First Marathon

First Marathon

by Ron Marinucci

For many runners, their first marathon is their most memorable one. It might not be their best or fastest or even their favorite, just the one they remember the best—fondly or otherwise.

My son Matt can likely give a mile-by-mile synopsis of his inaugural San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, especially the unpleasant parts. I remember my first Free Press, 25 years ago, much more clearly than my most recent one, about ten years ago.

So it’s good to be reminded of that first marathon. Jill Huerta, a college teaching colleague of mine, recently completed her first, the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon.

“The marathon was great!” she enthused the following week. Pretty typically, I’d say, she added, “It was very, very hard and after I finished I vowed never to do it again.” I chuckled when she went on, “But I’m already changing my mind…. I do feel very good about my first marathon and everything it has done for me, especially given that I grew up without doing sports at all.”

Huerta began running a bit later in life. “I was 27,” she recalled, “after having kids,” four of them. “I started really slowly, only a mile or two [at first]. But I stuck with it. I did a half marathon when I was 30.”

She’s run since, although “not continuously. I often take off in the [Michigan] winter months.”

The PhD holder in American history thought about her first running. “I don’t know. It always looked kind of fun,” she laughed. “I had friends who ran cross country in high school. And, after the kids, there was the weight loss. Raising the kids, it was the only time to myself.”

On continuing, she said, “It makes me feel really good, physically and mentally.” Then, her first marathon….

“It’s a funny story,” she recounted. “My husband [Jeff] was really pushing me for an accomplishment. ‘Just go out and do something for yourself,’ he said.” Jeff, too, is a marathoner and an Iron Man triathlete. “I was so lucky he got me to do it [the marathon]. And he was so supportive. He helped a lot,” with advice and tips as well as the encouragement. “I first looked at the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, but I wanted one where Jeff could come see, too.” Hence, Toronto.

Huerta trained with her sister-in-law, Julie Rosenfield. Rosenfield is also a seasoned marathoner; Toronto was her sixth. “Jeff ran her first marathon with her.”

The Huerta-Rosenfield “partnership” worked well—and hard. “Julie just sort of took over. It was great training and running with someone that strong leading me. Every time I turned around, she bought me running clothes, Power Bars…. She was great!”

They opted to follow a modified version of the Hal Higdon training program. “The 18 weeks we stretched into six months. We recycled some of the weeks,” Huerta said. “We increased the long run every two weeks and held back the third week.” During the week, it was three days of three miles, five miles, three miles, then increased to four, six, four, and then six, seven, nine. “We slowly increased the number of miles. I’d add a day except for the really heavy mileage. It was designed to keep you from getting injured. The heavy weeks were maybe 40 miles.”

She had two goals, “to finish without injury…and to do my best. I figured I was doing my best. That was good enough.” But she found, as many first-time marathoners do, “The taper felt really weird.”

“If I could run the whole way without walking a mile, run the complete marathon, I’d be excited. If I finished in 5 hours and 20 minutes, I’d be happy.” In fact, she was half an hour faster than that. “I was really happy with my time,” she enthused.

For the marathon itself, “The weather was OK. It did rain for most of the race, but we never had a hard downpour. It was just a bit cooler than I would have liked, but better cooler than warmer.”

She liked the course. “The first half of the route went through the city and some city and residential areas, very pretty. The second half was an out-and-back on the lake front. It was pretty windy for some of that part. It felt like an eternity before I reached the turn-around just before mile 20! Then it ended right at the University of Toronto.”

With humor, she added, “I’m told that I felt good throughout the race. I don’t know—I think it was very mentally tough. At 13 miles, I was thinking that I was already tired. I guess I did feel good in that I didn’t have any severe pain in any one part of my body…just overall fatigue. I was pretty nauseous for the last 8 miles or so, but I forced myself to keep taking in gels, water, and Gatorade and I think that made all the difference.

There were no splits. “I didn’t want to know my time, my splits.” That was her plan during training, too. “I usually didn’t even wear a watch,” she said. “I didn’t want to know my time or pace on my long runs [either].” The only times she and Rosenfield wore watches were “maybe at the YMCA [indoors] just to see how many laps we’d have to run.”

Rosenfield was great help during the marathon, too. She “is much faster than I am, but she ran this marathon just to help me. So, we finished together. She did, however, get a stitch in her side in the first half mile that last three miles which we thought was funny because she was the strong rock of the partnership. It really helped to have her there, being energetic and happy most of the way. She commented that it was very relaxing to run toward the back.”

“The marathon was very well-organized and well-run. They even opened the city hall for us so that we could wait inside at the start to avoid the cold and rain. It was not a huge race, so it wasn’t exactly lined with spectators, but the people who were there were incredibly nice and it’s amazing how much their encouragement helped.”

Huerta followed Higdon’s four-week recovery program and she has the itch to run and race again. No post-marathon blues here. “I think I’ll do the Frankenmuth 10K,” she surmised. “I’ll do it with my family.” For her future running, “Maybe I’ll do some speed work, go a little faster.”

“Doing the marathon has energized me. I’m more passionate about everything!” For that, she thanks Jeff and Julie.