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5 Things I learned from running my first and last marathon

5 Things I Learned from Running My First (and Last) Marathon

I’m not a runner, but that didn’t stop me from running a marathon. There’s a good reason why I decided to do one, and why completing it has led to some lasting benefits.

My Sports History… Not a Runner

I am not a runner… never have been and even after doing a marathon, I still don’t consider myself one.

Throughout my youth I was primarily a swimmer and water polo player. I think I chose that path because I don’t like being hot… my face gets red and I get allergies from grass. The thought of playing soccer as a kid reminds me of scratchy legs, sweat, and the desire to jump in a pool.

With a history like that, running a marathon never really crossed my mind. Why would I sign up for running 26+ miles non-stop, you might ask? It mainly comes down to long-term mental and physical health, combined with an understanding that most of my motivation comes from seemingly impossible deadlines with high stakes.

In this case, the deadline was a little less than five months away, and if I wasn’t prepared I would either (a) fail to complete the marathon, or (b) injure myself… or some horrible combination of both. In that sense, it was perfect!

#1: Training for a Marathon is Good for the Mind

I wanted to get back into regular exercise for the mental health benefits. I have a highly social job (lots of meetings and management that requires lots of communication) and a full house, and as an introvert it can be a little draining.

I did some searches and found “running” as a good option. It takes a lot of time to improve your numbers and you can do it alone with some headphones. For the “severe consequence deadline,” I figured a marathon would provide the needed motivation.

Coincidentally, the Austin Marathon was just five months away, so I made a knee jerk decision and signed up.

Why not a half-marathon? I hate running, but I love bucketlist items. No way was I going to compete again and “half-marathon” didn’t have the same weight for me. Also, I remembered my dad and grandmother completing marathons so I figured I had some genetic disposition for the skill.

Best case scenario I would get “addicted” to the runner’s high and would keep running as a long term habit. Worst case scenario I would start training consistently again and get to add “I ran a marathon” to the bucket list.

#2: You Don’t Need to Be Super Fit Right Now, But a History of Fitness Helps a Lot

I have a fairly extensive history in the fitness industry. At one point I owned a gym and fitness magazine. I even founded a fitness certification organization, and wrote manuals for multiple companies. Even so, I don’t consider myself a “fitness person” because I’ve always viewed it as a functional requirement versus a passion.

My fitness level has varied over the last three decades… from 6-hour a day training regimens for collegiate sports to zero exercise and way too much food and drink. I graduated high school at 150lbs and 6ft tall, was 185lb at 6ft 2in (I grew more in my 20s) with 10% bodyfat when I owned a gym, 225lb when I owned a chip and dip company (way too much product testing), and am currently 195lbs with about 12% bodyfat.

For the last year I have been heavily focused on my career. I took a job as the president of one of the most established elearning companies in the world, DigitalMarketer, and shuttered my marketing agency that I had been growing for six years.

Between that and having an additional dependent in the house (my 13 year old nephew), there hasn’t been a ton of time for training.

That said, I have stayed active. Between playing with the kids, home projects, and taking care of animals I stay relatively active all the time whether I “workout” or not.

#3: I Didn’t Train a Ton, But I Had a Plan & Survived Thanks to It

Before you think about using my “amazing” training plan, understand that I didn’t really train enough and even then my plan wasn’t that great.

I signed up about 4 1/2 months prior to the event, and my training was very inconsistent prior to that period.

I originally set up a spreadsheet based on a book my wife got me to prepare. It involved a progressive, but realistic plan to increase mileage leading up to three weeks prior to the marathon, then it tapered down a bit.

I followed it for about two weeks, then it went off the rails. Running a lot takes WAY more time than I imagined. The regular runs lasted 30 minutes to an hour and the long runs took 2 to 4 hours at a time.

In the end it amounted to this:

  • Average Miles Per Week: 20
  • Workouts Per Week: 3-4
  • Workout Duration: 30-60 min

That was pretty much it. I had a few “long runs” in there with the longest being 12 miles, and I tried run outside during those. The rest of the time I was on a treadmill in my garage.

#4: The Diet Was VERY Important

I didn’t have a super-strict diet, but I did do some things that helped quite a bit.

Number one, I quit drinking alcohol two months prior to the event… honestly that was the biggest change I made and probably accounted for most of the physical results.

I also started drinking a lot more water, cut out fat as much as I could, and started upping my protein while decreasing carb intake.

Here’s a typical day for my diet:

  • Breakfast: Egg Omlette w/Avocado
  • Lunch: Grilled Chicken, Brown Rice
  • Dinner: Grilled Chicken/Pork/Beef, Vegetables (usually Broccoli)

I was far from perfect. I would have a meal out once or twice a week and I wasn’t super strict about what I ate for dinner. Even so, the weight loss was noticeable and intentional… I figured that carrying less weight would help.

#5: Preparation Will Save the Day

The week of the marathon I only ran about 10 miles total (2 workouts). I was extra careful with my diet and I drank a gallon of water a day for the three days prior to race day.

The night before I had a pasta dinner, soaked in a spa for about 30 minutes and went to bed early.

The morning of the event I woke up at 4:30am, drank some coffee and ate two pieces of toast. I had collected the items I’d need the night before so I just had to get dressed and jump in the car.

The Marathon

All-in-all, the experience wasn’t unpleasant at all. Yes, it got tough when I hit “the wall” around mile 23, but the rest was just a practice of pacing and quiet contemplation. I wasn’t running with anyone. It was just me and the road (and 50,000 people).

I came up with my mantra a few days prior to the event… it was “Eat the road (and don’t let the road eat you).” I also had a soundtrack

I was somewhat nervous but not overly so. Sure, I was going to run twice as far as my farthest run, but I had a plan: don’t run faster than 10:30 a mile, stay hydrated, and “fuel up” (mainly using Goo) consistently.

The Results

I completed the marathon in 4:55. My original goal was sub-4 hours but that was crazy unrealistic. I think I could have done it in 4:30 (maybe) if I had done some longer runs but who knows.

Physically I lost 14lbs and probably 5-7% bodyfat. My blood pressure improved as well :)


It’s been a few months since I ran the marathon, and I can now say that the whole process was worth it. It was a long, boring, difficult, and painful period of time but I got a lot out of it. Here are some of the benefits I’m still enjoying:

  • I can run much farther, easier now (even though I’m not running nearly as much as I was).
  • I have a better gauge on my physical fatigue and know when I need to rest.
  • I still eat better than I did prior to the start of the process.
  • I still don’t drink alcohol.
  • I can say “I ran a marathon” now, but I don’t need to because any time the subject comes up someone else mentions that I ran a marathon.

Should you run a marathon? If you’ve ever thought about running a marathon at all, then I’d say yes. You will never regret it and there’s a chance that it’s not as difficult as you might think. Get started and get serious… you’ll figure it out.'


Mark de Grasse is the President of DigitalMarketer, an eLearning company focused on skill development for professional marketers, marketing agencies, and small business owners. Mark de Grasse is a content strategist focused on integrated, genuine approaches to marketing and management. Mark has been working in content development since the mid-2000’s, creating tens of thousands of articles, graphics, videos, and podcasts over the years.

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