What I Learned Running My First Marathon
I’ve been running for 17 years but it wasn’t until this year that I tackled my first marathon. I decided to move from spectator to participant and run the Twin Cities Marathon partly because I was tired of hearing “You mean you haven’t run a marathon – that’s surprising” (as if I wasn’t a REAL runner for not conquering the distance) and partly I because it had been a year of transition and I needed to prove something to myself.
I had a pretty good understanding of the physical demands training for a marathon involved. What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional toll during the race itself; no one told me I’d be reduced to tears multiple times.
Reflecting back on those tearful moments, I realize that each one has taught me a life lesson.
The Start Line:
I had struggled with a 2 year long hamstring injury and had thought I’d never be able to handle the training load. But I found a plan, stuck with it and simply took it week by week adding miles and assessing my hamstring along the way. And now here I was toeing the start line at TCM! I turned to my husband with tears streaming down my face and said, “I’m really about to do this!”
It’s easy to lose belief in yourself or get distracted and let all the other things in life get in the way – so whatever it is; running a marathon, changing careers, moving to a new city: make a plan, believe in yourself and stick with it.
I learned: Tenacity Matters
Nearing Lake Harriet I was overwhelmed by the crowds and noise level. I again turned to my husband and nearly had to shout “Is this really all for us?” and then I saw it; the sign that said “Today you’ve made a stranger proud of you” and the tears started rolling.
The support and encouragement from the crowd (that never dwindled throughout the 26.2 miles) of strangers shows me that more often than not, people are good. People really care and want to see others succeed. They want help and support you in reaching your goals.
I learned: Kindness Matters
We had just circled Lake Nokomis and my husband now turned to me and said “I don’t think I have it, today’s not my day”. Here it was, the scenario we had discussed numerous times. Being my first marathon and his fifth, we promised each other if I struggled he’d stay and if he struggled I’d go.
But I didn’t want to leave him. We had done every long run together, he had coached me through all the training and I wanted to enjoy crossing the finishing line by his side. I had decided in my mind to stay with him when he said “If you stay and miss a BQ, I won’t forgive myself”. I cried (hard), I thought about it, I gave him a kiss and I left.
There are times when you want to be there for others. We are often willing to sacrifice our own goals, time, or dreams if it means taking care of someone you love. But you must put on your own oxygen mask first. You can’t be good to others if you’re not good to yourself first.
I learned: YOU Matter
Here I was running along Summit Avenue. My lips were dry but I couldn’t drink. My legs were moving but I couldn’t feel them. I told myself at most I only had 20 minutes left of this hell. I told myself that no matter what, even if I got a BQ, I would never do this again. I was struggling and my pace was significantly slowing
Then I heard someone SCREAMING my name; I looked and there was my dear friend and her family. I could hardly manage a wave and smile in their direction. The site of the four of them reminded me just how much I had gone through in 2015 and why I was doing this in the first place.
I told myself I was strong. I told myself at most I only had 20 minutes left to soak in my first marathon. I told myself I was going to Boston. And, I made sure I smiled the rest of the way.
I’ve written before about my belief in the mind/body connection and the use of personal mantras. While it’s natural to beat up on yourself when times get tough, it’s amazing what happens when you choose to build yourself up instead.
I learned: Mind Over Matter Matters
The Finish Line:
I had visions of my finish line moment. My husband and I would cross together hand in hand, possibly a kiss at the finish, something cute; something celebratory. That was not my reality.
Running to the finish line gave me goose bumps but no tears, not yet. The tears came after I crossed the finish line, after I got my finisher shirt, after I got my banana. I realized I had met my “A” goal and I was alone in celebrating the moment.
Like the tree in the forest – just because someone isn’t there when it falls doesn’t mean it didn’t make a sound. While we often prefer to celebrate our successes in the company of others and our failures in solitude, I’ve learned doing the opposite is empowering. This year, I failed and everyone saw it (my layoff from my corporate job with 1,700 others was a headline). This year, I achieved my greatest running success and it was simple and subtle.
I learned: Humility Matters
The Athlete’s Tent:
I meandered along the barricades to collect my drop bag and stumbled another 400 feet to an open spot on the lawn. I was looking down at my feet and simply focusing on getting one leg at a time through my sweat pants.
I heard “Hey, I know you”. I didn’t need look up, I knew that voice. It was my husband. The flood gates opened. He hugged me tightly and repeatedly told me “You did it!” I was overcome with such love at that moment and as we held a long embrace I didn’t care that my sweats were still hanging down around my ankles.
No matter who you are – you need love. From a spouse, a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, a pet – we all need to love and be loved.
I learned: Love Matters
My moments of thinking of myself as a one and done marathoner were brief. I’ve started planning for my second TCM in 2016 and Boston in 2017. I’m already feeling the anticipation; because I know there are many more life lessons out there and I can’t wait to learn them.