Marathon Lessons

By Diane Kukich

When I signed up to run the Philadelphia Marathon in 2019, my friend Kathy Nguyen, co-founder of We Run with You, gave me a stretchy bracelet that said, “It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.” I wrote about my intention to run that marathon in an earlier post for WRWY, where I talked about “finding my why” for doing it. Well, I guess my why wasn’t as strong as I thought it was three years ago because that marathon never happened for me.

But I did keep the bracelet.

Fast forward to 2022, with my 70th birthday coming up in February. I looked at the state age group records for Delaware, and a bigger “why” was in my sights. The record stood at 05:46:08, a pace of 13 minutes and 13 seconds per mile. That seemed achievable, even for a first-time marathoner, so I felt myself starting to get pulled back in.

At about the same time, my 32-year-old daughter, Christine, was contemplating running her first marathon. The next thing I knew, we were both registered for the 2022 Philadelphia Marathon, along with her best friend from childhood, also named Christine. The two Christines planned to do some training runs, as well as the race itself, together. While I would be much slower, it was fun to share training plans with them throughout the summer and fall and to know that we would all travel to Philly together in November.

As I write this, it’s now two days post-marathon, and I’m very happy to have it done. I’m thrilled to have broken the record by 48 minutes and to have run a sub-5:00 marathon—my finish time was 4:58:36. I followed the Jeff Galloway method using 30-second run/30-second walk intervals, and it worked. It was also great to share the experience with my daughter and her friend, who met their goal of a sub-4:00 time—they finished in 3:54.

But unlike many other runners, who come home from the event and immediately want to sign up for another, I went into this viewing it as a “one and done,” and that’s how I still feel. I don’t ever want to take on 26.2 again.

So, what did I learn from an experience that gave me what I wanted but left me feeling “never again”?

First, the message on the bracelet Kathy gave me was right—it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Second, for me, the training ran completely counter to my normal approach to fitness. I have exercised every day since my daughter was three days old 33 years ago. But I enjoy shorter workouts like three-mile runs, 15-mile bike rides, one-mile swims, and four-mile hikes with my dog. I hated every long run that I did in my marathon training, and I don’t ever want to run that far again. I also didn’t like the restrictiveness of a training plan, as I’m used to just doing whatever workout feels right to me every day based on the weather and whatever else is going on in my life.

At the same time, I learned that the base of fitness I had built up over those 33 years was strong enough to get me through the distance on race day, even though I drastically reduced my running mileage when we got a Labrador puppy halfway through my training plan. I walked many miles a day with her as she got a little older, and we took hikes on rocky, hilly terrain that strengthened my leg, ankle, and foot muscles. It had to be enough, and it was.

Third, I realized what a lonely experience the marathon is if you’re not running it with someone else, so having family members and friends come out to cheer you on is a priceless treat for a runner. My friend Jim surprised me by suddenly appearing at mile 12, while my son Alex, his wife Ashleigh, and my granddaughters Emmy and Coco lifted my spirits with water, hugs, and a sign at mile 18. The day was cold and windy, which made their support even more special. I also passed the Christines running the opposite way twice, and seeing their waves and smiles was another great boost.

Finally, I came away from the marathon with tremendous appreciation for the volunteers who gave out water and presented medals, the city workers who cleaned up the streets after the last runners had gone by, the police who monitored the course, and the locals who came out with signs, cheers, and music. The town of Manyunk was especially welcoming at a time in the race when we really needed something extra. To pay it forward, my daughter and I have already signed up as volunteers at the 2023 First State Half Marathon here in Delaware.

So, I offer a huge thanks to everyone who supported me as a first-time marathoner at age 70, including my husband, Doug, who stayed behind to take care of our dogs and prepare some delicious food for the little post-marathon party we held at our house.

And to Kathy, thanks for the bracelet—I wore it for the entire 26.2.

Diane Kukich

Diane Kukich

Diane is a retired science writer. She holds a senior fitness training certificate from the University of Delaware and a Level 2 Running Coach certification from Road Runners Club of America. She started running in her late 40s and has won hundreds of first and second place age-group awards in local, regional, and national races at distances from the mile to the half marathon. She swims, runs, or bikes every day and does yoga twice a week. Diane lives in Newark, Delaware, with her husband, Doug, her Labs Jodie and Lexie, and her orange tabby Pax.

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