The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

May 31, 2012

CONRAD: Hitting that first wall

CLINTON — “The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.

— Famous runner, writer and coach Hal Higdon.

With temperatures reaching into the upper 80s and my joints aching as I ran the Rockford Marathon on May 20, I truly understood this statement.

It’s really hard to understand and prepare yourself for a marathon until you have actually done one. Being no stranger to the running world, I had pictured what a marathon would be like, but nothing compares to the actual experience.

The challenge of the marathon is unlike any other. I’ve done my share of difficult races since I decided to join the cross country team at the age of 16 and continued to compete in college. I have been challenged in races of many different distances on and off road and in temperatures from the low 20s to the upper 80s, including the steeplechase and the 10K in outdoor track (yes, that’s 25 laps) in college. After college I did several half marathons and loved the distance, but could not imagine doing a race twice as long. Nothing compares to the mental and physical exhaustion of the marathon.

After months of training and many long Sunday runs of up to 20 miles, I felt as prepared as I could be for the epic race. Starting out the marathon, the pace is so comfortable it’s hard to imagine the pain that one will feel near mile 20. The marathon and half marathon runners ran nearly the entire first half together, making it all the more difficult to watch the half runners split off to finish as we continued another half.

I started with a pace group and stayed with them for most of the first half, but with the heat and tiredness in my legs, I dropped back a bit. At the half I was on pace to finish in about four hours, which was near what I had planned for. Although with it being my first marathon, I didn’t have much of a goal, mainly just to finish. I had no idea how much slower the second half would go.

Somewhere around mile 17 or 18, my legs and joints started to ache and I felt like I was barely running. I started stopping more frequently at water and Powerade stops as my thirst and pain grew. Off and on I felt like I had more momentum, but the underlying pain continued through the end. It’s ridiculous how long the last 6 miles feel. As I reached the last miles of the race, I kept trying to convince myself that running the last few miles was just like an easy short run, but my body felt otherwise.

The last mile of the marathon was quite possibly the longest mile I’ve ever run in my life. Coming into the finish was unreal. I knew I was nowhere near the time I had expected, but really didn’t care. I had finished and I was alive. I was happy. I am already thinking of doing the Des Moines Marathon in the fall and several more in the future.

A lot of people think runners, especially marathon runners, are crazy. And in many ways they might be right, but the benefits truly outweigh the craziness. I like to work hard, set goals and achieve them and am constantly looking for new challenges. If this makes me crazy, I don’t want to be sane.

Natalie Conrad is a staff writer for the Clinton Herald. She can be reached at natalieconrad@clintonherald.com.

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