Today I have something really special for you guys. A couple months ago, my mom and my cousin decided to run in the Detroit Marathon. Personally, I don’t ever see a reason to run for that long which is why I asked my cousin to write about his experiences training for and running in the marathon. I figured if we could get inside the brain of a marathon runner, then maybe we could understand it and even take some of that and apply it to our own goals, whether that goal may be to run 26.2 miles or to lift our own body weight over our head.
Oh, there’s one more really cool thing about my cousin running in the marathon. He’s only 16! Do you know what I was doing when I was 16? Me either, because it wasn’t anything cool like running a marathon. Whatever it was, it probably involved sitting for long periods of time and eating candy. So what makes a 16 year old want to run a marathon and how does he manage to do it? Let’s get to it.
“I’ve decided to run the Detroit Marathon.”
The typical responses:
“How far is a marathon?”
“Isn’t that really long?”
“You’re running a marathon! What’s that?”
It is disheartening to hear how many people really don’t know what a marathon is. Even after I tell them I’m going to run a 26.2 mile loop through Detroit and Canada, many still don’t comprehend how far it is both physically and mentally. A marathon isn’t just a really long run; It’s not just an endurance race; it’s a challenge; it’s a goal; it’s a lifestyle.
Let’s start with some background information:
I’m definitely on the younger side when it comes to marathon runners. The generally accepted age to run a marathon is about 25. It’s around that time that the muscles are in their prime aerobic state, meaning that they can process sugar and oxygen into energy most efficiently.
With all that being said, I ran a full 26.2 mile marathon at age 16.
Why in the world would I ever want to run a marathon? It’s for the challenge.
Think about the average 16 year old: What do they do with their free time? Play video games? Eat fatty foods?*** Waste their youth? I don’t want that lifestyle. I wanted to try something…different.
It’s a difficult concept to explain to non-runners or people who don’t like exercise. Running can become addictive (and there have been tests that prove that the brain can get addicted to the endorphins the body uses to literally “hide” the potential pain endured), and for me, a much better way to spend time.
Enough background information; Let’s get to the race:
It was an exceptionally windy October day that I had to run the marathon. I started the day getting up at 5 a.m., which is miserable on a weekend, then I got dressed and ate a giant bowl of cereal. I really didn’t want to try a heavy breakfast because my body is used to processing cereal. Throughout my training, I always ate the same thing before I ran, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. After a short breakfast and a mile long traffic jam, I was kicked out of the car and onto the streets of Detroit with my Aunt, who was going to run the half-marathon.
Both the half and full marathoners start the race in downtown Detroit, run to the Ambassador Bridge, cross it into Canada, and then take the Windsor Tunnel back to the U.S. From there, runners zigzag throughout the city and the half-marathoners would break off. The full marathoners then take a long hike through Indian village (on the other side of town), around part of Belle Isle, which is actually a great distance, and then finally, proceed to the finish line.
By the time the race started, the cool winds ripped through the streets of Detroit, grabbing at any extra body heat our exposed bodies were able to give off. Everyone was in workout clothes that they planned to shed once they warmed up. I wore a pair of shorts underneath my sweatpants, and a spring jacket on top of my t-shirt. I brought a gatorade that I washed down just before the race in order to stay ahead on my electrolyte levels. Most people think running is a great way to burn calories, and it is. But when you start doing distances longer than about three miles, a body needs some serious fuel to keep it going. The general rule is for every mile ran or walked, 100 calories are burned. With those numbers, in a marathon, the body burns through 2600 calories, which is staggering since the average person uses 2000 calories in their daily life.
Finally, 7:00 a.m. rolled around and the horns blared to start the race. When our group was called, we hurriedly ran under the starting line in full force, which I really regretted around mile 18.5. We were finally underway. The most shocking part for me was just how quickly the crowd died down as we approached the Ambassador Bridge. It was a picture-perfect image as I watched the sun’s rays seep through the twisted and jagged cables and beams that made up the bridge. I kept taking pictures with my phone and commenting on how amazing this was. Around that time, I averaged a pretty brisk pace (I don’t really have any actual numbers because my phone died around mile 15). I knew I should have slowed down, but I was too caught up in the moment to listen to myself.
Climbing the Ambassador Bridge was one of the most difficult obstacles because the staggering suspension bridge is so LONG. I could feel my muscles burn as I lifted my knees higher to spare my ankles. You can’t really think about the race as a whole when you know you have so many more miles to go. You just put one foot in front of the other. Finally, after reaching the top, I tumbled down the rest of the bridge and into Windsor. Running through Windsor was…refreshing. I had a perfect view of the Detroit Skyline with the sun shining through the streets. It was so motivating to have other people cheering me on and freezing with me. Windsor went by too quickly. Before I knew it I was trudging through the tunnel. It gets pretty claustrophobic down there. I was in a giant tube underneath over 70 feet of water…what’s there to worry about?
Everything stayed pretty constant until mile 13, when the half marathoners split off. Instantly, the crowds died down. For portions of the run, it was just me running all alone through the streets of Detroit, with the occasional police officer to make sure we didn’t die. Running through Indian Village was when my body started letting me know it was tired. The slanted roads that helped to drain water were wreaking havoc on my ankles. I distinctly remember the pain starting around mile 15 and then continuing to build all the way towards the end.
By mile 20, I was spent. My skin was extremely pale because I had basically drained all of my blood into my legs. When a person stands for over five hours, blood begins to swell in his or her feet and legs. Every step was starting to become a challenge as my feet literally gained weight. I began to seriously question why in the world I decided to run a marathon. It was around here that the biggest, most powerful obstacle stood in my way. I knew it would would be there, and I knew to expect it, but it still hit me like a brick wall.
Of course, the biggest obstacle in any situation is your mind. As mile 23 rolled around, all I could think about was the finish. Everything seemed like an excuse to quit. A bench, a drinking fountain, all begging me to stop and relax. It was too far to give up, though. I desperately needed motivation. My phone’s battery was completely dead after trying to track me for so many miles, so I pulled out my iPod and clicked through a new playlist. I’ve been preparing for this I kept telling myself. All I could think about was crossing the line and being finished. At the time I honestly didn’t care what my time was or anything; Finishing was the new goal. I took a glance behind me and realized that I was far from being the last one to cross the finish line.
With the home stretch coming into sight, I realized that I had this. I was going to finish this. I passed a stand handing out Cliff bars, and I instinctively grabbed one in order to put something solid in my stomach besides gatorade and water. I pictured the marathon medal in my hands, the bragging rights I would be entitled to, anything to keep me going.
Finally, after 26 painful miles, the finish line came into sight. I decided to give it all I had and really try and finish strong, yet after reviewing my finish line video afterwards, I did not. I didn’t really have that awesome movie-style finish, and to be honest, I really don’t remember the moment I crossed the finish line. My brain was so low on sugar, I honestly don’t know how it ended. It doesn’t matter, though. The end was reached! The goal was achieved.
So what have I learned from running a marathon? It’s a big commitment. It’s a big deal for a reason. It takes months of training and strong willpower if anyone wants it to happen. Nonetheless, it’s a ton of fun and well worth the effort.
Using so many of my body’s resources also gave me cravings for certain foods and veggies. It was actually pretty weird. On one side I was happy to actually want to eat healthy foods, but it was just weird.
Would I do it again? I honestly don’t know. For sure, I’d settle for a half marathon. There is a HUGE difference between a half and a full.
In the end, a marathon is a great goal to set, and it’ll put you in the best shape of your life. All it takes is a lot of willpower and a lot of running.
Thanks so much, Joey for sharing with us what it’s like to accomplish something so awesome. I don’t know if I could run for that long or if I’d even want to, but being down there on race day definitely helped me understand why someone would want to do it. Have you ever worked towards a big goal like a marathon before? How did you prepare and when/if you achieved it, how did you feel? Do you have any questions for Joey? Let us know in the comments!!
*My apologies for the poor photo quality, I took some pictures on race day but seem to have lost the files so I scrounged these ones up from my Aunt and Mom.