I’m coming up on my first Boston Marathon in just a few weeks, and I'm looking forward to representing Harlem Run along with Alison, Amir, and Joe. This occasion seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on some of my other memorable running “firsts.”
Okay, so maybe not the first time I moved faster than walking pace, but at least the first run that set me on the path to being “a runner.” Prior to my first real run, I had been what you could call “aggressively sedentary.” Like so many lifestyle changes, this one began shortly after New Year’s.
Instead of a resolution, it was a challenge – my girlfriend, Margi, threw down the gauntlet to run a half marathon by the fall. I may have been lazy, but I was also competitive, and if she could do it, so could I. We set out for our first training run straight away – a little 2.5mi path outside the place we were staying in Miami. We took off, and I found myself leading.
I was convinced Margi was waiting in the wings a step behind, ready to blow by me as soon as I lost steam. I killed myself trying to make sure that didn’t happen, not wanting to look back to show any weakness. About a quarter mile from finishing the loop, I couldn’t hold up any longer. Finally checking over my shoulder, it turned out I had quite the lead, and she wasn’t on my heels at all… I may have had zero endurance at that time, but it seemed I was decently quick.
First Trail Run
I had been running fairly regularly at this point, but had logged all my miles on pavement or (shudder) the treadmill. On a trip to San Diego, I came across a series of trails close to my hotel. Criss-crossing the arid terrain was a great change of pace, and having just read Born to Run, I felt like one of the Tarahumara. It was the first time I felt so lost in myself during a run that it seemed I could go on forever.
First 20mi Training Run
I’m a slave to the training plan, so when my 20 miler happened to fall on a visit to my grandmother’s in Montreal, I had no choice but to say, “sorry, grandma, see you in a few hours.” Of course, for my first run of this length, I did everything wrong – it was a hot and humid day, I was on an unfamiliar route, and didn’t bring water, anticipating fountains along the path.
There was no water, and I got lost enough to tack on a couple miles to the run. Afterwards was agony. I put on a brave face for just long enough to find a quiet part of my grandmother’s house where I could lie on the ground and writhe around in pain, wondering what on earth I was doing to myself and why.
If the 20mi training runs were the worst part of getting ready for my first marathon, curating my running playlist might have been one of the most fun. I spent plenty of time lining up track times vs. projected mile splits, and picking the perfect song for when I anticipated I would need a boost. Then, in the first 200m of the Chicago marathon, my headphones break. Great. The longest run of my life is about to be my first without music.
That bit of bad luck turned out to be a blessing in disguise – the crowd support along the course was phenomenal. Without the music, I was so much more tuned into my surroundings. I didn’t miss it once over the 26mi, and have rarely run with headphones since.
First Harlem Run
Is a Harlem Run shout-out shameless pandering? Maybe. But I clearly remember the first time I pulled up to Harlem Shake to see a crowd of what looked like 100+ getting ready for a Monday night run. I immediately thought, ‘these guys are legit.’ Then they announce the pace groups, starting at 7min/mi, and thought, ‘damn, these guys are really legit.’ Better still, it turned out they were friendly, too – starting with the tradition of pre-run introductions, you feel right at home on day 1. By day 2, they treat you like family. And while I’m making shameless plugs, some self-promotion – Harlem Run Stairs 1.0 is a special running memory for me, as it was my first race win.
One great thing about running is that there’s always another challenge out there, which means plenty more firsts still to come.