Sara: On her first marathon, after her second

NB: I asked Sara to write her musings on her first marathon back in January.  I had absolutely no idea that they would be so kind or make me feel so many feels.  If you sub out my name the info is a great resource to finding the best possible route to becoming a first time marathoner.  Please allow me this unbelievably indulgent guide, according to Sara, about how to prepare for your first marathon.

FOUR MONTHS AGO I was a debutante of the marathon, slogging a final mile through the Epcot parking lot with crippling pain in my right calf.  As I trotted through the alley of spectators, the finish line in sight, the crowd was going wild.  With my leg on the verge of giving out, I rode the wave of the crowd’s vibrations to my first race medal.  The applause gave me the final push I needed, and, although I felt like I deserved it, the crowd’s exuberance had nothing to do with me.

They weren’t proud of me for spending hours on the trail mostly every Saturday for the previous four months while my family sat at home waiting for me.

They weren’t congratulating me for spending hours running in cold rain the day after Thanksgiving when I could have been shopping online.

They didn’t know about how I logged weekday miles on my basement treadmill when I managed to get my kids to nap at the same time.

They weren’t impressed with the fact that I went through the wringer to find a babysitter so I could get outside for my tempo runs.

Nope.  Those strangers were going wild as I crawled toward the finish because of this wild runner two steps in front of me waving a blue fairy wand and screaming, “IT’S SARA’S FIRST MARATHON!” to anyone who was within earshot.  I give you zero guesses as to the identity of said runner.

The day after we finished the Disney marathon together, Lauren asked me to write a post for her about being a first time marathoner.  She said to write from whatever angle felt best and that it didn’t have to be perfect.  I decided to focus on creating a list of what I personally needed in order to successfully train for and tackle that elusive distance for the first time.

With that goal in mind, I’d been noodling over ideas for weeks trying to come up with some practical tips to share here.  On the eve of what will be my second marathon in Pittsburgh, I finally had the clarity of mind and spirit to compile such a list.  My list is simple, short and, for many, impossible to complete.  The list contains one item:  Lauren Bailey.

Other than actually putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles, I did nothing to become a marathoner.  And if you’ve never run a marathon before you’re probably thinking, “Um, duh. What else do you need to do in order to be a marathoner other than run a freaking marathon?”

Well, a lot.  And Lauren did all of it for me.  All of it.  She’s the reason I proudly display a 26.2 magnet on my fridge and haven’t gone insane from the drudgery of being a stay at home mom to two young children.  She’s the reason I became curious about the sport in the first place.  This post could easily turn into my declaration of love for the woman behind the miles.  In the interest of those of you looking for some practical advice, however, I present to you the following things that Lauren Bailey did to make sure I got to the finish line:

Inspiration.  As a life-long athlete turned working adult, I was looking for a way to incorporate sport back into my life.  When Pittsburgh revived its marathon in 2009, I signed up for the half thinking that running would fill my athletic desires.

I did it and it was lame.  I trained by myself, ran the race by myself and sat in a parking lot by myself after I finished waiting for my family to find me.  Then I stopped running.

Seven years and two kids later, with a drastic switch in careers from lawyer to stay at home mom, the idleness of my life was wearing on me.  One day my baby was screaming and with the sole purpose of getting as far away from her as possible, I went for a run.

The fire in my lungs and my throbbing heartbeat reminded me I was alive.  I thought about Lauren the whole time, and realized maybe she was on to something with this whole marathon thing.  She was raising money for charity, blogging about running, getting in shape and, get this, smiling.  A lot.

It was Lauren’s smiling face that convinced me running a marathon was a good idea, and her positivity throughout our training kept me going on the days the universe was willing me to quit.

Training Plan.  I emailed Lauren the day after my run to tell her I wanted to run the Disney marathon with her.  I didn’t even know when it was or if it was possible based on my current fitness level.

By the end of the day I’d received an email from Lauren with more exclamation points than could ever be truly necessary and a marathon training plan.

There is great value in having someone who can set you on your path immediately.  I didn’t have to Google marathon training plans or read endless opinions on the best way to train, all of which would have made me second guess whether I could do it.  Lauren knew my fitness level, my time restrictions, and my capacity for bullshit. She told me I could do it, so I knew I could.

Problem Solving.  Blister on my toe? (Moleskin!)  Best sports bra? (Oiselle!) What should I eat? (I’ll send you a few snacks to try!) Why are my feet numb? (You’re tying your shoes too tight. Duh!) How can I do a track workout in winter? (Use the treadmill!)

Knowing someone who’s put more than a few miles on their gams is SO helpful when you take up running.  There wasn’t an issue I had, other than nursing (which I will discuss below), that Lauren hadn’t dealt with herself.  She always answered my questions with enthusiasm and without judgment.

Companionship.  Marathon training can get a little tedious around weeks 11 through 16 when your schedule prescribes runs in excess of 15 miles every weekend.  Podcasts, audiobooks and music will take you far, but running for hours with your nagging mind as your only companion can get a bit dicey.  This is particularly true when you’re faced with inclement weather and the only reasonable thing to do is snuggle up in your PJs and eat pizza.

Knowing this to be the case, Lauren insisted that we team up for several of our long runs.  Even though it was inconvenient from a logistical standpoint (I live near Philly and she’s down in D.C.), we got together for our 15, 18 and 20 mile training runs.  Viewing long run weekends as amazing opportunities for connection with a friend made me look forward to the miles rather than fearing these intimidating distances.

After training for the Pittsburgh marathon solo I can say with even more conviction that the value of a running partner is immeasurable.  It’s tough to get yourself out there for hours, week after week, when there’s no end to your training in sight.  This is why I’m FOREVER grateful that Lauren, despite suffering from plantar fasciitis, drove all the way up to Philly to ride her bike alongside me for my 20 mile run.  If you can find a buddy to tackle those long runs with your training will feel more like fun than work.

Cheerleading.  Lauren’s dedication to running pales in comparison to her dedication to her people.  Everyone training for a marathon would do well to have someone cheering them on, but there’s something special when it’s an experienced runner who has your back.  In addition to literally cheering me to the finish, these are just a few of the things Lauren did for me that made me feel supported and special:

  • answered ALL of my desperate “I don’t feel like running today” texts with positivity or, when I asked for it, tough love
  • threw elbows at some bitches so I could plug in my breast pump in the VIP tent before the marathon
  • recorded voice messages from my family and friends that she played for me at various points throughout the marathon
  • carried my apple for me during the race when I wasn’t eating it (which is truly ridiculous, but she would NOT let me hold it!)
  • sent me literature and running swag to give me a little extra motivation during training
  • made me laugh and smile so much during the race that my face ended up hurting more than my leg

Managing Logistics.  As I sit here having just argued with my husband about how I’m going to get to the starting line tomorrow morning, I’m inclined to say this might be THE most important thing Lauren did for me.  I had no clue what a logistical nightmare a race can be because all I did for my first marathon was show up.  Disney presents unique challenges because of the super early start time, all the people, buses, resorts, monorail, etc.  If I had to worry about those details myself, I would have slept even less than the four hours I managed with our brutal 2AM wakeup call.  She booked the right hotel in the right place and made sure we got everywhere at the right time.

Lauren also knows the course inside and out.  We made pit-stops at secret bathrooms with no lines, had family waiting for us with nutrition (and cocktails!) in all the right locations and had interesting conversational topics lined up for when we traversed a really tough out-and-back section of the course.

Other than worrying about how I was going to run 26.2 miles and my boobs, which I’ll explain below, I woke up on race day without a care in the world and had the best day ever.

All I can say is that if you’re lucky enough to find someone like Lauren to usher you through your first marathon experience then there’s no way you can fail.  Even if you don’t make it to the finish line, you’ve already won because you clearly have found one of those friends that only come along once in a lifetime.

I love you, Lauren.  You’re an inspiration to so many and your existence makes the running community a happier, more inclusive and less intimidating place.  Thank you for making me a better friend, wife, mother and runner.

Xoxo, Sara

A Note on Nursing!  This is one challenge of marathon running that Lauren hadn’t experienced before, and I was on my own to manage what I was going to do about my milk.  At the time of the marathon my daughter was 11 months old and still nursing frequently throughout the day and night.  I asked a lot of people but never got a great piece of advice for how to deal with this, particularly because no one I’d talked to had ever run Disney as a nursing mom.

I didn’t take my daughter with me on marathon weekend because it would have been too much for her, so I needed to figure out a way to pump.  I ended up taking my double-electric pump with me into the Disney VIP Race Retreat tent.  It just fit inside my check bag so I thought the best thing to do would be pump right before leaving the tent and leave it there during the race.  As I mentioned earlier, Lauren bullied some girls who were charging their phones to give up their electrical outlets so I could plug in.

I carried my hand pump with me in my backpack so I had something to use during the race.  I pumped at an aid station around mile 11 for a few minutes and then for a longer stretch of time while we waited in line to ride Expedition Everest at mile 13.

In hindsight, I wouldn’t have brought my electric pump.  Even though we had access to the VIP tent, there were no outlets available and there wasn’t a lot of time or privacy for me to get in a good pumping session.  If you’re considering running Disney and won’t have access to your nursling, I’d recommend getting used to the hand pump and expect to be a bit uncomfortable with the milkshakes strapped down in a supportive sports bra.  Plan to be away from your hotel for a minimum of 7-8 hours.  I’d be more than happy to share further advice on this, so please reach out to Lauren if you’d like to ask me anything.  I know how hard it can be to run a simple errand when you’re nursing, so running a marathon probably feels impossible, especially for a first-timer. But it’s not, you can do it!



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