Sunday, March 20, 2011

Everyone remembers their first

"A first marathon is like a first love. You might bumle through it, but you'll never forget it." ~ Joe Henderson

There was a time in my life when the only things that would have motivated me to run included an alien invasion, zombie uprising, or pack of rabid wolves.

I wish there was a better story for why I started running — I wasn't hopelessly out of shape, no gasping for breath at the top of every staircase or sobbing midnight binges in front of the fridge. No doctor-mandated exercise program or closet full of homemade belts — really, one day, I just kinda started. I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill. The next day, I did it again. In six months, I was running outside and was up to six miles. Now granted, at the time, I was 19, aided by mild North Carolina winters, and as a college student I had more free time than a Potomac housewife, but something clicked because ten years later, I'm still running.

When I started training for my first marathon, I had no idea what I was doing. I ran in the heat of the day, wore a brand of shoes that have since been recalled, and followed a training schedule my older brother hand wrote on the back of a flyer.

There weren't cushy running trails like Mount Vernon, or even sidewalks, in Asheville, North Carolina, so I ran alongside highways, through backyards, away from unfenced dogs and cows, or around the track at the community park half-a-dozen times before the local softball league shooed me away.

My training coach was my dad, who provided me with water breaks and pep talks during my long runs, if he didn't get too wrapped up in his Free Cell game and forget. And being young and broke, I couldn't afford the brand name apparel, Garmin watch, or high tech fitness gear that were the training staples of my fourth marathon years later.

But somehow, on February 19, 2005, I made it to start line of the Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon. My older brother ran it with me, beside me the whole way, entertaining me with jokes and stories early in the race and sharing my fatigue and pain during the later miles (not because it was his first marathon too or because we had similar fitness levels, but because I'd talked him into it five weeks earlier and he was woefully undertrained). Four hours, nineteen minutes, and fourty-four seconds later, we finished.

I'd imagined my first marathon finish as a strong sprint into a screaming crowd while Bon Jovi played a live version of "Living on a Prayer."

The reality was slightly different: there was a small but loyal group — composed largely of my parents and younger brother — who cheered as the back-of-the-packers completed the course; the weary DJ announcing the finish times mispronounced our last names; and my mom had tripped on a curb somewhere along the course and was sporting a black eye so startling that my dad was receiving threating glares from the other onlookers. They were also out of water.

But it was perfect.