Reflections of a First-Time Marathoner — a Guest Post

by Kim Kalny, Austin, Texas

Hi! My name is Kim and I just completed my FIRST EVER marathon! First of all, I never, ever, EVER expected to call myself a marathoner. Truly. I had friends in college/grad school, and later on, co-workers who completed races and encouraging me to run. My response was always “NOPE. YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING! ME?! NO WAY!” Then, something happened.

In 2016, I made a commitment to health. I started working with a personal trainer. I was lifting weights. HEAVY weights. On the weight floor. With all the “macho bros”. And while weightlifting is good cardio, I used to warm up and cool down on the treadmill.

And steadily, my cool down runs became longer. And longer. And then one day, I found myself going to the gym, just to run! Between the training and the running, I discovered a whole new version of myself, someone that I took pride in, who was brave enough to try new things. And this “new me” registered for my first race (Austin Half Marathon).

I began thinking, “I should run outside.” So, I went and ran 7-miles at Lady Bird Lake. My longest run ever! As a bonus, running outside helped me overcome another fear—we had moved to Austin in late 2014, and I had yet to explore the city. I was too afraid. But this run was exciting! I was out and about, being bold and exploring new territory. It was INVIGORATING! The date was September 10, 2016. And the rest is history.

My journey to 26.2 has taken almost 3 years—SIX half marathons, ONE 10-miler, ONE 10K and ONE 5K and COUNTLESS hours of training and recovery. Too many “rain-checked” plans with friends and co-workers. Several “I’ll have a soda water with a lemon” happy hours. And many early mornings, some paid-off with beautiful sunrises and a serenity that can only be experienced during those pre-dawn hours. Even after all of that, I still wasn’t sure about accomplishing this milestone. But, as you all know, SPOILER in the title, I did it! It wasn’t beautiful and it wasn’t exactly the finish I wanted, but here are some reflections, while they’re still fresh:I no longer found half marathons “challenging”. This is a ridiculous statement, I know. But it’s the truth about the feeling that planted the “Marathon?” seed in my brain. I thought I was doing something ridiculous in early 2018, completing two halfs only a month apart (3M Half Marathon and Austin Half Marathon). When I finished that second half feeling, “It’sover already?! I still have gas left in the tank!!” I felt the need for something more and I believe this was the moment when I knew I wanted to take on 26.2.

Training for 26.2 requires “sacrifice” and dedication, but the plan should be flexible. As I said before, there were a lot of early mornings, and thus, a lot of late night weekend plans that I sacrificed. I rearranged my work schedule on “run days” to allow me either a later start time or an early out in order to get the run in. I’m lucky to work a job that can allow for this, not always, but for the most part I was able to stick with the mid-week training runs. And when the training runs reached peak mileage, I was spending a lot of time trying to rest my legs, so my husband also sacrificed for this goal of mine, picking up the slack. I encountered a full training cycle, complete with illness, the flu, injuries, and being too busy which is another reason why flexibility in the plan is key.

I had the expertise of a certified running coach. This was a whole new level of running for me—I was going for the marathon, but had decided to do it as part of a 5-race series, the Austin Distance Challenge. As a “self taught” runner, my objective had always been to RUN! For as LONG and as HARD as you can. Something told me this would not do, and input from a certified running coach with real race experience would be necessary to get me to the finish, safely. This was quite a transition. The concept of “setting goals and sticking to them” was foreign. And don’t even get me started on whatever wizardry “running slower to make you faster” is! I had a very difficult time grasping these concepts, but I had a terrific coach who always had the perfect bit of level-headed wisdom with which to respond to my inexperienced shenanigans and frustrations. Although they were “slow”, her training plans were smart. Even though our communication was only through email and messaging, she was consistent in her feedback, encouragement, changing the plan as needed and without realizing it, she made me the runner I needed to be in order to achieve my goal and MORE! On top of a marathon finish, her training plan also earned me a Half PR (2:00:38) AND a place in the TOP 20 for my age group in the Austin Distance Challenge! 

Tell anyone and everyone you’re running and form a support team! I mean it! I told everyone. I had my family supporting me, friends near and far cheering me on, and I had coworkers rooting for me, asking me about how the training was going and keeping me honest. I even had strangers reaching out—I shared the whole journey on my Instagram! The running community is truly one of camaraderie. PRO TIP: if the news of the world has you feeling like the future is bleak and hopeless, the running community will remind you that goodness and kindness still exist.

Have a PIT CREW on race day. I’ve always heard about the importance of a “Pit Crew”, the people who are there along the course—friends, family, even complete strangers—but I never fully understood the “Pit Crew” concept until this race. My Dad flew out from CA to see me run this race. This made me nervous—“what if I don’t finish?” But this also made me accountable—“I will finish.” And I’m so grateful that he was there with me, appearing at random spots along the first half of the course was something to look forward to. Had I known just HOW BADLY the second half of this race would fall apart, I would have had him meet me at every mile marker. While I would have predicted wanting MY ENTIRE family at the finish, it was probably perfect that it was just Dad. Having spent the final 11 miles on an emotional rollercoaster, in pain at a level I’d never experienced before, and feeling totally defeated having missed my goal finish time by a long shot, I crossed that finish line, bawling. Dad simply reached over the barricade, put his arm around me, patted me on the back and said “Congratulations, sweetie.” Followed by “It’s OK.  It’s over.” And that was just what I needed to hear. I was able to refocus, dry up the tears, crack a smile for a medal picture, and shuffle walk to the car. Had the entire family been there, I would probably still be crying my eyes out. As for my husband, he was there. But having seen the minutes roll far past my goal finish, he knew “something was up”, and went to get the car as close to finish as he could to make our exit as smooth and quick as possible. Pit Crew. Have one.

So, with my first marathon in the bag, here’s a final thought—Will I or won’t I attempt another marathon?

I had an amazing first half! I was right on track with my pace! I saw my Dad three times and waved and smiled! And then the pain set in. I was running up a steady incline, in, what felt like, a wind tunnel. And in order to keep my pace, I expended too much energy. By mile 15, my legs slowly became one cramped up, spasmed mess, one muscle at a time. I stopped and stretched. I hydrated at every hydration stop. I walked. A LOT. But I could not get my muscles to stop cramping. The final 11 miles were an emotional rollercoaster—the pain, the tears, the sense of defeat after missing my goal finish time by a long shot—never have I wanted something so badly yet wanted to quit all at the same time. I just kept turning my legs over, and somehow, through the agony, I finished. And what I can conclude is despite all of the training, the preparation, and all of aforementioned advice, nothing could have truly prepared me for this first experience, other than, simply… doing it.

Knowing what I know now, how deep you have to dig to come out the other side, and knowing that I can do it despite the overwhelming pain (The pain!!), 26.2 may be a challenge I attempt again. I think the marathon fire is still burning in me along with that unmet goal, that 4:30 finish is something worth chasing after, right? So, am I done? Do I have another in me? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Kim Kalny is a proud mama of two “fur babies,” dogs Toby and Rain, and is also my Sister-in-law. I couldn’t be more proud of her achievement. You can learn more about Kim’s journey on Instagram @kemikoford.

If you want to find out more about how to reach your running goals, check out my YouTube Channel

Heather Jergensen

Leave a Comment