Here are a collection of some of the e-mails I received from readers about my first marathon. Some were very supportive and encouraging while others offered some frank criticism. I enjoy reading all comments and appreciate the time anyone takes to drop me a line. Thank you!
I too was a first time marathon runner in search of the feeling/intensity it will take for my first Ironman in ’06. I ran in Turin, Italy, while on vacation with no support from anyone I knew (at least no physical support there), and barely a lick of Italian coming from my mouth. I finished at 3:57:21 (my goal was between 3:30 and 4 hours). I was doing fine myself until mile 15 (bathroom time) and my knee hurt like something I never felt before. I too hobbled for awhile and then found my motivation — the finish! Way to go Denise and all you other marathon runners. I’ll be seeing you at the finish line.
— John Sadjak, Sun Prairie, Wis.
As a former collegiate runner (D1) I can say that I felt your pain, except to say, if you thought it was hard for you, imagine how hard it is for people going fast. I’ve only done one marathon, Detroit, and I went a pedestrian 2:50 shortly after I left college running. I started vomiting uncontrollably after I finished and my whole body was a massive cramp. I couldn’t even try to stretch the cramps out, because as soon as I tried to stretch one thing something else cramped. I wasn’t in shape to run under 3 hours. I had actually been training for a 10k (it's not that ludicrious. 10k is the furthest a college athlete would ever race, and Ii could do one in about 33 minutes so I’m not terrible.) And after I finished the only thing I could think was “man, it must suck for people that are actaully good going in the 2 hour range.”
— Zach, Chicago
Don’t ever be disappointed when you finish your first race. I ran my first race at this year’s Spokane Bloomsday 12K race and finished at 1:28:47, well over what I had trained for (1:15). I had never run (jogged — need to be technically correct here) more than 6 miles. My friends gave me a hard time but at the end of the day all were sincere in their congratulations to me for finishing. If you finish the race, every other accomplishment is icing on the cake.
— Dan, Richland, Wash.
Denise - As I sit here at my desk, not looking forward to my training session tonight and especially not looking forward to the Tae Bo class I do not want to take before my training session, I just want to say thank you — and I will think of your diary when I need my inner strength tonight at Tae Bo and then at personal training. Your doing an awesome thing! I will continue to read on, and don’t let the naysayyers bother you. They are just envious they don’t have your ambition. The one good thing my gym has is a HUGE American flag. I just look at that and think if the troops can do it, I, at least, can do that.
— Trish, Milford, Conn.
As most triathletes know, you can’t fully appreciate what it takes to complete an Ironman until you have done it, and even then, it’s difficult to put fully into perspective. I think that is the reason why I find this series of articles especially annoying. These excerpts are a bit like reading the journal of someone who gets up the nerve to attempt Mt. Everest because they’ve managed to trek across the parking lot at Walmart to buy a backpack. It’s admirable to set a goal and to work toward that goal, and in doing so you have already done more than most people. But your experience thus far is not remarkable or noteworthy, and certainly not worth writing (or reading) about. Come back after you finish, and then you may have something worth saying. You may then realize that a marathon is a walk in the park by comparison.
I just read your article on the Vancouver Marathon. Congratulations on a great achievement. I’m contemplating something similar — a 51 year old going from a sort of couch potato to completing the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. in October 2006. I really wanted to try for the 30th anniversary run this year, but can’t commit to a training schedule to be ready this year. My son is a Marine who left active duty last November after two tours in Iraq and a Purple Heart, and I want to complete the marathon to honor his service and that of his best Marine buddy, who did not return from Iraq. It’s a big stretch goal for me, and finishing with at least a little self respect remaining is the only goal I have. Thanks for the inspiration.
— Mark Bundner, Madison, Wis.
I have run 11 marathons, and each time I finished one I’ve thought how it would feel to “hop” on my bike and do a century ride. I guess you’ll have a chance to find out. Good luck!
— Tim Hickey, Denver
Eating bacon and hash browns, walking, going to the bathroom, and popping pills. Now that’s what I call a real running experience. My only hope is that people don’t confuse what you are doing with actual running.
— Steve Reynolds, San Jose, Calif.
I’m so impressed with Denise — I love reading her entries. I understand exactly how she feels too. I am a non-athlete who has trained for and completed two marathons. I had similar stomach problems as Denise in my second marathon and it was awful. Good for her for getting through it. This has inspired me to get back into training (I haven’t run in nearly a year) and train for a fall marathon. Great job Denise and thanks for the inspiration! You did amazing!
— Robyn Walcoff, Lafayette Hill, Penn.
Good for you! As you had pointed out to you after the Vancouver Marathon, you did 26 miles more than most people. But forget about most people, you worked hard to get where you are and have competed against yourself (your toughest critic) the whole way. I admire your determination and to hell with anyone who says anything negative. You aren’t setting an unrealistic goal, like WINNING the Ironman, you just want to participate and finish. Best of luck to you. I know you’ll make it.
— Laura Bramble, McDonough, Ga.
I am a 38 yr old mother of two with a new business. I began a swim/run workout program in Aug ‘04 to get in shape and fight the impending 40th. My ‘05 resolution is to finish a triathlon. I’ve focused on a sprint tri in july and have put together my training program accordingly. I’m no speed demon but I will finish. I just want to tell you that your odyssey has inspired me greatly. Thank you for taking the time to bring us along on your journey. Your perpective and attitude have been a gift. Thank you.
— Joan Childs, Chester, Va.
CONGRATULATIONS! I feel your pain, literally, and if it makes you feel any better, I had the WORST race of my life that same day in the Vancouver half. I know how hard it is to stick with it after being thrown so many challenges so early in the race, so congrats and good luck the rest of the way to the Ironman.
— Kaci, Seattle
I am not aware of how long this segment has been running, but today I came across your article and it brought joy to my heart. In December, I ran my first marathon (the Honolulu Marathon) and yes... I finished: 6:11:26. I learned a very valuable lesson that day. I learned that there are a million books out there on how to run a marathon, but they all have one thing in common, “TRAIN FOR IT”. I unfortunately did not. Actually, until I ran the marathon, my average run was only 1.5 miles and I did that 3 days a week (I’m in the Navy and that is the distance we need for our Physical Fitness Assessment test). I did have a few longer runs over a two-year period prior. I had run the Race for the Cure (5k), Ford Island (10k), Hawaiian Half Marathon (2:59:07), but ran the Honolulu Marathon on a dare. Lesson: When beating your buddy on the golf course by 8 strokes on the day before a marathon, don’t allow yourself to become distracted by talking about things like ... running a marathon, you may find yourself doing just that!
Denise let me be one of those who congratulate you on this incredible milestone! You did it and I’m sure you’ll succeed running the Ironman! Hey, who knows, I may even see you there (but I think I need to train for it). Mahalo and Aloha!
— Mike Richards, Honolulu
After having read your article, and following your story from time to time, I am concerned by the example you are setting. There seems to be a real lack of respect for the distance, and events your are participating in. Clearly you lack the training and experience for these events. The evidence of this are your physical injuries, lack of preperation, and woefull time. Your article highlights so many mistakes that could easily have been avoided had you taken the time to be fully prepared. I blame your ‘training partner’ for this as well.
I would not be so quick to pat yourself on the back for having to walk a third of the race. I’m wondering if you even ran at least 20 miles in preperation for the race (which you should have done for your training according to any number of marathon training plans).
The example you seem to set is ‘anyone can do it’... seemingly on a whim. This show a great deal of naivete, and is a very real way to injure yourself. And sadly, by extension, you may be contributing to another’s injury; those foolish enough to follow your path. I have been in training and have completed multiple runs, triathlons and cycling events. I have a 3 year goal for an Ironman. When I compete, I actually compete and respect the distances. There are so many distances and race formats available, by leaping to the Ironman first is completely unrealistic. I am convince you will not finish, at least not withing standard time restrictions, and very well my injure yourself. This point doesn’t concern me as much as the poor example that you set. Namely poor preperation.
— Jaime Medina, Providence, R.I.
I loved reading your story about the Vancouver Marathon. I think anyone who has ran a marathon has felt to some degree what you went through. As I poured over your description of the pain and suffering, hobbling through those last few miles, I couldn’t help but remember the time I crashed and burned with the Salt Lake City Marathon. You couldn’t have put it more clearly, “less than happy with the way things were going” after four hours into the race. However, you finished the race and summed it up nicely, “I had done something that the vast majority of people will never do — I completed a marathon.” Congratulations and you rock!
— Floyd Fairbanks, amateur marathoner
Congratulations! You’ve proven, once again, that a marathon is 90 percent mental, and only 50 percent physical. Yep, it takes 140 percent to finish!
— Ken Myers, San Diego
Honestly with a 6-hour plus time in the marathon I seriously doubt an Ironman is within your abilities at this point. In addition, how did you even get an Ironman slot? I also don’t think you are providing sound advise to people to carry an array of pharmaceuticals to get through the marathon. Well trained athletes don’t need to be taking an assortment of medication to get through the race. This is a clear example of why people should not be running marahton until they are fit enough to handle the distance.
— Gary, New York, N.Y.
I really enjoy all of your articles. Today’s on your Vancouver finish shows just how much of an endurance athlete you are. You may have been disappointed in the finishing time but how many people can exert themselves for over six and a half hours? I personally have finished over 50 marathons in the past 40 years, but there were also plenty of times that I dropped out. You were able to forge ahead when other drop out. I think the lesson learned isn’t how fast you are (body type and muscle genes take years and years of training to even partially overcome) but that you have the mental tenacity to keep going. That one facet proves you are an Ironwoman. As I reach my sixth decade, I only run one “hometown” marathon (and only then because the veterans of all 25 get special perks). Instead, I have taken up long-distance hiking and would love to plant that seed in your brain for sometime in the future. Thru-hikes of the PCT and AT require 4 ½ to 5 months to complete and the CDT even longer, but with your proximity to the former you might want to just take a couple of weeks off to savor that experience. Mind you, not until after you have completed your transformation of Ironman proportions. It's just that I sense your dedication, sense of humor (invaluable asset) and writing skills would turn others on to this addictive pursuit. Thanks for all your efforts and the ability to put them to paper (or is it screen nowadays?).
— Gary Evans
Congrats on finishing the race, Denise! Don’t worry, the first one is always the toughest. As you already mentioned in your article, you learned a lot from your first marathon (i.e., what worked, what didn’t work, etc.) and it will serve you well in your next marathon! Good luck!
— Yinnie Lim, San Francisco
I haven’t done a marathon, but am an amateur distance cyclist. I have done double centuries, 200 mile rides, in one day. To be more specific, about 15 hours. It can be grueling. I think what we share is that it becomes a mental game. Each one of these endeavors teaches you how to suffer physically and continue on. For sure there are training regimens and preparation that must be adhered to, but that just makes the goal technically possible. You have done both. You did break some training rules and still finished. You accomplished the most important part. Having your friends with an supporting you is like you said, more important than they will know. Take some rest and get back into it. You go girl!!
— Dan, San Jose
Congratulations!!! Your story almost made me cry, and is inspiring me to run! I finished my first half marathon in December, and I can’t imagine running that additional 13.1. Now I’m excited about running my next one, next December. Maybe after that, a full one! Again, congrats!
— Lauren, Memphis
Denise, I admire your willingness to keep moving when every muscle in your body did not want to do so. That is what the marathon is all about — mind over matter, convincing your body to move forward when it does not want to do so. Only those who have experienced those feelings and triumphed can understand what motivates the marathoner. Congratulations!
— Kyle V., Dallas
Denise, stay with it. One of the most powerful lessons of the day is that things don’t go according to plan. The longer the event, the more to go awry. Flexibility and the ability to self assess accurately are key to finishing IM. I had GI problems with Perpetuem itself. After a nasty half IM at Disney last year, my pre-race meal is now Sustained Energy/Hammergel and a banana and half a bagel. Work on increasing your caloric load, perhaps up to 350-400 calories. If in doubt, less is better. Get one to two half IMs in your schedule, and keep working on the long run. Oh yeah, always make sure you run off the bike. EVERY time you ride, you run (at least 15 min). T2 is tough enough, you don’t want to spend 15 minutes sitting or shuffling, you’ll have 26 miles to go and now you know how far that is. FYI, I have a small sticker on my aerobars. “Dream of it” Keep the dream alive, surround and immerse yourself. Celebrate the journey. You go girl!
— Sid Smith, IM-Moo, class of ‘05
Great article, except for a glaring grammatical error. In the paragraph which begins "It did give Jeff and I plenty of time to talk," the use of "I" is incorrect. It should be "Jeff and me." Rule of thumb here is to leave out Jeff's name, and you'll easily know which pronoun to use. Of course, to say "It did give I plenty of time" is wrong. However, "It did give me plenty of time" is correct. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the article. Thank goodness, though, that you didn't write "It did give Jeff and myself plenty of time." That would have been worse, regardless of the fact that "myself" is incorrectly used much of the time.
— Mary Allen