I ran my first marathon in 2020, here’s my experience

By the end of every year, during those stagnant days between Christmas and New Year’s, I think about the places I want to explore, the experiences I want to have, and the challenges I want to accomplish. In December of 2019, I finally decided to attempt the ultimate endurance test, the marathon. 


As someone who struggled with running for more than 1 mile without panting heavily, the thought of going for 26.2 made my legs tingle. I searched for marathons until I found one that would fit my schedule, October 11. So with a solid deadline, the journey began. I had no idea how to prepare for such an event, which led me to scrutinize every webpage, every study and every YouTube channel for information. Armed with all this knowledge, including optimal weekly mileage, pacing and effort levels, I built myself a spreadsheet with a detailed structure of a 36-week training program. 


I started running the first week of January and each day presented its own challenge, from facing below-freezing temperatures in Chicago’s unforgiving winter to having to run around my house during the coronavirus lockdown. While running the increasingly long distances, there were moments when my arms and legs started to feel numb. An electric sensation flowed through my entire body followed by an impulse to stop running and to just lay on the ground. But once I pushed through that wall, I felt relief, as if I had set my body free somehow, and my attitude toward running changed. I began to enjoy the sometimes-painful journey. After a few weeks of dedicated training, I noticed a big improvement in my performance. 

Months went by in the blink of an eye. I realized, after analyzing my spreadsheet, how little by little my endurance had increased. Without even registering it, I was doing a half-marathon per week throughout this year’s blazing hot August. This also became a large time commitment. There were days I had to wake up at 4 am to run before work, run at midnight after finishing class assignments, and give up relaxing Sundays to head out on three-hour workout sessions.


In moments where I questioned everything, I pictured the piece of paper on which I had written my goals at the beginning of the year. And I would tell myself “remember why you started” over and over until my shoes were laced and my legs were moving one after the other on the pavement. 


Just when things started to look good after reaching the 17-mile mark for the first time, I decided to go for a quick run on a rainy Sunday morning. Just as I headed back to get a warm shower, I started sneezing— it was already too late. Hours later, my voice faded and I began to feel the symptoms of a cold one by one. With less than a month left of training, all I could think of during those days was how my pacing and endurance would be affected. Tempted to grab my shoes and run again, an acute ache took over my body pushing me to stay motionless. 


With a boost of excitement, the following week I gradually started running again until I picked up my scheduled distances. Although the marathon event had been canceled due to the coronavirus, I decided to run the distance by myself, while social distancing, to complete the challenge. On October 11, as I headed to the lake trail where my route started, I felt nervous for the first time while embarking on a run. I wasn’t competing with anyone else and I had more flexibility than for an official event, but I still had something to prove to myself. 


I tried avoiding looking too much at the distance tracker on my phone’s screen, and the miles passed, one after another. Before the 20-mile mark, the run was going smoothly. But things got exponentially harder toward the end. I could feel the blisters on my feet and each step made me groan. To distract myself, I would constantly do the math of how longer I would have to endure the pain at different paces. At one point I even considered the bus home. 


This run was a lot harder than any individual run before it, but, the physical and mental discomfort did not compare to the 10 gruesome months of training where I ran over and over until I could recognize cracks and stains on the concrete. Eventually, I finished the marathon at 4:42:38. When I set this goal as a priority, I learned that to accomplish things you’ve never done before, you also have to be willing to do things you had never tried before.