Is this your first marathon? Congratulations! by Bear Caudillo

Is this your first marathon? Congratulations! You are on your way to becoming a Marathoner! The transition of going from ordinary runner to Marathoner is a process but a rewarding one. I love marathons now. The highs and lows of running 26.2 miles. Here is my story about how my fear became an addiction.

Homewalk 5k in 2012 was the first race I ever did. The 5k run portion for those who are familiar with it. I was nervous. I had never done a race nor have I ever trained for one.

A 5k at the time sounded like a marathon. On the morning of the race I had eaten 4 bananas and 1 muffin. The preparation was flawed to say the least.

Race starts, off I go. I remember the emotions, the environment, and the thrill of running alongside others. Running on closed streets with spectators cheering you on and volunteers handing out refreshments was a new experience.

I didn’t know what to make of this concept. It was so foreign but I liked it.

After the race, I broke down in tears. I ran 3 miles without stopping. I had never done anything like that in my life. The feeling of beating a physical challenge. My so-called “adventurous” side woke up. I felt alive. A week after the race, I went online to read instructions on how to properly train and eat before a race. I concentrated on increasing my mileage from 6 miles a week to 18 miles a week. I wanted to do a 10k before 2012 ended. As luck would have it, a friend of mine wasn’t able to do a race and gave me her bib for a half marathon in February 2013. A half marathon? No sweat! I put off on doing a 10k and immediately trained for this “half marathon”. I continued to do my 18 miles a week but my diet was not good. The running shoes I trained in were of poor quality and screamed novice runner. The shoes eventually caused me to have Plantar fasciitis. Those of you that are not familiar with plantar, it sticks with you for a few weeks. It feels like a clamp on your foot and the pain is unbearable. Fast forward to February 2013. I arrived in Pasadena with a chip on my shoulder. The morning brought many mixed feelings because I never ran anything more than 5 miles in one day and the plantar fasciitis was still lingering in my foot.  13.1 miles sounded so scary and yet, so intriguing at the same time.

It was the first time ever that my pedometer was going to see some real action.

Race starts, off I go. Around mile 8, it became clear that I wasn’t ready for the mileage. The pain of the plantar fasciitis returned and proved to be too much for my big frame. I walked the rest of the way with the feeling of defeat. After I received my medal, there was a sense of relief. I also had remorse. Remorse when I realized that the time I came in made my friend’s time look bad because it was her bib. She was a 2:00 half marathoner.

I had to get the taste of the half marathon out of my mouth so I registered for a 10k. A month flies by and I stuck with my training regiment. The 10k was a much better experience but it didn’t compare to the accomplishment of finishing my first 5k. I had registered for my many 5k’s and 10k’s in the summer of 2013. I trained hard. My diet improved. I was losing weight and getting faster. I finally got fitted for the right running shoes at Fleet Feet Burbank.

Running has officially taken over my life. I became a Mentor for the Fleet Feet 10k training program to basically serve as the “don’ts”, more so than the “do’s”. After the 10k program ended, they had a half marathon program afterwards. I volunteered to become a Mentor for that one as well. Oh no, right? It was only going to be my second one and in the same year as the debacle of my first one. I swore to myself that the next half marathon was going to be in 2014. Well, as fate would have it. I trained with people who had never done a half marathon before and I held so much back about my first experience. Everything I had mentioned to them about mileage and diet served as a reminder to myself. The morning of the race, I looked at my team and wished them well.

Race starts, off I go. It was amazing. My speed had improved with proper training and different mindset. Here we go. I finished the half marathon with a time of 1:46. Whoa, did that just happened? My PR, what’s that? Ranked in the top 20 of my age group?

The whole thing became a blur. I felt like I won. I had improved over the 3:00 half marathon guy from earlier in the year. There was no more doubt in my mind. Those 5k emotions were so close to being felt again. I kept the achievement to myself because it wasn’t my first half marathon that day, it was my team’s. I got to watch them create PR’s. Some ended their journey that day and walked away content with everything. For me, it was a new beginning.

Fleet Feet Burbank then started a marathon group for the Los Angeles Marathon in 2014. I volunteered again but this time with no prior knowledge or expertise about marathons. I would be new to it just like the trainees. By this time, my mileage was well over 50 a week and pretty much ditched my car in favor of running everywhere within city limits. I had to act fast so I registered for 2 races in the same weekend.

Greenway 2020 10k and the Santa Clarita Marathon. The most I ran in one day at this point was 17 miles. Majority of my runs were generally 8-11 miles. I spared no expense in preparation . I had bought gels, salt pills and loads of sports drink to get ready for this weekend of attrition. First up, the Greenway 2020. The 10k course was a bit of a challenge but I finished it in 45 minutes. My close friends at the race encouraged me to save some of that fire for the marathon.

By this time, I was anxious. I treated the 10k race as a shake out run to help calm my nerves and make me forget that I had 26.2 miles to run on Sunday. The drive up to Santa Clarita was a memorable one.

The angry music. The loud angry music. Nothing was calming me down, not even the soft sounds of Pantera. When I arrived, the other runners were a little too happy. Threw me off a bit but then I saw there were other distances to chose from. Then reality kicked in. I saw all the 5k and half marathon lines packed with people but the marathon line only had 2 people. Yes, 2 people and a stack of bibs. Wow. I was intimidated. It became clear that the marathon distance is something to be feared and respected. Only a few were doing it.

I was close to cutting my distance down from the 26.2 to 13.1 at bib pick up. I felt the old me patting my shoulder like it was the right thing to do. I fought this emotion internally. Struggling and bear-before-1st-marathoncoming over with self doubt. The old me was making sense but there was a group of people I didn’t know depending on me. That’s right, the Fleet Feet marathon group. Do it for them, Bear. I pushed the old me aside and walked up to the marathon bib pick. This is it, no turning back. As I glanced over the bibs numbers of the half marathon runners, they were well in to the 4 digit category.
Marathoners? 3 digits and my bib number was 456. Under a thousand were running the full. What did I get myself into?

The night before the race, I lost sleep. I couldn’t sleep. I kept waking up with sweats every 20 minutes. My stomach hurts. At 3:00 in the morning, I wake up. I am legitimately nervous and scared. It was finals week, a driver’s license test, and meeting your girlfriend’s parents all rolled into one. Every hour that passed felt like the warden clanging his keys against my cell before I was to walk the green mile. An hour before the race, my palms were so clammy that I couldn’t hold the steering wheel. This is it. I can actually hear my brain arguing with my body. They were not getting along and I’m caught in the middle. Please stop fighting, we have to run.

I park my car and I’m ready to scream bloody murder. There are those smiling faces again. The red and green bibs are here for a good time. I see another purple bib. I go to greet my fellow marathoner and they lifted their head up with a stoic look. I disturbed their space. That’s what I need! Space. I forgot what brought me to the dance.

Positive Mental Attitude. Crack jokes and stop going crazy. I remember like it yesterday. Standing next to other runners with purple bibs and just shouting out random 80’s quotes. My lighthearted humor was working. Not only for myself but to others around me. I had to keep in mind, I am going to PR today no matter what.bear-at-1st-marathon-start

Race starts, off I go. All the half marathoners are running fast but the marathoners are holding steady with a 10 minute mile pace. We are in it for the long haul. Keep up with the pace and don’t die. I see a friend of mine on the course and he is the running half. Great! We can run together. We connect and by this time I abandoned the 10 minute pace in favor of running with my friend at a 9 minute pace. We are flying, cracking jokes, and encouraging each other along. Unfortunately, the good times ended. He turned his corner to finish the half marathon at 2:08. I lost a running buddy for this race.

As I pressed on, only a few purple bibs trickled out of the half marathon split. Wow, here we go. All the marathon runners had a game face. We are going to do this and not say a word to each other about it. Mile 16 and I haven’t stopped…yet. I was feeling good. 10 more miles and I’m going home. I keep going and going, and I see the Saugus Speedway. I used to love going there as a kid for the races and swap meet. I love this city and BOOM.

Hello, Wall. Mile 20.

I felt my legs go numb, my body was slowly shutting down and there was no end in sight. Every hydration tent was heaven and the volunteers were angels. My defeatist self was coming back. Flag down a cart and get whisked away back to the start line. It was your first marathon and people will understand, you couldn’t make it. At least you tried. Wandering around is what we are good at, not running.

Enter Mile 23.

I continued on walking. My bottle was full of water. My gel and salt pill supply were tapped because there were runners who needed it more than I did. I hate to watch people suffer. My shuffle running wasn’t pretty but it was effective. I have to be grateful for Saucony Guide 6’s at the time. They put up with all my weight leaning forward and my funky shuffle run. I continue on and these 2 gentlemen pass me by and say “C’mon, we’re almost done. You can be in pain later”. He’s right. Save the pain for later. After his quick pep talk, my shuffle turned in to full leg extensions. I’m going to finish. What a lot of marathoners don’t tell you is that Mile 25 is the longest one. Well, it feels like it.

That bridge on Mile 25 felt like the bridge to freedom. Wait, Mile 26 is close BUT IT’S NOT THE FINISH LINE! Point 2 to go. Ok, point 2 is a lot longer than Mile 25. I see the finish line with tears in my eyes, there’s that 5k feeling again. It’s done, it’s over. I did it.

A marathon. A freaking marathon!bear-at-1st-marathon-finish

I thanked and hugged the 2 gentlemen at the finish line. We have been friends ever since. The following Tuesday was the start of the Fleet Feet marathon program. I walked in as a Mentor with marathon experience. I couldn’t tell the group then but I can tell them now. I didn’t let you down. Thank you for being my inspiration.

I have done other marathons but it is now tradition to do the Santa Clarita Marathon every year. I am grateful to have this race be my first marathon. There is nothing to fear. Train your heart out and don’t change anything at the last minute. Thank you for reading my story and I hope to dance with you for 26.2 miles. Have fun!

The miles don’t change, but you will!

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