Even though it does not feel like it happened yesterday, it certainly does not feel that it was almost a business finished 4 years ago. Throwback Thursdays is kind of a thing now, and I decided to go all the way back – back to my first ever marathon. I wrote some of these in the “Note app” on Facebook and cleared up the grammar and sentence structures, making them somewhat readable. Only after reading through these stuff I wrote years back that I realize I’m getting better at writing complete sentences. If you think I still have much to improve, you hadn’t seen what I used to write. I’m kind of surprise that I was allowed to pass English exams. This post is going to be long, so sit back, relax and enjoy.
Back to my marathon story – I used to practice Judo in high school (this is the year 2009, still early on in the century). I was never good at it as Judo requires skills, practice and effort, which I excel at none. I quit as soon as I was allowed to, and thought it was a great idea at that moment. I might not had enjoyed my time as a Judoka, but those drills I endured during hours of training paid off and I was decently fit. By not going to Judo training or participate in any physical activities, combine that with 9 months of laying around at home (before heading to college), and you have the perfect recipe to turn muscles to fats. In 9 months, I gained 17kgs (40lbs), from the thinnest I had been my whole life to the fattest I would be (and hopefully will be).
Ever heard of freshman 15? I was not worried with that because I gained them before even stepping a foot into college. The tipping point for me (to lose weight) was the fact that I had to buy a new pair of larger jeans because I couldn’t fit the old ones. Luckily, the University of Illinois (My alma mater) has indoor tracks in gyms, and one of them was literally a doorstep away from my dorm. I had never seen such a modern gym and motivated me to jog and exercise. I did not save the logs, but I remember that my runs were at most 4 miles and at a pace of 10~12 mins/mile. I was literally crawling along.
Before long, I was doing 5k and 10k runs every other day. I wondered how far I could go, but marathon wasn’t on the agenda. After a few months of none-vigorous dieting and a lot of walking and jogging, my weight came down to what I call the optimum weight (half way between my thinnest and heaviest). I was happy with myself, and unlike many others, losing weight wasn’t the reason to run marathons. That inspiration came from a completely different source.
Back in my high school days, I had a very flamboyant math tutor (Mr. Foo) who would tell us interesting stories to juice up otherwise rather boring math classes. One of his many stories included a friend of his, who in his twenties thought that he was a fit person for being a soldier and what not. To test his fitness, this man decided to compete in the Singapore Marathon without any training or even any clue of what a marathon is. It probably wouldn’t had been a great tale had this happened during fall/spring, but this was setup to be an epic poetry, for Singapore is known to be both hot and humid all year round.
This brave but naive man started the marathon strong, but grew tired as his legs pound continuously on the road. By mile 20, he was completely exhausted with shafing and runners’ nipple. All he wanted to do was to sit down and wait for an ambulance to carry him away, but the tech t-shirt and finisher medal at the end kept him going. He did made it to the finish line, but he was not able to walk for the coming days. My math tutor told us this exciting story with the advice that we should do these crazy things when we are still young – ain’t no one have time and opportunity to #yolo when they are old!
I was inspired by this man’s sufferings, but I did not signed up or trained for a race in Singapore. There were just not much information about the only marathon in Singapore, and the internet was a very different place back then. It took me years before I heard about marathons again, and this time it came in the form of a life checklist on some random website. At this time, I was running 10ks for fun in indoor gyms, and decided that a marathon probably only hurt as much as a 10k should. Looking back, that was an arrogant and naive mistake that I’m willing to make again. After all, if not for that stupid thought, I will probably not be enjoying these runs now.
My biggest obstacle was to find a suitable marathon. Even though the Internet had become a place with lots of useful information, it was still not easy to come by relevant information. I stumbled across a list of official marathons on a Wikipedia page, and found out, by accident, that there was a marathon in Champaign-Urbana! It took me 20 minutes to sign up and the next few months to figure out how to train for a marathon. As I slowly increased my mileage, I also changed my diet and implemented my infamous Sunday brunch, when I would eat as much steak as I want after my weekly long run. It was a great time.
The big day had arrived. My longest run (from some training guides online) was 20 miles. I did not adhere strictly to the training plan but followed as best as I could with my busy schedule. The huge race started at 7am on a really pretty spring Saturday morning after the national anthem. I did not do a headcount, but there were probably 10 thousand runners planning to complete various distances. There were many (time) corrals and I think we all started at the same time. (Don’t quote me on this. This happened back in 2011 and I’m writing this in 2014. It’s been a long time and I’m getting old. :D )
I fell into the beginner’s trap – that the excitement can get into your head. Well, I also did not know what Gu gels are, the concept of running tangent to curves is and that you shouldn’t wear the new marathon tech tee on the day itself. If anything could had saved me, it was that I wore the same old pair of shoes for training. With so much adrenaline pumping in my blood and music blasting in my ear (I ran with music player), I was on my way. Ever felt good running? The first half was awesome – I was faster than schedule (half marathon target was 2 hours), enjoyed the atmosphere, amazed by the concept of water stations and laughed at pla-signs on the side walks. The crowd was pretty amazing for such a small city(s) but I was still managed to pass by a friend (Wen) who was volunteering.
Even though the first 13 miles weren’t hard, there weren’t without problems. I was passing people constantly and had a couple of side stitches which I ignored. Moreover, the crowd thinned and discomfort started to creep in after the half-marathon split. During this time, I was searching for a potty but did not find any for the next 2 miles, and was getting less excited (in my previous blog I used the word “High”. That’s definitely an exaggeration). I even had to stop every mile for a walk break – I am not used to walk breaks but I reasoned with myself as an energy saving mechanism for the later miles. Little did I know 1) that wouldn’t had matter much 2) that’s a sign that I’m screwed.
The 19th mile went by and I was definitely having it hard. My legs were cramping but I was still holding up in terms of stamina, thanks to months worth of training and my self-designed ‘diet’. By now, I was losing patience and yank off the earphones, and basically doing anything that could made me feel better. At water stops, I would be downing cups of water, Gatorade and even GU gels. There was a nice older veteran who saw me suffering and encouraged me to run along with him. I did not know that I was fighting the inner demon but he did, and told me to focus on the 19 miles that I had finished and I could enjoy the post-race stuff earlier if I keep going. I heard but I wasn’t listening – all I wanted to do is to get rid of the pain there, not an hour later.
If that wasn’t bad, this is the end that put an end to the end. I named this ‘ the moment your most hated enemy is cutting off your legs with a chainsaw.” I didn’t know they have a name for the wall and learn about that after the race. I had minor walls during training runs but they were not this bad. Looking back, I can tell that I was screwed from these factors – one, this is a new distance for me; two, I was too fast in the beginning; lastly, I had always trained indoors. Fatigue caught up with my leg muscles (that includes quad, calf and many unknown muscle groups) as they started to flex on their own and hurt really bad. I made the easy and sane decision to start walking. It wasn’t as if walking helped since I was still suffering when limping along the road, so jogging probably wouldn’t had hurt much more. However, I was shock that my body could be so exhausted and hold myself back from going any faster. I also doubt I could had mustered enough energy to jog.
I sprinted to the finish line (the last 0.2miles) into Memorial Stadium after the 4 mile walk. The official time is 4.12.59 but I didn’t care. All I wanted to do is to sit down and grab some food. The post-race feast wasn’t great, now that I come to think about it, but it did amazed me back then. I had never knew that runners get food after a race! From my fuzzy memory, there were pizza, little cups of pasta, some bread and free soda. I hanged the finisher’s medal around my neck and walked proudly among thousands of runners, most of whom ran less than a marathon. It didn’t matter if I had to walk part of the marathon, at least I kick marathon off on the bucket list.
After the race, I doubted my own willpower and strength. I am not a strong-willed person, but seeing others pulling through “the wall” at mile 20 reminded me that I have a lot to do. I used to think that anybody could do anything if they trained hard enough, but learning from other runners gave me a new level of appreciation. People who could hold on to their strides during those harder miles impress me, and endurance/Ironman athletes continue to inspire me to this day. With that, I thought that I might be done with marathon – after all, who wants to be traumatized again? :D
Official website: http://www.illinoismarathon.com/
Race Date: April 30 2011.
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