Guest: My first marathon (at age 61)

Today I give my blog over to my first guest blogger, Kurt Fliegel (and, in the interest of full disclosure, my boyfriend). I thought it would be nice to give you his perspective on his first marathon.

Everything everybody says about running a marathon is absolutely true. The highs, the lows, the spectrum of emotions and the breadth and depth of experiences, all the stories by all kinds of runners—it’s the same for everybody, and completely different too. But it’s all true.

Weeks will go by before I can gather in all the richness of the last few months, from the first time I asked Mary “do you think I could really do this?;” to the summer sunrise runs on the lakefront with my crew, and often with her; to those very last miles on the course—more on those at the end of this post.

The Chicago Marathon was my 201st race, but my first full marathon. I’m a hardened runner with more than 20 years’ experience. Until recently I was very much a loner in my training, and it would have been easy for me to put together my own program. But I’m so glad I did not try this by myself. Without a full team of coach, crew, massage therapist, yoga instructor, and a rack full of vegan cookbooks, I would not have stepped up to the start line.

Most runners don’t have a personal relationship with their coach like I do (see Mary’s post from last week). That might have led to problems, and people who had tried it, warned us about it. In the end what won through was respect: for each other, for the sport, for the goal. I just gave myself up to her plan and concentrated on doing the work.

Because when it counted, out on the course, I only wanted to see her face, part-coach, part-girlfriend, at all the places she said she’d be. Big sign so I could find her easily, yellow race cap, glowing smile. All I cared about for 26 miles was seeing her and locking eyes to say yes, I’m okay—and occasionally shedding wet arm warmers and my hat. We all like to say that running is about honoring the gift. This first marathon was, first and foremost, an affirmation that I understand the gift differently now, that the best experience is in sharing it with someone else who helps carry you along the way.


I learned a few other things along the way too, including some “notes to self” for next time.

  • First, I am impervious to BioFreeze. Just doesn’t work on me.
  • If I do this again, I’m going to be smarter about my run-up to the marathon training itself. Can’t be my usual hit-or-miss mess of races squeezing in long runs on open dates.
  • Also need to better keep the promise to do yoga and core work and especially strength conditioning as far into training as I can. Aerobically, I was fine on Sunday. It was the infrastructure that fell apart the last few miles.
  • If there’s a concession to age, it’s that older runners like me need to build a couple of extra cut-down recovery weeks into the plan—maybe a two-week cycle near the end
  • No racing past mid-summer for a fall marathon. Pretty sure I left some of my body on the concrete of Lake Shore Drive during the Chicago Half, and there was really no need to reduce the taper edge with a 5k the week before.

In every marathon for every runner, there’s a real rough patch, usually after mile 20, when things start to go off the tracks. It’s not the famed wall, it’s something else. For me it was around mile 22 when my IT bands and hips started to lock up and I literally could not run anymore and my head was following suit. Every runner goes through something similar, and in the last few miles you see it all around you. As contagious as the pain is, so is the triumph as you watch people pull through—not just through the physical issues, but through all the things in their lives that led them to try this.

They make their way into that zone hoping it all will end soon. But when they come out the other side, they leave whatever it was on the road behind them and continue on as completely different people. By the time I hit 800 meters to go there was nothing that was going to stop me, and when I turned the last corner to the finish, that’s when I wanted the race to never end. And it never will. I’ll always have this, and now I want more. That’s what the marathon does to you.

Hey coach, New York City 2019? You in?


(Follow Kurt’s running on Instagram @flglchicago)


4 thoughts on “Guest: My first marathon (at age 61)

  • October 18, 2018 at 8:50 am

    I think the coaching worked because you two were friends for a long time before you became something more. That trust and respect made the coaching work. You go! I’m rooting for you guys all the way.

  • October 18, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Loved it. Congratulations Kurt on your first and Thanks Mary for sharing.

  • October 20, 2018 at 6:37 am

    The human psyche does wondrous things once you let it grab hold of your spirit. You Kurt, are like many, who take up the gauntlet, refuse to put it down and use it to smash any doubts, misgivings or fears, I salute you sir! QUITE THE ACCOMPLISHMENT<<<< Mark Z

  • Pingback: Three reasons this year’s Chicago Marathon is extra special – theCauseCoach

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