Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My First Marathon - Erica

This is part of a series 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 third "My First Marathon" post comes from Erica, her post had me laughing, shaking my head and cheering her on! Even though it happened almost 20 years ago, you can still learn a lot from her first marathon. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I do!

My First Marathon was…

…a long time ago (1996)

…run on a dare

…in San Francisco

…run with a max long run of 16 miles under my belt

…run in cotton, college shorts that I stole from a friend and a cotton tank top (ouch)

…woefully paced

…under 4 hours

… the start of something big for me.

When Jamie posted that she was looking for guest posts on “My First Marathon”, I waxed nostalgic about my first marathon. And then I waved my virtual hand to her and said, “pick me!” so I could write this post.

I was a high school runner, a college drinker and a post-collegiate person looking to get back in shape. I took up running again and once I had my base I started doing local 10Ks. I ran into an old coach who told me if you could run 2/3 a race distance you could do the race. I used that logic to tackle a 15K and my first half marathon. I did surprisingly well in these races so I kept at it.

A friend at my first job was an avid marathoner and he “dared” me to come with him to San Francisco to run the 1996 San Francisco Marathon. I had never been to San Francisco and had a good friend there, so I agreed to go to check it out. He assured me that, “it is not so hilly… for San Francisco.” Ignorance is bliss. I took his word for it and did not look at the elevation chart. I also did not seek out a conventional training program. When you are 25 years old (or when I was at least), it does not seem necessary to really train. Right? Keep in mind, in 1996, there were not really running blogs and marathoning was not as popular as it is now. That is my story and I am sticking to it!

I lined up a friend to go with me to San Fran and accommodations. I trained…some. The time came and I flew from NJ to San Fran for the race.

Being funny in the era before social media – slower traffic keep right!

To be honest, I don’t remember the expo at all. I do remember going to Trader Joe’s for the first time (OMG) and eating huge burritos in the Mission District with Josh and Leslie for carbo loading.

I do remember the race. The race used to start on the far side of the Golden Gate bridge, run through the Embarcadero, though the city, midway was almost to Haight-Ashbury, into Golden Gate Park, up the Alphabet Street Hill (don’t remember the name of the area – I do remember the hill!) and then back into Golden Gate Park and finished at the stadium on a track.

It was foggy on the bridge, but I got a decent start. I went out WAY TOO FAST. Well it seemed fine. I was running 8 minute miles. This was slower than my ½ marathon pace, so that was OK – right? (Um, no. but I will get to that.)

I chatted with other runners and ran through the Embarcadero, past Lombard Street (thank goodness) and through the city. Then, the hills started to appear in earnest. I took this in stride. My first half was 1:45.10. I am not sure why I remember that. I just do. It seemed reasonable to me at that time.

Something happened between miles 13 and 16. I think my newbie confidence and blissful ignorance changed to a panicked “what have I done?” When I got to 16 and realized that a) I had never run farther than that and b) I still had 10 more miles to go, the wind got knocked out of my sails. Oh, and then there were the two huge hills on Haight Street. My friends were cheering for me here and I gave the obligatory smile and waves and then settled in to my fate. My slow trudging fate as it turned out.

I kept running but my pace slowed - ALOT. My 8s turned into 9s and then closer to 10s. But, I kept on. At mile 20, they were offering sports drink. It is called XLR8. They were yelling the name. I thought they were telling me to speed up. I wanted to cry.

Then we turned out of the park and started up a big hill that crossed alphabetical streets. I think we had to run to “T”. Oy. A nice, young woman jumped in and started talking to me. She was supposed to pace a friend but could not find her. She chatted cheerfully and my inner New Yorker who was in pain wanted to strangle her. After about a mile, she found someone nicer than me to “help.”

Game face after the wheels were off!

When we finally got to turn around and come down the hill, I realized that my quads were shot and I trudged down. I had to go to the bathroom, but I was too scared that if I stopped I would never run again. I kept going. I randomly saw a friend from college (in NJ) working at a water stop at mile 23. She was surprised, too, but cheered me on. I waved, thanked her by name and trudged past.

See I sprinted

I finally made it to the stadium. My friends were there cheering. I “sprinted” the last quarter. At least I tried. The last half felt like a death march. My pace slowed from 8 min/mile for the first half to almost 10 minutes per mile in the second half. The good news about that? My overall pace was a very respectable 9 minutes per mile. I finished in 3:55! Under 4 hours? Ah, to be 25 years old again!

After that, I was bit by the marathon bug. I have done 35 marathons including 13 NYC Marathons and 5 Boston Marathons. I have never run such bad splits again, but I have had a few crash and burns in going for personal bests. I still start too fast sometimes … well most of the time. The one big change for me is that I always train. I have a true respect for the marathon distance. Oh and I wear tech clothes!

Small medal/big shirt! Cotton!!

Happy Marathoning! Your first marathon will always be special, but learn from it and you will continue to progress and exceed your expectations.

Erica lives and runs in Chicago now and is training for her fourteenth New York City Marathon on November 3rd in her quest to get 15 (NYC Marathon finishes) by 2015 to be guaranteed entry for life. Erica blogs at Erica Finds. She is more of a blogging runner than running blogger, but writes on health, fitness, running, travel, deals and ideas. Basically anything that she finds that could be of interest!


  1. Awesome. Loved this, Love Erica!

    1. The feeling is mutual. It was really fun going down memory lane like this!

  2. Love it! I love that Erica remembers so much about her first marathon! It's cool to hear of SF this way! And in cotton.... amazing. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Ah...remember that race like it was yesterday!!

    1. LOL, Josh. You can post about sprinting the end of your first marathon, too! Like a bat out of hell!

  4. Oh my gosh. I love this especially because I haven't been able to run anything over 16 for MCM.

    1. Good luck, Abby! Just pace yourself and do your best and remember all of those cute marines at the end!! :)