Book 41 of 52: First Marathons: Personal Encounters with the 26.2-Mile Monster

Alright, I’m going to say it, so now I’m beholden to it: I’m going to run a marathon.

The funny thing is that I hadn’t made this plan when I picked up First Marathonsby Gail Waesche Kislevitz. I read it on the recommendation of Liz Claman, anchor of Fox Business. But I’ll get to how I ended up running through Palisades Park with a TV anchor in a minute.

I was never a runner. My high school boyfriend was captain of the cross country team, and I thought he was insane. Running 10 miles? For fun?! That’s crazy! I played sports, sure, but I wasn’t into running for running’s sake. Us soccer players laughed at the field hockey players as they did laps around and around the sports complex. We ran enough as it was, thank you very much.

I started running because I hated it. The entire set up was for comic effect: I pitched an article to a magazine where I said I hated running but would train with a running coach and see how it went. “For any serious runner, a 5K is nothing – 3.1 miles of a hop, skip, jump and a finish line. But for me, who has loathed running since she could lace up, the idea that I enjoy training, look forward to it even – well, it’s as if I woke up one morning and decided to become an accountant,” I wrote in the query letter.

Apparently, someone thought it was a good idea because I got the assignment and set off on a what I consider a difficult 5k training program. Like I predicted, I hated it at first. I wasn’t even in love with it by the end of training, but placing second in my age group in that 5k sure was something. I cried at the end of the race, and I cried when I realized I had won something. And I’m not even a big crier.

I fell in and out of love with running after that. Without a written our regimine, I had a tough time sticking with it. I was also in the middle of that horrible relationship I’ve mentioned on the blog before, and just not living a healthy lifestyle. It’s not easy to get up and go running on Sunday morning when you’ve been up late boozing the night before.

I picked running back up about a year ago, partly to get back in shape, partly as a reaction to that breakup. I used running as an escape, as a way to burn through my anger and frustration and hurt. I had to quit again during the summer because I was writing my book, and to write the book and try to run was just too much. It was heartbreaking. I didn’t want to give up, but I had to pick one or the other, and the book won (which worked out anyway).

I’m not sure why this last go round with running clicked, but I’ve been on point since the beginning of January, and I’m running a 10 mile race on Sunday. I’d been toying with the idea of a marathon but thought it seemed too crazy. 26.2 miles? Who’s nutty enough to do that.

Liz Claman is. I won’t go into the specifics because the article’s not out yet, but in the half hour I had to interview her on the phone, the thing we talked most about was running. She had run a marathon, and she said I sounded like I should too. When the deadline of that article got pushed back by two months, I took a chance and asked if I could go running with her.

So there I was in February, running Palisades Park with Claman, who is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She kept raving about First Marathons, and told me some of the stories of the runners. She even showed me her copy when we got back to her house, and I ordered it online when I got home. I’ve been reading it on and off since then (the essays are short, which is why I could do that).

This book, which recounts people’s experiences with their first marathons, didn’t exactly convince me. I convinced myself. The race I’m running Sunday is the 10 mile portion of the Ocean Drive Marathon. The 10 milers start with the marathoners, and I know what’s going to happen when I reaach 10 miles. Well, first, I’ll be tired since I’ve never run 10 miles before (seven is the longest I’ve gone). But I’ll see those marathoners going on for another 16.2 miles and I know I’ll wish I could be with them. So that made up my mind. My goal now is the Philadelphia Marathon on November 23. That gives me plenty of time to get ready, and stay in shape, because I have to tell you, nothing has gotten me into shape like running. When I changed out of my PJs this morning, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wondered who had stolen my midsection and replaced it with six pack abs. And I don’t even do that much ab work. It might not be the easiest way to get in shape, but it’s a hell of a lot more effective than any sort of “easy 6 week plan” you’ll find in a woman’s magazine, and a lot less complicated with much better results. And I could write for pages about the mental benefits. I solve writing problems when I’m out on the road, and sometimes I’m not even really thinking about it when the answer comes into my head.

Anyway, the stories in this book are about as different as every runner. I was surprised about how many people seem to pick up marathoning after the age of 30 and 40, but those were some of the best stories in the book (I especially liked those about people who quit smoking through running). Some people said flat out that they hated it and would never do it again. Others said how it completely changed their lives. I wouldn’t go so far as to say running saved my life, but it’s made it a thousand times better.

Here’s a few quotes:

“After running a few marathons I can explain to people why I run. It calms me. I can’t imagine not having it in my life. It helps me to sort through things. It’s like stepping outside myself and getting a better perspective of who I am.” Kim Ahrens

“Running the marathon reconfirmed that I can accomplish anything in life if it is within my grasp. I have the courage and the power and the drive to make it happen.” Bill Begg

“Running can be a person’s wake-up call to recharge the batteries that have been left dormant.” Wayne Gibbons

“I am not the same person I was when I started to run. I now know I have the stamina and the perseverance to do whatever I have to do in life. It gave me the relief I needed to know that my life would turn out fine.” Shan Worthington

I’m not the same person I was when I started to run, either. And that’s a very good thing.

For another excellent blog about running and writing, check out Abra Goes.

On another note entirely, the idea to go running with Claman came as a reaction to reading James B. Stewart’s Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction, which was book 27 of 52 in this series. I could have written the article from that half hour phone call, but I wanted something more for the piece, which is why I spent my Sunday driving to and from Central Jersey. It’s one of the many ways that I think this blog, like running, has changed how I work and how I live — for the better, of course!

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.


  1. Matt Sinclair on March 28, 2008 at 11:34 am

    As a reluctant runner myself, I appreciate this suggestion. I’ll have to check it out. Maybe it’ll help me find time to run on weekdays.

  2. Unknown on March 28, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    First marathon and first book published, what an exciting year for you!

    Cheering the NY Marathoners this past November was one of my biggest pushes to get back into running. It sucked me right in as something so pure and human, no props, no whistles – the determination in the air that day is impossible to overstate.

    I’m in awe at the 10 mile race. Good luck with it & I’ll be cheering for you! The phrase ‘I’m going to run a marathon’ fills me with dread. Does it excite you?

  3. Unknown on March 28, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    And thanks for mentioning my blog! I ordered First Marathons this morning.

  4. Jen A. Miller on March 28, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Thanks guys! And, yes, Abra, it does fill me with dread, but it’s something to tackle too! Reading the book helped me realize that not every running is a no-meat skinny guy or gal, or that your time matters so much as finishing. Plus I’ve got a loooooooooong time to get ready which helps!

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