Looking Back at My First Marathon

Looking Back at My First Marathon

I recently completed my first marathon. In some ways, it went better than I could have hoped for. In others, it was a disaster, destined to fail from the very start.

You can read my thoughts from before the race here for some history.


I finished the 2023 San Francisco Marathon in 5:18:37.

It was a beautiful morning to go on a run

Things started off rather poorly but miles 5-17 went far better than I could have hope. Right before the mile 18 marker, both hamstrings cramped violently and dropped me to the ground. For the last 8 or so miles of the race, despite making it through almost all the hills with no issues at all, I couldn't run more than half a mile at a time without at least one leg muscle fully locking up in a cramp.

At no point during the race did I feel like my legs lacked power (despite the cramps), or my lungs were lacking capacity, or I lacked in determination. In fact, the race was physically and mentally far easier than expected, and despite my troubles during the run, only two days later I had no residual soreness outside of some joint aches in my knees.


Looking back, I might have over hydrated and might have accidentally done a water cut. The idea of a water cut is to teach your body that water is an infinite resource by consuming copious quantities of it. The first few days, it will hold a significant amount of that water and you'll gain weight. But around day 3, it will decide that it doesn't need to hold any and you will start peeing out weight. I've seen wrestlers shed more than 10% of their body weight in 5 days with this method.

Given my cramping issues, despite rather aggressive consumption of electrolyte water at the provided hydration stations, I worry I might have taught my body to not hold water and I ran out of juice.

Otherwise, I think my nutrition plan went very well: mostly bread-y carbs for the week, not starving myself but not working hard to eat a lot, either. I went into the race with a well-timed movement and didn't really get hungry until mile 22 or 23. I felt very energetic on race day, even through the finish line and the muscle problems.


I messed up rather badly at the start of the race. By the time I realized there were pacers, the race had already started and I found myself at the very back. This caused a few problems:

  • The people running next to me were running more slowly than I was prepared to run.
  • To catch up to the people running the average pace I wanted to run, I had to run faster than I wanted them.
  • When running faster than everyone around you, it's surprisingly difficult to figure out if you're running too fast.

This problem was the worst on the Golden Gate Bridge, where the path narrowed and I was pace locked by the people around me. Running at a slower pace than you trained at is surprisingly taxing, and I believe this played a role in my hamstring problems later in the race.

My official time sheet for the race.

The other thing I did not account for was the introduction of other races to the pack. Both half marathons follow the main marathon course, but those runners could move significantly faster than the marathon runners I was around. Around mile 10 or it became particularly confusing because both half marathons were potentially involved and I was still slowly passing by people to try to find my 4:30 pacer.

I felt like my water strategy was also solid: grab 2 cups of electrolyte water at every water station, and if the station has electrolyte gels, grab one of those, too. I never got dehydrated or even thirsty while running. The water stations were far more chaotic than anticipated, and I realized at the first one that my goal of "never stop running" was completely impossible if I also wanted to stay hydrated.

All of these can be easily attributed to being unfamiliar with how races are actually run, and I don't think they had any significant impact on my performance.

My running strategy felt pretty good, and I don't think I would change it even knowing the result. I knew that after mile 19 or so, the course was a gentle downhill back to the bay and then flat, so I could push a little bit on the steep hill climb (which I still only ran at a 14 minute/mile pace) and as the course entered Golden Gate Park, which was roughly miles 16-18. Sure enough, it was at the end of this known, difficult section that I ran into problems.

My food strategy was a little suspect, but I'll cover part of the reason why in the next section. On the plus side, I did manage to train my body to perform a daily movement right after waking up, so I made it through the race without any need to stop for nature.


My upstairs neighbors threw a raucous party the night of the marathon, the police did not show up, and I did not get a single second of sleep that night. I left for the race with a rather upset stomach, which can happen when I am very tired or stressed, so I didn't have my planned serving of oatmeal before starting to run. I'm not sure it would have stayed down, or if it would have required a bathroom trip mid-race if it did stay down, but I definitely could have used some extra push by the end of the race.

I also found it a bit difficult to gauge my effort levels during the first 3 or 4 miles of the race because I couldn't get a reading on what my heart was doing, since missing sleep causes increased heart rate and blood pressure. As I ran into muscle cramps, I found it rather difficult to judge how close or far away the cramp was, whereas on training runs I've been able to hold back impending cramps for a few miles and over several hills. While it could easily be another factor, sleep is so important to general body function that it's the easy callout as to why things went so wrong.

I will note that the 6 hour nap I took after getting back from the race was some of the best sleep I've ever had.


I've found it difficult to convey how pleased I am with the race, combined with my extreme anger and disappointment to the final result. I made it through a marathon with only my home-brewed preparation strategies built on years of learning about other sports and activities. The first half felt almost trivial to complete, and at no point did I consider stopping running as a real possibility; just as I prepared, stopping was absolutely not an option.

This feeling of accomplishment is more than offset by my feelings of disappointment. My goal has always been to run a marathon, and I did not run the 2023 San Francisco Marathon. I realized around mile 20 that I might not actually finish the race if I didn't start walking while my legs cramped up, but because of all the mental preparation I had put into not stopping under any circumstances, it took until mile 23 before I actually started to walk.

I was also disappointed in the race itself. Not for the course: it was everything I could have hoped for. Challenging hills, amazing views, variable scenery; the whole package. But the mixing of races made effort levels difficult to judge, the narrow portions made it difficult to run the pace I actually wanted to run, and I generally did not enjoy the spectators cheering on the runners. It was fun to watch my fiancee try to keep up with the group through the bridge, but I don't like people cheering for me. Silent support is my kind of support.

Right now, I feel as if my body failed me. The day after the race, only my hamstrings were the slightest bit sore. The day after that, only my joints, and at that, only my knees, felt anything at all. They still feel it now, almost 2 weeks later, but it's never been more than a gentle ache. For all the debilitating, leg locking, make-me-fall-over cramps that I experienced for 2 full hours, I expected much more soreness. It's possible that's from my preparation; all I ran were hills for my training. And now I need to run more hills, because the bucket list item of running a marathon has not been accomplished. For all the pain and disappointment on race day, I'm even more disappointed in myself feeling that I was actually ready, mentally and physically, but I still couldn't do it.