, I figured there would be a large crowd at the finish line. I didn’t want to walk it in. I didn’t want everyone to see me walk. I ran it in to the finish. You would think I would have been proud to cross the finish line. I was relieved, but I did feel accomplished. Marathon 1, me 0.

My dad didn’t see me finish. I told him it would be about 3:30 hours for me to finish. I was just under 4:30. He figured I had already finished and just missed me. I met up with him where they had giant balloons with letters on them so people could easily find each other. He told me he was proud of what I did and not to let me take it hard that I had to do some walking.

When we got to the car, he told me my Aunt wanted to know how it went, so I gave her a call. I gave her the run down of the race. Then she jokingly said “well when’s the next one?” I never thought much about doing another marathon. I really thought I would be one and done. Maybe if I hit my time goal, I would have been one and done. If everything went to plan, I probably would have hung up the idea of long distance running. I said “not sure yet, maybe do one by the end of the year in the Fall.”

(This is from the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th, 2011. About 4 months after this marathon. I was still running in basketball shorts then and still had the tongue thing going from high school, haha!)


34 thoughts on “First Marathon- Publix Georgia Marathon (2011)

  1. Jane Likes to Run

    This is pretty much how my first marathon went as well, so I don’t think it is an isolated experience if that makes you feel any better! I ran one in my home town as well, which was incredibly hilly and it rained the entire time. It was terrible. I ended up having my knees swell at mile 22, making it extremely painful to run. I had to step off to the side every half mile and run them to try and get the swelling to go down. And of course, like you said, people in the crowd were like come on, you’re doing so well, you’re almost done. Only time I have ever felt like knocking over a spectator! Same experience…I wanted to finish in 4:15 and ended up finishing in 4:40, which was absolutely terrible in my opinion. However, I am sure that we are going to hear more of your long distance running stories soon. We learn from these things, right?

    1. Joey Post author

      When it happened, I thought it was all me. But now a few years later I know it happens to tons of people. And I cheered people on at the Atlanta marathon last weekend. I was around mile 20 on the top of a hill. Towards the back end of runners, I could tell a lot of people didn’t want to hear my encouragement. We all go through it. No matter how prepared we are, these types of bad runs can happen. That’s the great thing about long runs. My 7 Bridges marathon I did, and wrote about, a few weeks ago was a completely different experience than my first. Pretty much everything went perfectly.

  2. michaelpmccullough

    Shouldn’t’ve thrown away the goo. If you’re going to run distances at marathon level or above try to train with some calorie intake. I almost have to force myself to do this – otherwise you pay later. Races of 50K and up nearly require calorie intake during the run.

    Try for at least a goo every 45 minutes.

    Congrats on your first marathon.

    1. Joey Post author

      Thanks, this was back in 2011. I think the GU would have been too late by that point in the race. After this race I started using nutrition during runs. I have it down to a science for when I take a gel or s cap during a run or race now. And yeah, sometimes it’s a force feed! Haha

  3. SoWhatIRun

    You finished! That’s better than not finishing! I would definitely try running another marathon and train with different types of nutrition (Gu’s, chomps, etc.). Your time was great (faster than mine!), so while it wasn’t your goal, don’t beat yourself up about it. For me, if I have a not so great run, I have to try again. I think having the nutrition will help you push through the wall that wall. If you’re going for 100, you want to go in with the confidence of a “feel good marathon” under your belt. That mental monster creeps up when you least expect it. Congratulations on your first marathon!

    1. Joey Post author

      Thanks! This was actually back a few years ago. It’s taking me a little while to write out my journey to now. I did my 5th or 6th one a couple of weeks ago, the 7 Bridges Marathon I wrote about. And it was a much much better experience.

  4. piratebobcat

    I’ve been there. I thought my first would be one and done. I also had a time goal. I finished nowhere close to it. I was in serious pain, had to walk a ton, and it was a miserable experience. But like you, I got er done. The past few years I’ve done one a year.
    They say that the real marathon starts at mile 20. As you found out.
    They also say that your first marathon, the only goal should be finishing. After that, the next one you can set a time goal. So don’t worry about this one, you did finish!

    1. Joey Post author

      Yeah it was a rough outing, but I’ve learned from it and moved on. The 7 Bridges Marathon I did 2 weeks ago as a training run, went smoothly compared to this one. After this first one, I always tell people to only have finishing for their first marathon and don’t be surprised if you have to do a little walking

  5. Trails and Ultras

    Mile 18 always sucks. I’m guessing it was a fuelling problem in this case? My first road marathon had the same results but in my case I started out too fast and crashed and burned. I still finished but walked miles 23-25. I’m going back to do the same race in two weeks, hopefully I’ll be a bit wiser this time 🙂

    1. Joey Post author

      It probably was a fueling problem mixed with other things. So many things go into a marathon that can make or break it. Good luck to you and hope you learned from your experience!

  6. Reallyarunner

    Well done on finishing, Have a rest, make sure you recover well then think about training for your next. You know where it went wrong. Let’s be honest 4:30 is still a great time for your first marathon, actually, for any marathon, But I also know how the disappointment eats away at you when you had a goal. . I look forward to reading about your next adventure with the big M.

    1. Joey Post author

      Thanks! I actually just did my 5th or 6th (depending on if you count an Ironman). So this recap was from 2011. I’m trying to write out my journey quickly so I can get to the present moment. Thanks for reading

      1. Joey Post author

        I’m the most open person, so I love to hear advice from others! Everyone can learn something from anyone in the world.

  7. sueslaght

    Joey thank you for this post. For someone like me attempting my first it helps to hear how people may have had to just grunt it out and dig deep to get it done. Should I finish in 5:30 I will be euphoric so it’s a different journey for all. Congrats on your more recent marathons but this first shows what you’re made of! Well done!

    1. Joey Post author

      Why thank you. Even people that are very experienced with marathons have to dip deep a lot of times. Based on my experience and from a lot of other people’s, my word of advice would be to just aim to finish. Don’t worry about time. You’ll have a much better day out there

  8. Ruaca

    Thanks for sharing not only your successes, but your struggles. It’s reassuring for someone like me to know that even the most in shape and successful runners have some tough races, and times. Clearly, we are all human, but its a good reminder. So, thank you for that! Also, my co-worker wants to know if you can put that picture above on a magnet? She’d like to put it on the fridge. Ha Ha! It was so funny when she said that -I had to share it with you. 🙂

    1. Joey Post author

      Hahaha! She can do whatever she wants with it 😉

      Yeah, there is so much that goes into longer distance races, they almost become unpredictable. You can only control so much. Glad you already committed to your first half, can’t wait to hear how your training goes.

  9. Pandora Viltis

    I’m glad you shared this — I’m going to train for my first marathon next year. I’m trying to figure out the feeding while running thing. Gu is too concentrated and sweet for me and makes me feel sick for a couple miles — probably negating any energy boost. I’m going to test out UCAN after my half marsthon.

    Lol about your tongue — many of my race pictures you can see my little piece of gum sticking out of the corner of my mouth. :p

    1. Joey Post author

      Nice! I recently started chewing gum on some runs. It helps calm me down for some reason.

      Not only finding the right nutrition, but figuring out the perfect times for your body will be an experiment in progress. It took me a few years to get everything down to when it works best for me. Even flavors of a certain product can have a negative effect on the body.

      Do you know which marathon you’re gunning for yet?

      1. Pandora Viltis

        I haven’t figured out which one yet — they seem to be a little early in the year for when I think I’ll be ready or cutting it close if I want to try for a BQ in the fall. Based on my current speed, I think a BQ is doable, but I need time for this middle aged body to build the distance injury-free. My longest run is 15 miles, so I’ve got a ways to go.

        I like chewing gum because I get a really dry mouth when I run. I just wish I didn’t look like suck a hayseed with it in the corner of my mouth like that!

      2. Joey Post author

        If you’re up to 15 already doing one early next year would be perfect. It’s plenty of time for your body to get ready for it

  10. runningbostonandbeyond

    I’ve had it happen too and it’s so embarrassing!!! A good thing to do, which you did, is kept your head up and finished. The best thing is to learn from it instead of letting it beat you down. Way to go 🙂

    1. Joey Post author

      It’s funny how embarrassing it is, but in the big picture it’s only you that cares about the time. Everything is just a learning experience.


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