How to run your first marathon, and love every mile of it!

There are half a million of those little oval stickers that I grew up envying on the back of hipster cars,

jacked up trucks, techy electric vehicles, perhaps even some motorcycles have scaled down versions. These would of course be those white oval Waiting for the big race to beginstickers with the plain block numbers – three numbers to be exact! The ovals which read “13.1” I knew were serious runners who had tackled a full half-marathon! But those elite few who had the big boy edition of “26.2” had really tackled some serious training! I was secretly super envious of these folks when I was growing up.

I had taken years of swimming lessons because I did not favor team sports; I began hiking the 4000 footers of New York State at the mere age of 6, but I was by no means a “runner”. In those days, I envied the youngsters who did the ‘track’ part – but I would never want to tackle the ‘field’ side of the equation; hurdles? Not for me. Sprinting? Oh, hell no. Pole vaulting my chubby ass over some stick that seemed to be touching the clouds? Get the hell out of here with that silly idea! But running just for the sake of covering lots of terrain and being alone in nature? YESSSS!! I would watch the other kids leave school with their bright running shoes and just go for hours, I remember hearing them complain about having to run, and I probably would have felt similarly as a teen if I were forced to do something just to say “I did a sport”.

I was shocked (and exhausted, thought I had actually hit ‘The Wall’) when I ran my first 13.1 miles.

Ciara and I had returned from our cross-country road trip and were staying together in NY. We were surprised to hear that we had all been signed up for our first 5K by her mother (who also joined us on the adventure!), just for fun and for something to do. I was getting out of work at the time around 7am, most days I would go home and lace up the running shoes for 6 miles or so, eventually I pushed to 10, then not long after – 13.1. In my mind I had just accomplished some serious mileage, something that comes with eating intentfully and training adamantly. What came next, naturally, was just for a fun morning run: Tuesday signed us up for our next race event! For me, she chose the half-marathon – which turned out to be an Stretching before the start of my first marathon MDI 2018absolutely stellar day, beautiful vistas along Lake Champlain, and most importantly – I felt unstoppable running the event, like I was sailing over those rolling grassy hills!

Several months passed by, Ciara and I moved to New Hampshire, I ran more trails and adventured more in the high peaks of the White Mountain National Forest. We had been eating a steady plant-based diet together since before our big road trip (she had been also with her mother – Tuesday, for several years before I made the official, complete switch away from chicken and all dairy products), and been running/hiking as much as I had time for, I felt good; I mean, not just ‘good’, but

I felt damn good – I was in the best shape of my life!

I was also hearing a lot of hullaballoo about these crazy 100 mile ultra runs where people would reach a place in their minds not dissimilar to a euphoric high. Ciara and I had watched several documentaries – one of the most interesting was Made To Be Broken, featuring Karl Meltzer and how he crushed the record on the Appalachian Trail Thru Hike (run? ☺). I wanted to run that far; I wanted to feel the overwhelming power exhaustion, completely whooped and see if I had what it took to muster on still, down the trail.

I set my sights to a full marathon, the part I had to stomach (and break the news to Ciara) was the price of longer (more organized than I was used to..) events like this. I had to make this decision count, not just simply sign up to run 26.2 miles. I had committed my mind to accepting that I could run that distance, it might hurt and there was a possibility I would tear my Somewhere around 15 miles, I finally saw my two friends for the first time.muscle from my bones – I still wanted to give it a go though!

I had never felt so powerful when I ran, I never felt as if my recovery from running mountains had been so quick, I never felt so ready to try this monster – I was only getting older, now was my chance to do it, perhaps this would be the only shot I would ever have, ever.

After days of silently researching and making notes and reading reviews from past runners and spectators – I had the Mount Desert Island Full Marathon located within Acadia National Park in Maine in my shopping cart! Taking place on October 14th, along the oceanside, this was sure to be the most lovely run I had ever toed the starting line for. If I only ran one marathon ever – this would be the one, I could hang my hat up content that I had given it my all. I asked Ciara what she thought of the idea, but had confirmed my payment before she ever had a chance to interject!

Honestly, I had not an ounce of thought put into the logistics of this event,

but I assumed that I would be hauling myself there with my gear, spend the night probably in my Subaru and then somehow use my arms to push my destroyed legs down onto my clutch to shift during my drive home!

Roti Canai - flat bread from the Green Elephant in Portland MEPanang Curry Vegetable & TempehWell it didn’t happen that way; Tuesday offered to drive and the three of us would make a fun little get away out of my selfish event. We ended up renting a cabin at the same campground we had tented in only several weeks ago – knowing the heat, electricity and a real bed would be a blessing for comfort and food before the race.

The weather really could not have been more in my favor – almost as if it knew my plans and did everything to help me crush these lofty dreams of mine. The foliage sightings began not long after we departed Plainfield, all commenting on the warm color of the vistas, primarily oranges and reds at this latitude. We made a pit stop into Portland, ME at about the halfway point in our trek to let the puppy dogs out to pee, and we refueled our bellies at one of our favorite east coast eateries: The Green Elephant. Anything vegan, and everything delicious – perfect for us three!

Back on the road and all enjoying ourselves, next stop: Race Packet Pick-up!

We were all watching the minutes tick by as we stopped to refuel the car, with a cut-off time of 5pm that Saturday afternoon, we all tried to gauge how long we had until the doors on my race bib pick-up closed and that would present an all new set of issues for us!

We pulled into the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel & Conference Center with 25 minutes to spare, I was dropped of chauffeur style – at the front door as I plowed up the stairs to the top floor and headed right over to grab my number and race packet. Luck was on our side this day once again. One glance around at the tables showed a flavorful rainbow of GU packets and Photobombed by the race director who shot off the starting cannon!any sock height imaginable for sale – I could not find anything that I needed – I took that as being very fortunate that I remembered to pack everything I would possibly need!

Then Tuesday found me roaming the tables, Ciara not far behind – we stopped to get a photo of the marathon man with his new green (Green bibs were saved for runners attempting their first full marathon) race bib, complete with my name actually spelled correctly at the top! The rough and rugged appearing bearded fellow in a kilt (no, not me this time!) jumped in to photobomb my shots – turns out he was person lighting the cannon off this year – just another reason I was feeling super hyped for this race, everyone seemed so positive and friendly!

We then went back to our cabin, set up our home furnishings for the evening and feasted on all home-made vegan delights. Tuesday made some incredible completely raw mini apple pies, Ciara (and I) brought the dehydrated carrot, ginger and seed crackers. Next morning for continuity’s sake, I fired up the MSR pocket rocket camp stove for my daily French Press of espresso bean coffee – no point in changing up my routine now, I needed everything to go as similarly to my daily runs back home as possible – including my routine bathroom session.

Once everything happened (bathroom session included! Yay!), I had become more relieved (literally..) and less anxious over-all, ready to get this run fired up! I didn’t do much stretching until we arrived at the starting line, after one last go at the urinal, I gave hugs and received my “good luck!” good byes, and took a few jogs around the park to keep my legs warmed up (it was mid-October and the sun was hardly lighting the sky for this 8am start). I really could not hear more than a murmur of the “opening ceremony” or whatever the DJ/speaker dude was saying at all. One moment I am stretching my quads as I leaned against a telephone pole,

the next I see the folks a little ways up starting to jog; “aww shit.. here we go with this!!” I remember thinking to myself.

We were not allowed to use headphones (one ear bud for pacing purposes only, but strictly no music!), so I did my best to listen to my body – I knew that I needed to begin this thing slow if I wanted to conserve any of my energy for when it would be needed the most – around the 21mi mark.

Only several miles covered until the morning sun already popped up and over Cadillac Mountain, piles of jackets, gloves and Two thumbs up to let them know I am 'okay' on my coconut water, feeling great at 18 mi in!hats littered the sidewalk. Not mine though – I had my running vest if I needed to stash anything, which I did for my gloves, but only for several minutes for a time – my sweaty hands chilled as they tried to dry off so I kept them shoved in my gloves for most of the race.

I managed to keep a steady pace – thinking that the closed marathon route would merge back up with Route 198 where my chances of seeing Ciara and Tuesday would increase. I passed all of the aid stations on the right side while the runners who stopped for refreshments or GU packets would ‘pull in’ on the left of the road to the aid stations. We passed from Bar Harbor to Otter Creek and Seal Harbor with minimal elevation gains and I was feeling on fire today! The fall foliage now ablaze with every fiery hue of yellow, orange and red, dotted with several green needle-y fir trees along the route.

I ended up packing several of my favorite Muir Energy packets to satisfy my hunger mid-run;

turns out I did not need to consume any nut butter en-route but what did keep me going for this longest run of my life so far: 16oz of regular water on my right side, and most importantly – 16oz of Ciara’s secret weapon!

We both did research into home-made hydration and electrolyte replacement and (no surprise to me!) came up with basically the same recipe. Coconut water, a teaspoon or so of Himalayan pink salt, and real deal Vermont maple syrup from a friend’s farm. The concoction that we had planned to create had all of this plus lemon and orange juice, which I did not want to cut up in a cabin with no Up the last ascent - then smooth sailing to the finish, right?running water (I’ll have to try this addition for a more local event!).

At the starting line of the half-marathon (13 miles into my race), I was still feeling phenomenal –

warmed up and just grooving right along at a decent pace.

Long after I had expected to see my friendly “support crews” faces, I came upon the mile 17 marker on the side of the course. And there was the second large crowd that I had encountered for the day approaching. Spectators lined both sides of the running course as the athletes zoomed by – this is where I learned why my name was on my bib number – from here to the end of the race people were cheering and calling out our names “way to go Erik!”, someone yelled; not knowing where this had come from – the only response that I could think of was a fist in the air and to let out a gigantic “WOOHOO!!” – I was feeling great. Then I saw dreadlocks poking out from behind the lens of a Nikon – there was Ciara after all this time!! I burst internally with love for life and wanted to hug everyone, some may call this a ‘runners high’, the best and most intense high that I had ever felt – I quickly became addicted. I continued down the path with what may be arguably the largest grin of my life plastered to my face, next I passed Tuesday and my day was beyond made, right there in those several seconds.

As I continued on, there was a large (almost containership-size) boat in the harbor with a party happening on the top deck, music and a throaty ship horn echoed through Somesville, this is the only place I wanted to be: present here, now.

Ciara and Tuesday drove by with the boys (Boone and Crockett of course) out the window with tongues in the air,

the girls hootin’ and hollerin’, cheering me on! Tuesday yelled something about coconut water – from all the excitement and yelling in my head, I couldn’t hear exactly what she had said. Next thing I see are brake lights and Ciara gets out, running over to my side of the road (right side was car only/left side was runner only) with a bottle of pure coconut water to offer me. I honestly was scared of it, I didn’t want to drink too fast and cramp – whatever I was doing to sustain my energy levels had worked up to this point and at 21 miles the last thing I wanted to do was anything different!

Mile 23 and I could see the final ascent before it was all downhill for the remainder of the race, smooth sailing into Southwest Harbor, where the crowds and party tents and (most importantly) bananas were all waiting for me! It had been about 4 hours since my last pee break, and with 32oz of coffee before the race, it was quickly becoming that time again – I saw the last set Coming into the finish gate at the MDI Marathonof porta-potties on the drive over earlier that morning, I ran right in to relieve myself – hoping that I would be able to concentrate on running if I emptied my bladder. I could not believe the feeling when I actually stopped running, almost like I was still moving – it actually felt as if the outhouse was tipping right over. Back out I went and down the road I ran.

That was probably the point in my race when the exhaustion hit me, my legs became lead. I knew how badly I wanted to finish this time running my own race, so down the road I went – walk a bit of uphill and then continue running, back and forth, off and on – I was going to get myself to that finish line one way or another if I had to crawl my tired bum over that finish line. That Lobster Claw finishers medal was as good as mine at this point.

At the height of the last ascent, the road didn’t appear to drop gradually like the tourist packet had raved about,

rather it My golden lobster claw finisher medallooked flat. Pot-holed, dogs and spectators lined the sidewalk, cars were even driving slowly, trying to find their destinations along the crowded street. Someone yelled my name again and said “You’re almost there – only a quarter mile further!”. “A quarter-of-a-freakin’-mile?” – I thought to myself and kept putting one foot in front of the other. Then around a bend – there it was, the finale of my day. I ran through the finishing gate a bit delusional, a very kind woman careful threw the blue ribbon-ed golden claw medal around my neck, it was heavy – and indeed it was mine at last!!

Ciara and Tuesday found me roaming after what seemed like minutes after I crossed the line (I think it was more like 20 seconds), Tuesday shot some candid photos of the two of us as I tried to splash a fresh bottle of water into my mouth – soaked more of my beard than tongue doing this!

The right side of the tent was beautiful, mounds of red apples, yellow bananas –

and white bottles of real maple water (they had A LOT more if I wanted to dabble with the cream cheese, yogurt or bagels).

I went to check my time, expecting a print out or some type of souvenir, the guy at the computer asked my last name, I looked at the board and he remarked “anything else?”. “uhh..I guess not” and we began the arduous and stiff walk to the car. 1 Juice + 1 Smoothie from The Juicery in Portsmouth NH

Sure they had a beer tent, massage tables, more or less a whole festival carnival type of scenario going on, but we all wanted to hit the road for our 6 hour drive.

Of course, we had to make a pit-stop to get out, walk around and stretch my legs (dogs needed to pee also!). We pulled off Interstate 95 at Portsmouth and made the short drive over to The Juicery, where I made the executive decision that I had worked hard enough today for one beet & apple juice AND one pumpkin spice smoothie.

The following several days I paid for the work that I put in that Sunday in Mount Desert Island, the reminder of accomplishment returning every time I feast my eyes upon my golden lobster claw – a reminder that the human body is incredible, we are strong and can overcome anything if we dig down and find the mental fuel within ourselves.

The Mount Desert Island Marathon will probably always be the most important run of my life, the best decision that I have ever made – if I wasn’t stuck on a path to fitness prior to clicking that “Sign Up” button, I sure as hell am now!

I ran my race, accomplished what I came to do, all while having the best crew – Ciara and Tuesday along for the journey and, if they got frustrated at my fanciful idea to run 26.2 miles that October day, I surely never knew about it.

Follow along my plant-fueled journey!

Any questions? Please feel free to ask away either here or on Instagram!

Thanks y’all!

Cheers, and all the happy miles ahead!

Erik


Mount Desert Island Marathon Profile

 

 

Overall stats for the day:

  • 26.2mi (USATF Sanctioned & Certified: ME12018JK)
  • Place 320/
  • 1st 13.1: 2hr 11min 29sec
  • 2nd 13.1: 2hr 8min 14sec
  • 26.2 total: 4hr 19min 43sec
  • Pace Average: 9min 53sec/mile

5, 10,13.1, 26.2, 50, 100.. what even are all these Km’s and Mi’s?!

With dozens of local events held each and every day of the year, how the heck does a person who enjoys running even choose what to do when they don’t know what they are cut out to do? Run. Hike. Walk. stretching at the 2018 MDI marathon

Step one is just deciding that you want to move your body.

There is never a need to rush running head over heels (I know you want to get cruising through those soft, lush winding trails though!!) – or whatever the famous saying is, into running or a new strenuous exercise. Always start slow, get the blood flowing, get the muscles loosened up and whatever you decide to do, relax your arms, legs, joints and try to move as fluidly as you can, and always be working on being fluid with movements, becoming forever more efficient step by step.

I enjoy putting my paws on new places, but I really prefer to have a set loop or circuit in the woods that I can just traverse and not have to over think – throw on the shoes, the shorts and just run some familiar terrain. All while listening to your body, your lungs, and your footfall. While some folk’s will swear that they cannot run without blaring music (me being one of them – to get pumped up or to trance out and push through the end of a long run), it can be extremely beneficial to be able to hear your feet landing or hear the rise and fall of your chest while trying to utilize your diaphragm to take in slow, deep breaths. Just doing these “maintenance runs” regularly will give you a clear idea of how (or if) you are stepping up your endurance, letting you focus on the little tweaks of a pinch in the side of your knee, or if you land too heavy on your big toe. A lot of thought can take place in an hour of running (it can be therapeutic to drift away into far off wonderlands!), but also a great place to analyze and listen your body!

It can be thrilling to use techy devices such as a watch or even just the analog clock back in your car at the trail head to keep track of how long you hit the path each session (I have a Coros triathlon watch which I hit record and then forget it is on my wrist until I finish my work out!). This is a great way to track your progression day to day, or session to session, and an extremely great motivator when you see the seconds or even minutes drop off! (Hooray progress!!) But when I set my watch, like I said, I prefer to not look at it while I am in motion. I’ll tuck it under my jacket sleeve in cooler weather or make it a point to look Trail running in the morning lightahead at the trail, not at the seconds ticking by! This way I am reminded to listen to my body, my breathing, my muscles whether they may be tight if I just began running, or trying to notice the progression of the fibers becoming loose, ready perhaps to push a bit harder up hills or even down when my knees are feeling up to it – my foot landing can vary on the day, on the surface I am running on, or even the weather I’m exercising in. Sometimes feeling harder or softer, despite trying to stay light and fluid on my toes – I just seem to notice the calamity of bones landing more some days than other despite all of my attempts to be “light like a feather”.

“But I don’t even do these things,                                   how do I pick the ‘RIGHT’ one?”

Getting back to the original topic of that ominous question I would think anyone who has taken part in an organized event has asked at least subconsciously. There really is not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ event (I prefer to use the term ‘event’ because there is no rule that what you do has to be a race, plenty of folk’s do organized events for charity or just for the camaraderie experience!) for you particularly. And that is more or less what it comes down to – is racing against other competitors your calling? Even during these races it can be possible to just race against yourself and see what you are capable of! An organized ‘race’ is a fantastic place because 99% of the time there is so much support from other runners of all ages and capabilities, it’s typically about pushing yourself, meeting people and just being a nice, decent human being! 🙂

I always felt a certain selfishness about running in a certain way; it feels so good when it goes well, even euphoric perhaps on some days! But at the same time I knew that I preferred to be alone while running and did not like tripping over other people with dogs or just feeling pressured, I enjoyed the freedom of ‘my pace’ on ‘my run’ in ‘my forest’. Then there was that text message that came through, making my pocket buzz with so many questions “Can I even do this? What if I cramp up and die on the side of the trail? What if I need to poop in the bushes one mile into the race? What if my shoes hurt my feet? What if people call me out for running funny? Will I even finish this thing in the allotted time?” All of the questions flowed into my brain, a bit overwhelming of course, the most interesting part though was that none of these predicaments ever dawned on me during my day to day runs, I never felt pressure and anxiety like this over something that had always been a form of decompressing and forgetting about daily nonsense.

The message read: “I signed us all up for our first 5K!!”

I didn’t know whether I wanted to respond with “That’s awesome!” or “Oh no… what did you do now?” Turns out all of the worrying was for nothing, race day came and went and none of the other runners mocked me or pointed fingers at my slow pace. I had survived my first organized race event and even had a heck of a lot of fun while doing it! In fact, we all had so much fun getting together and watching each other come in to the finish and take our sweaty-faced post-race selfie photos, and then Our 1st 5K event together!we made it kind of like a ritual sort of thing of going to get some super good local plant based food near to wherever we had raced. 2017 brought us a handful of 5Ks which were all fun, but toward the end of “running season”, we discussed and signed up for an event along the shore of Lake Champlain, which was organized by Racevermont.com and listed as their Season Finale, and other folk’s listed as one of the most scenic courses on the east coast. Heck yeah I wanted scenic, heck yeah I wanted to be sore the following day, heck yeah I wanted to do something that I had not yet done – I guess just to say I was once able to run 13.1 miles, if I were suddenly stricken with the inability to run.

I trained, made my own plan of how I thought I could best prep my muscles and stamina for just getting through all thirteen point one miles: I ran, pushed to 10 miles. Once that wasn’t too bad, I pushed to 12 miles and thought “I can do thirteen, I’ll try it next week!”. I did the 13.1 and on my first attempt thought “I just hit the wall at 12.5 miles, how can I do 13.1?” so I did 13-14 miles at least once a week probably 4 or 5 more times before race day and took the two or so days prior to race day light. (turns out that I did NOT at that time know what The Wall really was, I only craved my lip balm and then I somehow felt refreshed and the final mile or so was no issue..strange, I know, but that’s how it went!) The actual race went fantastic, I thought I had started (“gone out”) too fast – but I just concentrated on my breathing and making every step meaningful, and of course enjoying those views of the Adirondacks from across the Lake. I even had Ciara (she ran the 5K) there to grab some photos of me and finish the final stretch of road with me – I somehow realized that day that I was hooked; I loved to run, I loved to push myself!

For the next 8 months we really had nothing on the radar. We had recently moved to New Hampshire, both working at jobs that we really did not mind, we hiked almost every weekend and worked on our new toy: our school bus turned Tiny Home! When I first started my job, it is safe to say I had some down time. Down time to read blogs and of course – check race schedules. I was gifted the New Hampshire Trail Race Series which consisted of 5-12K trail runs just about every other weekend, I saw a lot of the same folk’s event to event. This also gave me a great opportunity to learn of new trails and nature preserves for Ciara and I to take the boys to burn off some puppy energy!

“I’m definitely not getting any younger”

This was my mantra as I perused the list almost daily at that point looking for what I thought would be “The Perfect Race”, I wanted my opportunity to run a full marathon. Something that I NEVER thought I would do, I thought of it back in my troubled twenties as a mileage territory that my body was just not cut out for. Three miles? Check. Seven miles? Check. Thirteen point one miles? Again, check! But that random number (26.2 – a nod to Greek History) that I could never remember until I saw the white oval stickers on every Toyota Prius ever driven. I wanted to check that off my life-long “want to do, but probably don’t really have the balls to try List”. I found a course up in Maine in Acadia National Park. Ciara and I stayed for the weekend in October 2017 and fell in love with the whole Bar Harbor area, so we went back in 2018 with her mother, hiked and camped, having an incredible time making vegan finger food in the back of the SUV as the sun set behind Cadillac Mountain. I had been eyeing this event, had my finger on the sign up button for nearly two weeks but just did not have it in me to jump on it, until the day I finally realized that if I did not hit “Take My Money”, I would live with the regret of not knowing what would have Lining up for the 2018 Mount Desert Island marathonhappened, not knowing if I was capable of running 26.2 miles. I hit the button, they took my money, and I had to break the news of what I had signed up for to Ciara.

In a fit of selfishness I had signed myself up for the Mount Desert Island Full Marathon

Which took place just a few weeks after we were due to return from our vacation get away to the very same island. Follow along for a journey through my eyes as I tackled my hardest and longest run up to that point! Was I mentally prepared? I sure thought I had read enough and ran through the day mile by mile until I could see the finish line! Was I physically prepared? I was scared shitless! While everyone told me to hit the mileage at least once to get a feel for it, I had not gone over 16 miles and was barely pushing 20 mile weeks!! Spoiler alert – I ran my first marathon, loved the pain I experienced (the oh-so-good kind!) and felt content that I had decided 4 months prior to sign up for a 50K just two weeks after the Mount Desert Island full marathon. I loved the punishment and escaping into a world where nothing mattered but just running. One foot in front of the other. I loved what I was doing because I was doing what I loved.

Together after our raceI am beyond excited, and feeling a bit lucky to have the opportunity to run next to Ciara while we bust out the Runamuck 50K in April (I have decided I want to start together and finish together, this is OUR run – not MY run this time, and this makes me super stoked to share!!), while there is a chance there may be cold and snowy conditions, as long as we get the hydration, nutrition and clothing layering right, I know we can do it.. and I am here to make sure we have a whole lotta fun out on the trails together!! We have a mountain run through the White Mountains planned that (luckily) falls in my birthday in June, and her incredible plant-powered mama (Tuesday) just gave us The Vegan Power 50K as a 3 person relay (Ciara, Tuesday and myself!) as a Christmas gift, which happens to fall on Ciara’s birthday this year – so needless to say we are both super psyched for what the future holds for us! Be sure to follow along, and see where the next adventure will take us!!

Much love and happy trails!!

Erik