11 Runners On What It Felt Like to Finish Their First Marathon

We all have our own personal fitness goals that we’re striving towards. Maybe it’s holding a plank for longer than a minute or completing a challenging set of burpees without taking a break in the middle. Or maybe the challenge you’ve set for yourself involves a whole lot of training, all leading up to one big day of giving it your all.

Of course, we’re talking about running a marathon, one of the most intense fitness challenges you could possibly put yourself through. Marathon runners complete a daunting 26 miles in just a few hours, and train long and hard throughout the year in order to be able to make it to the big finish line.

If you can’t imagine what it must feel like to finally make it across that line after months of training and hours of running, we’ve asked a few marathon runners to help fill us in. Read on for some seriously inspiring quotes about what it feels like to finish a marathon for the first time!

‘I’ll never do that again’

“I have finished three marathons, and I distinctly remember crossing the finish line after my first marathon and saying to myself, ‘That’s the last time I’ll ever do that!’ Not a lot of people realize the months, dedication and commitment it takes to finish one. Running is so contagious that I managed to train and complete two more.” – Gene Caballero, co-founder of YourGreenPal

‘Unpredictable and life-changing’

“I always tell people that your first marathon is equal parts unpredictable, life-changing, empowering and painful. It doesn’t matter how many race day recaps or first marathon stories you read, nothing will prepare you for what it is like to run 26.2 miles. But after crossing the finish line, it’s impossible not to feel unstoppable.” – Kelly Roberts, running blogger at RunSelfieRepeat.com

‘I didn’t have a reason to stop’

“I kept moving only because I couldn’t come up with a strong enough reason to stop and give up. I felt decent the whole way but I had missed my ‘A’ time goal so I was under-motivated—but not so much that I was willing to quit. With five miles to go, I saw a long-time online friend and ran with him the rest of the way and finished strong.” – Jesse Luna

‘Deeply spiritual’

“My first marathon was an exhilarating and deeply spiritual experience. Running is a kind of meditation for me.” – Richard Singer, author

‘Shows what you’re made of’

“It’s hard to comprehend the challenge of a marathon, but you start to have an understanding around mile 20. Your muscles shut down, you become numb, and the last thing you want to do is take one more step. But then you remember all the hours you trained, and all the people who are out there cheering for you, so you push through the pain and somehow make it to the finish. That’s when you start to have an awareness not just of what the word marathon means, but what you yourself are capable of.” – Walter Rhein, author of Beyond Birkie Fever and Reckless Traveler

‘You can only complete, not compete’

“Regardless of your physical fitness and mental preparedness, the proper first marathon orientation is to complete, rather than to compete. Savor the experience, and take nothing for granted. Not all victories come with medals.” – David Michael Whit, professor

‘All of the feelings’

“I remember feeling a lot of things. When I hit my wall at mile 19, I remember feeling dejected, angry and hating everything. After forcing myself to move at mile 21, I honestly think I lost consciousness, as it became apparently my body was running outside myself. Crossing the finish line was exhilarating. I wasn’t fast by any means, but I saw my parents and I knew that I was crossing into something big. When I finished, I felt a ton of emotions and couldn’t stop crying. I was excited and achy, but sad it was over. It was like the most intense few hours of my life, where I was just me in my head, and I came back to the world of other people.” Sharon Rosenblatt

‘I felt like a marathoner’

“I rounded the corner of Columbus Circle in the last half-mile of the 1990 NYC Marathon. I was in familiar territory, having trained in Central Park as a local resident. But this was different. Spectators lined both sides of West Drive and the grandstands were packed. The roar of the crowd was deafening and chills ran up my spine. With the finish line in sight, I pulled all of my strength together and remembered those hard training miles and sacrifices I made during the past several months. I felt euphoric. Then, with one last-ditch effort and with the clock saying four hours, I raised my arms in victory. I had given it my all and had achieved success. I was a marathoner.” – Mindy Solkin, owner and head coach of The Running Center

‘I couldn’t believe it’

“While crossing the finish line, I just kept on saying, ‘I can’t believe I just did that.. I can’t believe I just did that…’ It was probably the best day of my life, and I ran the entire thing with the biggest smile on my face. That night I decided it was something I wanted to do again!” Brianne Doherty

‘It was surreal’

“Finishing a race, especially the NYC Marathon, was the best. With over six months of training, dedication, preparation and not having a social life, crossing that finish line was just so surreal. The excitement and feeling of physical and mental accomplishment was overwhelming and addicting! I signed up for more races literally the next day.” – Carolyn Lai Moore

‘Finished with a smile’

“After hundreds of training miles, many early nights to bed before long Sunday runs, and tons of water and gels, I crossed the finish line of my first marathon with a huge smile on my face! Running through the streets of NYC was absolutely incredible, and the energy of the spectators pushed me through the tough miles. And as a bonus, I finished under my goal time!” – Danielle Cooperhouse


Danielle Page is the founder of ThisisQuarterlife.com, a blog that provides necessary information for navigating the awkward phase of adulthood known as “quarterlife.” Danielle’s work has been featured on Cosmo, Woman’s Day, Your Tango, Bustle, The New York Times, Thought Catalog, Elite Daily and the Huffington Post.