Running a marathon has been on my bucket list for the last couple of years. I started running cross country my sophomore year at Vashon Island High School and from then on, the marathon loomed large — a sort of far off running peak, only to be completed by those who possessed a unique combination of lunacy and fitness.
I had grown up hearing my dad tell me about the brutal last six miles of his first marathon, a race he ran at age 19 with no training, a story which I thought gave me a healthy respect for the distance.
I could not have been more wrong.
The idea to run a marathon started to turn from long-term hypothetical to short-term reality in the build-up to my senior season of cross country. As I trained through July and August and my confidence in my own running began to increase, I discussed the possibility of running a marathon after the season was over with some of my teammates. Their reactions ran the gamut from somewhat enthusiastic interest to various versions of “what, are you crazy?” and my coach (quite sensibly) advised all of us against signing up for a marathon on such sort preparation.
Midseason, in a fit of misplaced confidence, I decided to sign up for the Seattle Marathon, a race only three weeks after the end of the cross country season, and the same one my dad suffered in so many years before.
Since all of my teammates heeded my coach’s advice and declined to sign up with me, I approached the short training window I had on my own. I went on a few relatively short long runs and called it good. I was confident I could rely on my cross country training to push through the difficult parts and make it to the end in a relatively fast time.
When I came to the line at Seattle Center on Dec. 1, I still had all my misplaced confidence from the cross country season. I lined myself up with the three hours and twenty minutes pace group and set off into the still dark Seattle morning. As I crossed the I-5 bridge toward the University of Washington, I was cruising, running in rhythm with the pack.
The miles started to fly by one after another. I was well over halfway done and solidly on track to come in under three hours and 20 minutes. As I began to approach mile 18, things began to get noticeably more difficult. I was still on pace, but every step was harder than the last. By the time I reached mile 20, things really started to go wrong. I felt a blister start to open up on the ball of my right foot, an old shin injury began to nag at me, and my muscles were getting unbelievably tense. Then, around mile 22, my left hamstring convulsed in a cramp.
I slowed to a jog, as every couple of minutes one of my hamstrings would involuntarily contract, forcing me to hobble. At mile 24, I saw my dad. He decided to cheer for me there because “that’s where it hurts.” Seeing him helped me to rally a little bit and I was able to fight to the end.
I crossed the line in three hours and 44 minutes — 24 minutes slower than my goal. Those 24 minutes were my penance for underestimating the marathon as an event. I didn’t prepare myself as well as I could have, and I certainly didn’t have enough respect for the sheer difficulty of running 26.2 miles.
The race didn’t go exactly how I expected it to, but I know that the next time I come to a marathon start line — and I’m certain I’ll do it again — it will be with a lot more humility and respect for the race.
— Sean Robertson is a Vashon Island High School senior.