I'M RUNNING my first marathon this summer, and I'm terrified. Not of all of the horrible things that can happen to you when you run a marathon (and there are PLENTY—just Google "marathon toenail" if you don't believe me), but because I'm not interested in surrounding myself with fitness bros fist-bumping over personal bests. I don't care about getting swole. My entire adolescence was basically dictated by the USATF (that's USA Track and Field, the American governing body for track and field and cross-country running, for those of you who did normal teenager things), so I'm loath to rejoin the running cult. I made my escape in 2005, and I like it over here in the land of running for fun (and in moderation).
But I'm also running a marathon, arguably the most immoderate run you can go on (barring ultramarathons, which are for the truly unhinged). The good news is you can train for a marathon without turning into the most annoying person at the gym (and to be fair, most running bros are pretty okay; you will know them by their Steve Prefontaine haircuts and enthusiasm for beer miles).
Not all marathons are created equal, especially for first-timers, so it's good news for all of us that The Ultimate Guide to Marathons lists the Portland Marathon as "one of the top three marathons to do as a first marathon." It's also one of the few marathons to allow headphones, proudly bucking USATF recommendations to ensure that you can propel yourself along with the power of Top 40 (no shame, no one helps me boost my speed like Nicki Minaj).
And despite what my extra-crazy runner dad led me to believe for the first 16 years of my life, you are allowed to take walking breaks when you run a marathon. The fact that I was surprised by this shows exactly how maladjusted I am, but it's good news if you're not interested in spending several hours with your face screwed up in nonstop agony. In fact, in a German study of two groups of first-time marathoners—one taking breaks to walk, the other powering through—the runners who took breaks had less muscle pain afterward. Walker-friendliness is yet another reason to run the Portland Marathon as your first: The course stays open for eight hours, so you can go as slow and steady as you please. Also, their motto is "All finishers are treated as winners!"—just the kind of everybody-wins mentality I'm looking for.
At this point, you might be wondering why I'm even doing this, and you'd be right! Choosing to run a marathon is an OBJECTIVELY crazy thing to do, and also a pretty bad idea! But at the end of the summer, I'd just had my heart unceremoniously ripped through the proverbial cheese grater, and my old standby, running, was the only thing that made me feel better, and since I was already in pain, I figured, Why not turn my suffering into an ill-advised feat of impossible athletic prowess, and through some freaky alchemy, transform despair into boundless strength, like some kind of existential composting system? (Such cockeyed heartbreak logic is also to blame for impulse-traveling, listening to a LOT of Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift, and ACTUALLY purchasing a book by the guy who wrote He's Just Not That Into You, despite a decade devoted to smug mockery of anything that could possibly be shelved with Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus.)
I was on the up-and-up by October, but by then it was too late. You can hide embarrassing purchases, but you can't shuffle off a commitment to 26.2 miles. I was all-in. Also, I wanted to get this over with before I turned 30. Because as stupid as it may seem to put your body through the stress a marathon requires, the fact of the matter is that even though I don't miss the high-stakes anxiety of competition and the rampant injury-courtin' that is training year-round, I love running. I love how my mind suddenly clears once I pass mile three. I love putting miles between my body and whatever else is happening in my personal and professional life. I love the feeling of going fast downhill. That's what drew me to compete in the first place. Running is a constant that's been in my life longer than almost any job, city, or relationship. And with a kinder, gentler approach to marathon training, I think it will be for a long time to come.
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