Last Sunday, my friend Emily Harris completed her first marathon.
That’s not to say that Emily is some novice athlete. In college, she swam for Florida State University. In the past few years, I’ve watched Emily blossom from 5k’s into a full-fledged marathoner.
Since I can barely remember last Tuesday, I’m not the best person to recount what I learned running my first marathon. That’s when I decided to ask Emily about her experience to benefit anyone who’s thinking of going “all the way” to 26.2.
It was your first Chicago Marathon – congratulations! How did it go?
It was bittersweet! My time and performance did not go as well as I had hoped, but running and fundraising for such an incredible cause was the biggest accomplishment.
What was the best part of the marathon?
The energy!!! The incredible camaraderie of the city of Chicago was unbelievable. Spectators were so supportive and other runners were so uplifting. I had people patting me on the back, cheering me on. For others to genuinely support and help one another during a marathon is just so exhilarating.
What was the worst part?
The mental roadblock. You’re surrounded by thousands of people, but you feel so alone when you hit that dark place. My dark place hit at around mile 16. The soles of my feet were numb, I realized I had not eaten enough prior to the race, and I was dehydrated.
Everyone warns you that this moment will happen…but they never really tell you HOW to overcome it. I’m sure everyone is different in how they pull themselves out of it. I was a competitive swimmer my entire life and in college. I dealt with a TON of roadblocks in that sport. It’s always just you against the clock in the water.
The marathon mental roadblock was something so different though. I wasn’t expecting it. I couldn’t just walk up to another runner and be like “Help! I’m in the worst negative mindset of my life! I can’t do this!”. I cried….a lot. I ended up hitting mile 25 and just vomited everywhere. I kept walking and then it happened again when I had about 1/4 mile to go. That was brutal.
You decided to run for charity this year. Why did you choose the Imerman Angels?
Imerman Angels helps provide one-on-one mentorship to cancer patients and survivors. My dad is a cancer survivor and my mom is a cancer research nurse, so this is something that is close to my heart.
The nice thing about running for charity in your first marathon is that there is less pressure to perform. No matter what my time was, I knew I was dedicating this race to cancer survivors and my parents. That is what kept me going.
Do you have any advice for those who want to raise money for charity?
Start promoting it EARLY! I posted my charity link in January and hit my goal by the Spring. After that, I just focused on surpassing my fundraising goal and that felt good. Another huge thing: make sure you are choosing a charity that is close to your heart. It’s hard to promote and run for something that doesn’t mean anything to you. Your donors can feel it when you are passionate about the cause, but they can also feel it if you’re not.
You’re a swimmer (and a damn good one). What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed between these two workouts?
Oh wow. Thank you! This is such a good question! The workouts were SO different. The sport of swimming is all about repetition and strength. I would swim twice a day for 2 hours at my peak training and that was just the water workout. We would be in the weight room and in the turf room doing land work as well.
Training for this marathon was so different…Running 3 (maybe 4) times a week, and then cross training 3-4 times. My body had a hard time adjusting to the constant pounding of my legs. Swimming works your entire body…when your arms get tired, you can kick your legs more to drive you forward and vice versa. You don’t have that option with running.
In the sport of swimming, you can also switch up workouts. The sport of running just has one choice: to run. I wasn’t used to chatting while running either. At swim practice, you can talk in between sets but 85% of the time you’re face down staring at a black line. You get TONS of time to yourself. I did my long runs with a group every Saturday morning and I loved it, but it was an adjustment.
One of the reasons I wanted to pick up running two years ago was because it was my least favorite thing to do during dryland as a swimmer. I basically hated any workout that wasn’t in the pool. This year was just the beginning of my running and fitness journey.
Which workout do you prefer and why?
If you asked me this question 5 years ago, I would say swimming. But today I’m not sure! They are both so different and special in their own way. I’ve spoken to a lot of triathletes and runners that say swimming is so hard for them but it’s the best way to cross train. Which is so true! It gives your body a break from the constant pounding.
I feel extremely grateful to have a background in swimming, but I was very burnt out from the sport by the time I retired. I didn’t touch a pool for a few years. I needed a break from it.
Running is a killer leg workout. I love track workouts! They keep things interesting and are such a good heart rate spike.
You’re never going to build strength in your quads, calves, glutes in the pool. Swimming helps with taking the impact stress off of your body. It also provides an all-over body workout because nearly all of your muscles are used during swimming. It’s also incredibly great for cardiovascular and muscle strength.
You must do both types of workouts to see results. Putting too much-undeserved emphasis on speed or endurance can cause your performance to plummet and also results in your body being overtrained.
Both workouts have their perks. I guess I would choose running outside in 20-degree weather rather than forcing myself to jump into a freezing cold pool, though.
What was your key takeaway from the Chicago Marathon?
1. TRAIN MORE. Physically and mentally. I started a new job at the end of April and it kept me VERY busy up until the week of the marathon. I work in marketing, so there were tons of weekends where I was helping out with work events. That meant I couldn’t make the group runs. Training for a marathon takes 110% dedication. Unfortunately, with my work schedule and trying to build my new career, this took precedent last 6 months. When I hit mile 15, I knew I didn’t have the training to back me up and finish the way I would have hoped.
2. With that being said…..NO EXCUSES. I know that already want to run in the 2018 Chi Marathon (and possibly Paris!), but I know that I need to go ALL IN. I also wish I would have run with a partner. Running with a buddy can be a huge help when you hit that dark place. You can help each other out of it.
3. CARBS. I did not eat enough the week leading up to the race and didn’t consume carbs the day before. I was so nervous that I could hardly eat on Saturday. This hit me hard on Sunday during the race.
4. Never. give. up. You will feel tired no matter what so just keep running. I kept waiting for the pain to go away, so I could run the perfect race. Looking back, I should have pushed my body and run through the pain.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring marathoner, what would it be?
You can do it. Celebrate the small wins in your training. Celebrate yourself. 40,000 people run the Chicago marathon every year, but there are usually around 1.3 million spectators. That means you are part of 4% that is running 26.2 miles!!! That is incredible!
Follow the training schedule…do not make excuses. The training is everything.
Make sure you are proud of yourself. No matter what your finishing time is, how it goes, how you feel. Be proud. The negative self-talk that ensued after mile 15 was unbelievable. I texted a friend and said:
“I’m such a joke. I’m so embarrassed. I’m failing. My family is here to watch me and I’m WALKING. What’s wrong with me?!”
But…I finished! I f*cking finished! The 1.7million spectators that day couldn’t say that they completed 26.2 miles, but I could. I needed to remember to be proud of myself for even trying.
Do you think you’ll be signing up for another marathon? Which one?
YES! I already know that I want to sign up for the 2018 Chicago Marathon. I have a running friend that brought up the Paris marathon in April, so we’ll see. When I first started training this year, my goal was to go under 4 hrs. I know I am going to get there. It might take a year or two years.
I refuse to give up until I’m physically not capable of completing the race anymore. My first half of the 2017 marathon was 2:10. My second half? 3:20. OUCH. It will only get better with more practice. I’m so pumped to see where things will go. The best is yet to come. I’m so thankful for my boyfriend, family, and running community for the constant support. The running community (just like the swim community) is a special one.
Can we all take a moment and congratulate Emily on her first freaking marathon?! If you want to follow Emu on her amazing running journey, follow her on her photogenic AF Instagram.