Hey guys, can you believe it? I ran the Hamburg Marathon last weekend! And not just any marathon, my first marathon ever. I can actually hardly believe it myself — although the training (since Christmas) seemed to last forever, the race itself was over in a flash. And it was so much fun! I have lots of thoughts and feelings to share about the whole experience, so get settled in for a long post…
Before the race
My parents happened to be in town for a special event on Friday night, so we traveled together the next morning to Hamburg and headed straight to the convention center to pick up my start number. It was absolute chaos and I wasn’t thrilled about having to navigate through it, especially since all I wanted to be doing on Saturday was staying off my feet and relaxing, but there wasn’t really any alternative. Afterwards we found our way to our Airbnb apartment in Eppendorf, did a bit a grocery shopping, and then I took a nap for a couple hours. Actually, I was a bit too nervous to fall asleep, but it was nice to doze for awhile. We ate delicious homemade pasta at engelke, making a last minute reservation after discovering that our Airbnb didn’t have a kitchen (oops, how could I have overlooked that?). After dinner I nervously putzed around with my race bag and discussed spectating strategies with my parents before heading to bed around 9:30pm.
During the days leading up to the race, I began to doubt my abilities to run a full marathon. I mean, my last long run was three weeks prior and it was only 20 miles! I definitely worried that I had lost all of my fitness during my taper. But the morning of the race I decided to let go of all of my worry and just have fun and get caught up in all the pre-race excitement.
One major advantage of having the start and end of the marathon at the Hamburg convention center is that we had a warm place to get ready and wait around before the race. I found myself a clear spot, changed into my race outfit, slid my energy gels into my pockets and ate half a banana. I also must have used the port-a-potties at least four times before the race — thanks to plenty of hydrating and lots of nerves! Finally I dropped off my bag at bag check and left the warmth of the convention center to brave the winds and cool temperatures in the starting block.
During the race
Since I really had no idea of what to expect of my body for those 26.2 miles, I told myself to think of the marathon as three different races — the first 13 miles, the next 7 miles, and then the final 6.2 miles — and this really helped keep me from getting too overwhelmed by all the miles in front of me.
My plan was to take it easy for the first half, enjoy the sights and sounds, and then reevaluate. And honestly, the first half was fantastic! I was relaxed and feeling good. I carried a small water bottle with me for the first few miles until the water stations appeared along the course, and after that I made sure to drink at most of the water stations. I walked through them in order to make sure I could hydrate properly (drinking out of a cup while running is not so efficient) and I took my energy gels at miles 4, 8, and 12. Really, the first 13 miles couldn’t have been smoother and I was hanging on to my goal paces pretty solidly and without too much effort. While my mile paces varied between 10:28 and 11:16, my 5K splits were pretty steady (33:43, 33:37, 33:18, 33:26).
I also saw my parents around the halfway mark, which was a nice boost of energy and really helped me mentally break up the race. Up until that point I had been debating back and forth about whether I should give my folks the light jacket that I had been running in. When the sun was shining and the air was still, it was a bit too warm. But then there would be these stretches where the sun would disappear and the wind would howl and I would need to zip my jacket up all the way. So I ended up keeping it, and spent the whole race zipping it up and down thanks to the crazy Hamburg spring weather.
While the first half was physically and mentally a breeze, I told myself to make sure to keep focused during the miles leading up to the 20-mile mark. I wanted to run strong, but I also wanted to avoid “hitting the wall”, which is common at around 20 miles if you don’t pace yourself properly. I kept my pace steady without too much effort, switched over to a sports drink at the water stations, and had two more energy gels at miles 16 and 20. I also used a port-a-potty for the first time during a race. It wasn’t urgent, but when I saw an empty one with no line at mile 16, I dashed in and out as fast as I could. My mile paces stayed in the same range as during the first half (10:23 to 10:46), and my 5K splits stayed as steady as ever (33:16, 33:34).
Once I finally hit 20 miles, I did a little happy dance to celebrate the fact that every mile after this point would be a new distance record for me and totally uncharted territory! I continued with the sports drinks at the water stations and at around mile 22 I grabbed a bit of banana that they were offering on the course because I was getting hungry. At about mile 23 I saw my parents again, not too far from our our Airbnb apartment, which gave me another great boost of energy!
For these last 6.2 miles, I never let myself think about all six miles at once — I forced myself to stay completely in the mile I was in and give that mile everything I had. Since I was still feeling good and strong, I dropped my guard a bit and finally let my paces get a little faster in order to burn off all my nervous energy. I completely surprised myself with paces ranging from 9:39 to 10:07, and 5K splits of 32:05 and 31:27. Although I was certainly tired, I never felt like I was running on empty. Instead, I enjoyed passing just about every other runner around me for those last six miles and I crossed the finish line in 4:38:12 — elated to have completed my first marathon and totally satisfied with my time.
After the race
Wow, I was so happy to cross that finish line! I could hardly believe that I had done it — and that I had actually enjoyed it! I spent the rest of the day eating just about everything I could get my hands on, walking at the same pace as my 72-year-old father, wincing while I was going down stairs (if you haven’t seen it already, check out this hilarious video), and traveling back to Bremen with my folks. All in all, a perfect day!
That was exactly one week ago. It took just a few days for the soreness to subside, but I gave myself the whole week off from running for both my mental and physical recovery. I’m already contemplating my next marathon — although it won’t be before next year — and thinking about what I would do differently. Now that I have gotten over the mental hurdle of knowing I can conquer the distance, I know I could definitely improve my time. I think my race day strategy worked perfectly, but I could kick my training paces up a notch. But there’s plenty of time to figure that out. For now, I’m just enjoying the fact that I can finally call myself a marathoner!
What do you guys think — marathons are awesome, or marathons are for crazy people? Would you run one (again)? What was your first marathon like?