May 10, 2014

First Marathon: A guest post by my sister!

I've written my version of Jeanie's first marathon, but it went SO well that I asked Jeanie to write a guest post about her experience. She only started running in late 2012, in order to support my first Virtual 5K in January 2013. Rather than quit after that, she kept increasing her distance to 10K, and half-marathon. I wrote a half-marathon training plan for her, and I was so excited that I got to go out to Rockford to surprise her and run her first half with her.

Jeanie completely trusted me with her training, which made things so much easier on ME--but I was still nervous about something going wrong, and it being my fault. As you read from my race report, her first marathon went flawlessly! She honestly made the whole thing look easy. 

Jeanie has truly transformed herself over the past year and a half through her running. She was never very overweight like I was, but she wanted to lose some weight and get in shape. Her running helped her drop the last pesky pounds, and she got hooked on it! She looks amazing!

Jeanie's before and after photos

Here, she's written about the race from her own point of view, and then she's listed all of her tips that she found helpful in creating an awesome first marathon. Enjoy!

First off, I want to acknowledge that I would not have been as successful at this marathon if it weren't for my sister, Katie, or my husband, Shawn. I will get into the reason for saying that later on. There are a lot of different ways I could write this guest post, but I am going to try and keep it organized into two sections: the first being my marathon experience, and the second part being the advice I was given (and used) to complete my first marathon successfully. 


I would highly recommend picking a race that has a relay option and asking some friends to run the relay with you while you run the marathon. It was SO MUCH FUN!!!  

My relay team was:
1. My best friend from Michigan, Audrey- ran 5.1
2. My best friend from Illinois, Jen - ran 6.1
3. My friend, Debbie- ran 4.4
4. My brother, Nathan- ran 5.3
5. My sister, Katie- ran 5.3

Left to right: Jen, Debbie, Audrey, me, Katie, and Nathan

They each agreed to run with me--not try to get me to run faster, but to keep me motivated.  I somewhat selected their race order because I knew I would need certain support during different times. For example, Audrey is very candid and has a way of making me laugh, even in a very tense situation. So waiting for the race to start, I needed her there. I knew Nathan was dressing up in a tutu, so I wanted him to run with me when I would be getting fatigued, near mile 17. And only Katie had completed a full marathon out of my relay team, so she was an obvious choice for runner number 5. 

When I arrived at the race, the lines for the bathroom were really long! Audrey and I got in line, but it became obvious fairly quickly that we would not have time to go before race time. This stressed me out a little bit, but I knew I couldn't spend time dwelling on it, so we just got in the corral.

We were able to locate the 4:40 pacer quickly--he was really tall! He said he usually paces at a faster finish time, so he planned to pace himself off of the 2:20 half-marathon pacer initially. The first few miles were pretty congested because the marathoners and half-marathoners were running the first nine miles together. Audrey and I stuck with the pacer, although I did have to stop and tie my shoes at mile four. Those first five miles flew by and soon we were approaching the exchange point. For some reason, this made me a little nervous... but excited. It was fun to have the loudest group cheering for me and holding up awesome signs! Audrey passed the race bib to Jen and we ran on.

Audrey and Nathan

Those next six miles also flew by. Before I knew it, we were at the second exchange point. I ran up to rest of the relay team to let them know I hadn't even started running yet! (Katie's friend mentioned at last year's race that marathoners "haven't even started running yet" at mile 10. At the time, I could not comprehend what she was saying; but I get it now. Your pace those first 10 miles should feel easy! Like you haven't even started the race yet.) My pace felt steady those first 11 miles. I stuck with the 4:40 pacer to prevent going out too fast and that worked great.

Jen passed the bib to Debbie, and we slowed the pace a little. Debbie runs closer to an 11:30 pace.  Debbie had spoken to me a few weeks before the race stating she didn't want to mess up my strategy by running slower and that she would back out of the race if I wanted her to. I assured her I wanted her there--I told her I only get ONE CHANCE to run my first marathon and I wanted a good experience more than anything else. Finish time was not important. (And Debbie even ended up running her fastest pace of 10:58 during her leg).

During that leg, I decided to use one of the port a potty's. I really didn't NEED to go, but mentally I kept thinking about how I didn't go at the start of the race, etc.  So, the first port a potty I tried had the green symbol on the door, indicating it was free. When I opened it, I found a lady sitting on the toilet.  I quickly apologized and kept running. The next port a potty was available, but as I reached for the handle, a lady walked over with an orange in her hand and said she was "in line". Okay, so we kept going.  Finally, the next one was actually available and I was able to make a quick pit stop. Debbie's leg was over and she passed the bib to Nathan, who was attracting a lot of attention in his tutu and headband.  

Finishing Debbie's leg

Nathan immediately told me we were two minutes behind the 4:40 pacer.  I let him know I was good running at the current pace and I didn't want to try and catch the pacer. At this point it became VERY WINDY (over 20 mph winds). And that particular leg was not very pretty. It was along the side of a road almost the entire time. Nathan offered to run in front of me to block the wind, but I told him no, and we just ran side by side.

There were several drivers who rolled down their window and yelled out to Nathan about his outfit.  That was fun. I was starting to get fatigued when I saw we would be changing directions. I was so relieved that I would not be running directly into the wind. However, when I turned the corner, I swear the wind direction changed and we were again running directly into it. I didn't worry about pace, but just focused on getting to the next water station (which I knew the locations because it was taped to my wrist cuff--more on this below), and ultimately, to the last exchange point.

Nathan about to hand off to Katie

I was very relieved when Katie starting running with me. I knew I only had 5 miles left and was going to finish. I felt pretty good overall, considering I was 21 miles into this race. My feet were getting tired, which surprised me. I never remember that happening during training. I kept thinking how good a foot massage would feel.

I told Katie my feet were tired and she said "Well, if you walk, that isn't going to change how your feet feel." So we kept at our pace. Katie was a great support, occasionally asking how I was doing but not pushing me past the pace that was comfortable for me. About a mile from the stadium, she said you could hear the announcer announcing the runners crossing the finish line. I took off my headphones, wrapped them around my wrist and listened to see how close we were.  

I remember asking Katie a few times, "How much farther?" My watch was about 0.3 off from the current location (due to weaving in/out of people, etc), but Katie's watch was accurate. I think I started to cry when we got into the stadium, but kept it together until after we crossed the finish line, holding hands and raising our other arm up in the air.  We had practiced this at mile 21--LOL, but true!  

It was amazing to cross the finish line, to see Shawn with flowers in his hands, and my family and friends on the sidelines. I can't even describe what the experience was like. I can't imagine anyone having a better first marathon than the one I had. It had nothing to do with my actual race time, but everything to do with the experience of 18 weeks of training coming to an end, surrounded by all the people I love.  AMAZING!!

Here is some advice that, based on my experience, worked really well:

1. If you can afford to do so, make an appointment and get a runners' assessment done by an atheletic trainer or physical therapist. This was $99 in the area I live, and the trainer was able to make some corrections to my running form that I think had been contributing to a hamstring problem. Once I incorporated those corrections, my hamstring felt much better. If you can't afford the assessment then read about correct running form online or in a running magazine.

2. Read a marathon training book. I read Hal Higdon's marathon book (just a few pages at a time over several months) and learned a lot about how I should prepare myself both physically AND mentally for the race.

3.  Find someone who wants to talk about running with you. I found that it consumed a lot of my thoughts and time, and I wanted to talk about my splits, how I felt after runs, what I could do differently, etc. This is where Shawn and Katie were a huge part of my training. 

4. Tell your family and friends how much this means to you. If they are non runners, they will not have an appreciation for the effort you're going to be putting in. Ask them to call you once a week and ask you about your training. If you want them at the race, ask them! They won't be able to read your mind, so just ask.

5.  If it is not posted online, email the race director and ask at EXACTLY which mile markers will there be water, Gatorade, Gu, bathrooms, etc. Ask what flavor of Gatorade is being served. Then, when you practice your long runs, you can practice exactly what you will eat/drink on race day at exactly which mile marker. I did almost all of my long runs at the gym (yes, on the treadmill.. 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20 mile long runs on the treadmill).  I taped an index card to the treadmill which listed listed the mile markers of water stations and what my plan was for that station. Then at each "water stop", I would hop off the treadmill and "walk through" each station and eat or drink whatever was scheduled.  This really helped me simulate the race course.

6.  Buy a wrist cuff (ie. wrist sweat band) and secure an index card to it with what you plan to eat and drink and at which mile marker. You can use this during your training if running outside, and on race day. My husband kept calling me Peyton Manning, but hey, it worked. This also helped me out a lot mentally during the race, because I could just glance down at my wrist and know how far it was to the next water station.

My wrist cuff, listing where each water station is located and
exactly what I will eat/drink at each station

7. Open up your shot blocks and place them in a small baggy to carry on race day (I used a SPI belt). That way they were easily accessible during the race.

8. If you need an extra energy source before you planned on taking it, then just take it early. I noticed I needed to this 2-3 times from mile 19-26.   

9. Drink water or Gatorade at every stop, even the very first water station. You won't feel like you need it, but walk through each station and drink something. You will never replace all the calories/hydration you will be using during the race, so stack the odds in your favor early.

10. Don't try and run and eat Gu or drink at the same time. More of it will end up on your shirt, hands, and face than in your mouth.

11. Don't set a time goal! Hal Higdon emphasizes this a lot for first time marathon runners. If you set a goal of 4:40 and came in at 4:42, you will feel disappointed! And you should feel elated that you just finished something that less than 1% of the population will even attempt.

12. On the other side of the coin, have a race day strategy. Maybe stick with a pacer so you don't start off too fast. Remember, you "haven't even started running yet" at mile 10. Your pace those first 10 miles should feel easy, like you haven't even started the race yet. Keep that in mind when planning your race day strategy,

13. Get to the race early enough to use the bathroom. The lines are very long!

14. Run a short distance before the race to see if you tied your shoes too lose or too tight. I didn't do this, and I immediately felt my shoes were too loose and had to stop and retie both of them. 

15.  If you can afford to do so, treat yourself to a massage every now and then during training.  Even the 15-30 minute massages offered at the mall are really helpful. If that is not in your budget, invest in a foam roller and use it after your runs. I found both the massages and the roller helpful with sore muscles.

16.  Read this Runners World article on how to PROPERLY carb load before the race.  I read and re-read that article several times in the weeks leading up the race so I knew how to properly fuel before the marathon. 

17. Celebrate when it's all over!


  1. Thanks for the guest post Jeanie. Really great to read this and very informative

  2. Amazing transformation! I love the tips section as they obviously worked for you. Way to Jeanie!

  3. It sounds like you did a lot of great planning that helped make your first experience go really smoothly! Thanks so much for sharing. I really like the idea of writing down the aid stations and carrying them. That's something I never would have thought of that would make it a lot easier to have something to look forward to when things start to feel interminable.

  4. The first marathon always causes a ton of anxiety. My first one was in Idaho near Jackson Hole. Great job!

  5. Nice job. Welcome to the Club!

  6. Congrats!!!! Great post and great tips. You look amazing too!!

  7. AnonymousMay 11, 2014

    Okay - so super helpful! I'm running my first full in October.

  8. Congratulations on your first marathon and thank you for this post! It's great motivation as I think about my first 1/2.

  9. Congrats on your first marathon, Jeanie! As for the before and after pics, all I have to say is .. damn, girl! ;)

  10. AnonymousMay 12, 2014

    Congratulations!!! What a wonderful recap!! I am about to start my marathon training and I hope my first marathon is as wonderful as yours was!!!

  11. Congratulations Jeanie! Fantastic job! Great to hear about a positive first marathon experience! It gives me hope.

  12. thats amazing I really want to work myself up to running like this.

  13. Awesome!! Can you do a post about what to eat/drink during a marathon? I see Jeanie's little schedule it's kind of hard to read, but looks like it has great content! I'm training for my first marathon and am so confused on when to eat and drink what!!! Thanks!


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