What I did right
Picking the raceBack in December when I was picking which marathon would be my first, I really wanted to run the Pittsburgh Marathon. I loved that it was in my hometown, and an 18-week training cycle for the May 6th race would start on January 1. But I also really wanted Sean to be there, and he couldn't take time off work to go to Pittsburgh. So I looked for a race on the same day but closer to home, and I found the Providence Marathon. It was a great choice. I loved the course - quite a few miles on a bike path, not too many hills (but enough to keep it interesting), and plenty of relaxing miles in a quiet neighborhood. I loved that I could recover in my own bed (traveling 10 hours by car for my first marathon would have sucked). And I got to know some great local runners because of the Cox Rhode Scholars (blogging) program, including Kat, who started the race with me, and Amy C who ran the half. And this wasn't under my control, but the weather yesterday was completely perfect: high 50s and partly cloudy. It doesn't get better than that.
Picking a training planBeing a reader of Erin's blog, I knew I wanted to use one of Hal Higdon's training plans. At first I wanted to do the Intermediate 1 plan, but then I thought about how a) I was in my mid-30s and hadn't been running continuously since I was younger, b) I have multiple sclerosis, and c) I had just recovered from an ankle injury. So I decided to be cautious and do the Novice 2 plan, and I'm really glad I did. The training seemed pretty easy for the first 10 weeks or so, but in Week 14 I started having problems with my knee. If I'd pushed it harder sooner, who knows what would have happened.
Listening to my body (sometimes)In the last four weeks, I started having problems with my knee, so I did more cross training and less running. I didn't run at all in Week 18, which is probably why I was able to limp/jog 16 miles to the finish.
What I did wrong
Bad, bad taperRight before the taper, I got sick with some evil New England virus. My doctor wasn't sure if it was a touch of pneumonia or bronchitis. It rocked me. I tried to continue training at a reduced capacity, but I only did 8 miles that week, which was supposed to be my peek weak of the cycle. I should have rested instead of pushing it. And the next week was supposed to be the start of the taper, but I was so insane about doing the 20 mile run that I did it that week instead. Sean told me not to do it but I didn't listen, and that's usually a mistake. Because of the rearranging, my taper was more like two weeks. At the time I had no idea that the little twinge I'd had in my knee at the end of the previous week's 12-miler was going to be such an issue, but I had a really hard time with it on the 20-miler.
I also think I reduced my mileage a bit too much in the last two weeks. I passed the moment of feeling energized and rested about 4 days before the marathon, and I started feeling sluggish and atrophied.
Major diet change
About 3 weeks before the marathon, I learned from a blood test that I am sensitive to wheat, yeast, gluten, soy, and dairy. Since food sensitivities affect your immune response, I wanted to change my diet to (hopefully) keep my MS in check. But it was hard to figure out what to eat, and for a couple of weeks I wasn't eating enough to maintain my weight. I lost about five pounds, which I didn't need or want to lose, and I was always hungry and tired. Not really the right thing for the taper. Fortunately in the last week before the marathon, I concentrated on carbo loading and I think I got enough calories, or almost enough. But it wasn't too smart to switch things up in the 11th hour.
What I learned
I learned so much, and I know I'll be processing all this for a long time. I remember when I had Maple at home, without drugs, I was amazed at what my body could do. In a way it wasn't amazing at all, because having babies is something women are born to do. Training for and running a marathon has me amazed all over again at what my body can do. Having MS, I've learned to trust my body only as far as I can throw it. But now I know I can throw it at least 26.2 miles.
I learned that hard work pays off. I worked hard almost every day and ran 450 miles to prepare for the marathon. I put the time in, I put the effort in, and I finished the marathon. Bam.
The most important thing I learned about myself during this journey of training for and running my first marathon is that it's okay to hope. Even with an incurable degenerative brain disease, it's okay to hope. It's good to hope! I've wanted to run a marathon for years, but I never got the courage to start the journey because that required hope. When you have MS you learn not to count on anything because shit changes all the time. But giving into that is no way to live. Now that I've experienced the power of hope, I can't wait to go out and hope some more.