Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My First Marathon - Jess

This is the first post in a new series I am starting on my blog called, "My First Marathon". The concept is simple, write a post about your first marathon, a race recap, why you picked it, how training went, if you liked the race, etc. and I will post it on my blog. If you are interested in participating in the series you can email me at

The first installment of "My First Marathon" comes from a recent marathoner and our real life friend, Jess. Jess and I work together and Mike and I have had the pleasure of running with her while she was training for her first half marathon and her first marathon. I am really proud of her and I hope you enjoy her post as much as I do!

Hi everyone! I’m Jess, and I just ran my first marathon!

As I was debating which marathon to run, I was considering a few factors. 1) (Relative) proximity to family. I live in upstate NY and my parents live in Cincinnati, OH. I wanted it to be within driving distance for both of us, so that they could attend and cheer me on. 2) Size - I wanted my first marathon to be a small, “low-frills” occasion. I find large crowds to be overwhelming, and I didn’t want the number of people surrounding me to make me nervous. 3) Price - I didn’t want running a marathon to break the bank! 4) Time of year - I wanted to run a marathon that was early enough in the fall that I could focus most of my training in the summer.

With all of these things in mind, I ended up running the Erie Marathon at Presque Isle. It satisfied all of my requirements: it was within driving distance to my parents and to me (only 2.5 hours for me), it was small (about 1,000 runners for the full marathon), it was pretty cheap (I think I only paid $40 for it), and it happened on September 15. An added bonus? Jamie, her husband Mike, and their friends Amber and Greg were already planning on attending as well! Mike and Jamie were running the half marathon, Greg was spectating, and Amber was being a rock star, and running the first 20 of the marathon with me as a training run. And not just run with me, but pace me, offer advice on when to pull back, run ahead to water stops to refill my handheld bottle and in general, be awesome. She was amazing, folks. AMAZING. Having her with me for 20 miles was one of the most precious gifts anyone could have given me for my first marathon.

My husband, son and I left for Erie on Saturday morning. We arrived around 1pm, checked in to our hotel, and spent the afternoon playing at an indoor water park, which was attached to our hotel. After our afternoon at the water park, we went to packet pick-up. I was kind of planning to look around at the course, but I got distracted by some gorgeous views of the water and the grumblings in my tummy telling me it was time to eat!

That night, we went out to dinner with my parents, Mike, Jamie, Amber, Greg, and Greg’s daughter Cassie… carb-load (read: eat pasta and drink beer). All of the marathoners offered me their sage advice: just keep moving forward until you get to the finish line!

That night, I slept better than I would have expected. I woke up once in the middle of the night to pee, but I felt super well-rested when I woke up that morning. We all woke up and got dressed, and by 5:10am, we were out the door! 

We arrived to Presque Isle, parked, and I got to use a real toilet at the lodge near where we parked. (Fun fact: I NEVER had to use a porta potty that weekend!) Then, my family and I headed towards the start line. I glanced at the course map. The marathon was a two-loop course around the park. Obviously, the half marathon was one of those loops. The marathon started at 7:00 and the half started at 7:30. I was sure I’d see several half marathoners pass me during my race, but I wasn’t too worried about it. 

Photo courtesy of Greg

Anyhow, at 7:00AM, Amber and I were off! Other than me needing to stop and tie my shoe within the first mile (which is a classic ME thing to do), we fell into a steady 10ish minute mile pace (I’m not fast, but I’m a fairly steady runner, so we held that for a long time.)  Amber and I talked about life, laughed, chatted about her marathon training, and contemplated which spring marathon she should run in 2014 (I was waiting to finish my first before committing to doing another). It was a fantastically relaxing way to spend 20 miles of a race!

At mile 6, we got to see our fan club and get high 5s! Around mile 7, half marathoners started to pass us. It was fun to cheer for them as they zoomed by. We got to see our families again around mile 12. More high 5s! As we finished the first loop, Amber and I wondered if we would Mike finish his half. My half split was 2:09:35, and from what we could tell, he wasn’t there yet. Close though! 

Photo courtesy of Greg

Around mile 16, my body started asking me to slow to 10:30s instead of 10:00s. I happily obliged, as I had no time goal in mind. I simply wanted to finish happy and healthy. I have never *knock* been *knock* injured *knock* from running, and I certainly didn’t want to start on marathon day, so I didn’t push it. Amber ran with me all the way until the 20 mile split (3:20:58), gave me a hug, and sent me on my way to the finish line. I cried when she left, not because I was sad, but because I felt so touched that she would stay by my side for 20 miles of my first marathon. That happiness carried me all the way to the end! 

As in any marathon, the final 10k was tough. My body was now asking me to run closer to an 11:00 pace (again, which I happily obliged. Not trying to get injured here) and by this time, the crowds had REALLY thinned out. It wasn't necessarily discouraging, but it was a little bit lonely. I figured most of the runners had finished, as this is a popular race for marathoners who are chasing a BQ. There's a whopping 10 feet of elevation change throughout the race. Talk about FLAT and fast! Anyway, at this point in the race, all I thought about was putting one foot in front of the other, continuing to hydrate and fuel so I didn’t get sick, and making it to the finish line. At some point, I stood for a minute at a water stop while a volunteer filled my handheld and I walked for a few minutes while I took giant gulps of my water. Here, I clocked my slowest mile of the marathon (11:40). After that, I felt rejuvenated enough, and ran the rest of the way home. 

The benefit of this being a two-loop course is that I could tell how close I was to the end. After I went through the final water stop, I knew I was close. I picked up the pace. Spectators and runners who had finished were on the sides of the road cheering. I neared the finish line and saw Amber first, on the side of the road. I saw Greg and Cassie next. I gave Cassie a high 5, and then ran towards the finish line. I had done it! I finished my first marathon!!! My gun time was 4:31:05 and my chip time was 4:30:12 - an average pace of 10:18 per mile. I had no time goal for this race, but running a 4:30ish marathon absolutely shattered my expectations. I was so focused on running happy and taking care of myself that it never occurred to me I could also have a time that I would be so proud of. 

Even though it was a “low-frills” occasion, it was so much fun! I absolutely loved having friends and family there to support me. Seeing all of them at the finish line (as well as drinking the chocolate milk that they had so graciously provided for me, thank you!) was one of the best parts of the race! And in case you’re wondering… you’d better believe I’ll be running another marathon! I’m planning for marathon #2 to be in May 2014. And I already can’t wait! 


  1. Love this series! Congrats to Jess for a great finish (and a great time!) If you're interested Jess, I recently wrote a post on running your 2nd marathon :-).

  2. Awesome job! It's so much fun to read about people's first marathons. This one was certainly less vomitey than mine :-)

  3. You've got me in tears over here Jess. You had an amazing experience. I know all to well how awesome it is to have a friend by your side during a marathon. It takes so much of the mental aspect out of the picture. It makes it more enjoyable and you're just not stuck in your head as much. I don't know how I will ever repay my dear friends for being there for me as Amber was for you. Freakin amazing time!! You look happy and strong in the photos!! I'm so thrilled to hear about your experience. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I just did my first marathon back in May. It definitely did not go as I had hoped. There were lots of hiccups all throughout the 26.2 miles and after. The whole time I swore I was "one and done." But now that I've licked my wounds, I'm ready for a redemption race. Next year it will happen again...and it's going to go much, much better (hopefully!).

  5. So great that you had people there to support you at your first marathon.

  6. So exciting!!! Congratulations on a great run! I'll be doing my first marathon this October, so I'm definitely excited to read some of these posts along the way :-)

  7. I'm training for my first full and that time is awesome! I kinda have 4:30 in the back of my mind, but I really have no idea how I'll handle those really long runs. Great job!!

  8. Congratulations lady. That's amazing!!!