That first marathon is an arduous task, requiring months of conditioning, with great unknowns about how one's body can withstand the 26-plus-mile toll of running on asphalt amid a crowd of 24,000 runners.
But it also can go as smoothly as Sunday morning at the Asics L.A. Marathon for Belarus' Aleksandra Duliba, who at 27 won the women's race in her marathon debut to pocket $75,000, which included the event's $50,000 gender-challenge bonus.
In the men's race, Erick Mose, 26, a Mexican-born runner with Kenyan citizenship, topped a Kenyan sweep of the podium by winning in 2 hours 9 minutes 44 seconds, ahead of his best friend Julius Keter and compatriot Nicholas Chelimo.
"I had 31/2 months of training for this marathon, and by the end I was confident I'd run a good, fast time," Duliba said. "I had a chance to look around at the trees and the houses. Everything was so beautiful."
Duliba completed the 26.2-mile course from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier in 2:26:08, 4:24 faster than her nearest pursuer, Ethiopia's Zemzem Ahmed.
The time was a Belarus national record by 15 seconds, and probably qualifies her for the track and field world championships.
Elite women runners were given a head start of 18:35 over the elite men. Duliba finished 2:09 ahead of Mose to win the gender challenge.
Other than a troubling moment around the 24.5-mile marker, when she grimaced while grabbing a twitching right hamstring, Duliba was the picture of calm, often smiling as she ran.
As she strode to victory, she often checked a stopwatch on her wrist and kilometer-to-mile conversion notes she had written on her hands to ensure her mile split times were on the desired pace.
"The people playing music and cheering made me happy," said Duliba, who said she was initially interested in running in Los Angeles because her favorite television show is "Californication."
Mose, meanwhile, broke away from Keter in the 24th mile after spending most of the race in a pack with up to nine others. Mose's winning time was 47 seconds faster than Keter's, with Chelimo another 12 seconds back.
Mose credited his training in the mountains above Mexico City for a personal-best time that earned him $25,000. He ran a faster time in the second half of the race than in the first 13-plus miles.
"The first half was hard, but by 19 miles, I felt I could win the race," Mose said. "I was feeling very good and fast."
Not fast enough to catch Duliba, however. Mose said despite some conspiring by male runners earlier in the race to accelerate their pace, he found himself nearly three minutes behind at the 24-mile mark.
"We tried, but we could not catch the ladies," Mose said.
Keter, grandson of Kenyan Olympic running legend Kip Keino, said he was done in around the 24th mile too, when he accidentally spilled water up his nose while sipping from a bottle.
"I tried to catch up to my friend and couldn't," Keter said. "I feel I could have won, but at least I ran my best time."
Defending men's champion Simon Njoroge faded from the pack before the 20th mile, and Cal State Fullerton product Nick Arciniaga finished seventh (2:17:04).
The women's race featured top-five finishes from 40-year-old Deena Kastor of Agoura Hills (third place, 2:32:39) and 48-year-old Colleen De Reuck of Boulder, Colo. (fifth, 2:41:44).
"A lot of the 24,000 people who ran this race today have amazing stories, and those mothers out there inspire me," said Kastor, the mother of a 2-year-old.
"My stomach was upset the first six miles, but I stayed engaged mentally. I gave 100% of myself, but it was an 80% day."
In the wheelchair divisions, Krige Schabort of the U.S. overcame a tire coming off his rim by the second mile to produce a record time (1:30:50), his fourth consecutive L.A. Marathon victory, and Susannah Scaroni won the women's race.