tl;dr: I ran a marathon. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I made mistakes, and often. But I worked hard at it. I finished with a time of five hours and eight minutes. Keep reading for a more in-depth recap, and click here to read part two of this post: “… Now What?”
There were a lot of reasons I decided to run the marathon. My dad ran one when I was only two years old, and I grew up thinking that was so badass. My dad ran a marathon, what’s your dad done? It would seem that, no matter who you are, if you’ve run a marathon, people will be impressed. Memorably, my boss once said that if he had to choose between two otherwise identical candidates for a job but only one of them had run a marathon, he’d choose the one who ran the marathon.
But, like most people who’ve said, Wow! You ran a marathon? That’s so impressive. I also thought, I could never do that. Even though my dad had done it, and despite the fact I had no empirical evidence that I couldn’t. I had two working legs, two working lungs, and a pair of feet. What was I missing? I didn’t know, but I was sure I didn’t have it. Only .05 percent of the US population run in a marathon, and I certainly wasn’t part of that incredibly small margin. I’d always thought it’d be something to cool to do, but I never would.
Then, when I started my current job, I joined a group of coworkers in their running club. The year before, two of its members, George and Ben, had thought similarly to the way I did—That’s cool, but I could never do that—until they decided, to hell with it, we’re going to run a marathon. And then they did. Not quite a year later when I joined the group, they encouraged and convinced me (plus three others) to do the same.
I could have said no; it would have been easy to. They tried to convince a lot of people that summer to train for a marathon with them, and only four people, including me, signed up. (I still think this is a pretty large group of people, considering the four of us had never even run a half marathon before, except for Adam.) I was close to just sticking with a half marathon; that seemed more feasible. I had never run more than six miles at this point, and I’d only ever run that distance once. But then—and this is where it gets cringey, I’m sorry—I realized that dreams aren’t supposed to be things that seem feasible, or they wouldn’t be called dreams. Sure, it would be really hard. And it turned out, of course, to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But hundreds of people a year run marathons, and had I not seen my dad—a dude with the same genes as me—do it, too? If there was an almost-not-feasible dream I could pursue, a marathon seemed like a good choice. I already had the legs and the team to train with, I just needed shoes. And, it turned out, a lot, a lot of time.
What I hadn’t considered going into training was how much time it would eat up. Running four to five times a week meant spending a minimum of thirty minutes at a time, sometimes as much as three hours, running. Total, my Strava tells me, I ran for over seventy hours during the entirety of my training. That’s a lot of Netflix I could have been binge-watching.
But, instead of watching Netflix, I was running. And if I hadn’t clocked all those hours actually running, not including the time I spent stretching, icing, and researching, I certainly would not have finished the race. I couldn’t half-ass my training, half-ass the race, and then still walk away with a medal. And I wasn’t going to do all of this without getting a medal for it.
I had to sacrifice a lot. Happy hours with friends went unattended, and my boyfriend was often left to cook dinner alone when we got off work while I tried to squeeze some miles in before it got too dark. I didn’t have time to do any other hobby I enjoy—especially writing. Running was too physically and mentally exhausting (more on that mentally bit to come in a future post). Any time I would have otherwise spent writing or reading on weekends went to running, when I needed to get in my long runs that I couldn’t do after I got off work on a weekday.
Gradually, as we got deeper into our training, our run club started only meeting up for our longest run of the week, if at all. When you’re running that much, it gets hard to coordinate the schedules of six different people. This was hard for me at first. As someone who’s always loved to run with other people, preferred it even, it was really hard for me to start embarking on runs with milage goals that I’d never come close to touching on my own. This was the point when the training started to escalate—the marathon wasn’t just an idea in my head, but something real that was just a couple months around the corner, and only I was going to be able to prepare myself for it.
I had to figure out how to talk myself through each mile without the support of other people. Solo runs were where I learned the most about who I am and what I’m capable of, but they could have intimated me out of running the marathon entirely. (More on this in a future post.) But I needed to go on these solo runs anyway, because I was going to be running my marathon solo, too.
The other run clubbers ran a marathon early in December 2018 (save George, who had to defer due to injury), while I signed up for one in January 2019. It happened to be my boyfriend’s birthday the day of the December marathon, and also the day we were moving into a new apartment, so it didn’t exactly seem like I would have a lot of time to also squeeze a marathon in. So I chose to train for an extra month, and run in the Charleston Marathon instead. I knew from the get-go that I would have to get comfortable (and forgive me for the cliché) with being uncomfortable for hours, and without anyone to commiserate with.
And, I’m sure you know this, but running can be pretty hard. And it hurts. Especially if you don’t train properly. Stretching and hydration and rest can be just as important as the running itself. Considering how much time it was taking out my day just to run, and the level of confidence I was finding as I kept running further and further distances, during my third month of training I started to get a little lazy. I didn’t stretch like I should have, and I probably took too many days off from running for a number of reasons, including hunkering down during a hurricane. It was around this time period in November that I ran a solo eighteen-miler. After that, something was wrong with my right knee. There was a dull ache there during normal activities, and a sharp pain during runs after I’d gotten couple miles deep.
I had to either cut short or skip most of my long runs for a period of about a month and a half to two months. That’s about eight long runs total, with each run being no less than eight miles, and most of them being more than ten. These runs were crucial for to me build the stamina to run for hours and miles on end during the marathon, and I was beyond frustrated when my knee would give out during a run and I knew I needed to call it quits.
So, I had to dial it back and let myself heal. Toward the end of November and for much of December, during the holidays when it was difficult to get any real mileage in anyway, I cut my miles per week down sometimes by as much as half. It pained me almost as much as my knee did. I felt like if I wasn’t running, I wasn’t progressing. I didn’t consider how important resting and listening to your body is to making strides, no pun intended. Not to mention the fact that I had an extra month of training on my coworkers who raced in December. I had never done something like this before, and resting felt more like quitting. The last thing I wanted was to quit, to show up on race day and have to tap out.
I bought a knee brace once I started to have normal mobility during every day activities, and wore it from every run there on out. I wore it during the race itself, too. But even with the regained dexterity and the brace, I was worried. Again, I had never done anything like this. And during my last long run of training before the marathon—a fourteen-mile run, a little over two weeks before the race—my knee nearly gave out entirely at mile ten. In retrospect, I probably only kept going because this particular run was done on a there-and-back greenway, which is exactly what it sounds like. I ran in one direction for seven miles, and then turned around and ran the ran the last seven on the same route. I wasn’t getting back to my car without finishing, and my knee didn’t really have a say in the matter.
In those two weeks prior to the marathon, I was a nervous wreck. I went back and forth between thinking, There’s no way I can do this. I can’t believe I actually thought I can do this, and, Man, is this going to be fun. I’ve got this in the bag.
Since my coworkers ran their ‘thon a month before I did, I was able to somewhat base my own progress off of theirs. Ben ended up needing to miss what seemed like half of his training runs. He’s a new dad, and that is a marathon in and of itself. He had not only a month less of time to train than I’d had, but he’d utilized only about half of that time. And still he finished his marathon in enough time to receive a medal. (Big kudos to you, dude.)
Seeing Ben and the rest of my coworkers cross their finish line excited me and gave me confidence that I could finish my own. But how would my knee hold up? More importantly, how would my mind hold up? What circumstances were out of my control? What if I actually didn’t finish?
I had to ignore these thoughts. These were the same kind of thoughts that told me I couldn’t do this in the first place. And, if you know me, you’ll know that one thing I hate is being told I can’t do something, that I’m simply not capable of it. So instead I filled pages and pages in my journal with affirmations and song lyrics that motivated me and inspired me (again, future post on this to come), and planned everything that I would do and eat the morning of so that nothing would take me by surprise.
Ultimately, after spending over seventy hours and running a total of 427 miles training, I finished the race in five hours and eight minutes.
I didn’t run for time at all. I know a lot of people get obsessed with trying to run a certain distance in a certain amount of time. But, considering I’d ramped up my running so quickly (I went from running an average of five miles a week to twenty-two miles a week), and especially considering my worries about my knee, I decided the best strategy was to play it smart and take it slow. I’ll get concerned about time during my next marathon (*cough*).
Which brings me to now, life post-marathon. In the months leading up to the race, I thought about nothing else other than crossing the finish line. It consumed every second of my days. Making sure I was eating right, stretching right, sleeping well, running smart. When it was over, after the initial few days of elation and soreness, I had a lot more time on my hands to think about and do other things. I started to ask myself, Well, what now?
I’d changed entirely as a person over those five months. I saw what I was capable of. I saw some of my lowest lows, and I definitely saw the runner’s high. Before the marathon, I largely would put some amount of effort into my hobbies—specifically writing—mostly relying on the month or two every year that I would, for whatever reason, become motivated enough to dedicate real time out of my weeks to it. When I felt like I’d accomplished “enough,” I’d tell myself I deserved a break, and set the work aside. And there I’d stay, on the bench, until something pushed me back out for another brief stint.
Running the marathon—really, training for the marathon—proved to me that I am capable of chasing something big. That the time in the day does exist; that if I work hard, and if I work smart, I can and will cross the finish line.
So now I’m trying to do it all over again. But this time, with something that takes a little more effort than running—writing, of course. You can read more about what I’m going to do next in part two of this post, “… Now What?” (I promise that it’s much shorter than this one).
If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you keep reading these posts, let me know in the comments so I can thank you doubly. I know nothing I’m saying here is new in the world of running, but it’s new to me, and I hope to look back on this time and these posts and remember how strong pursuing and meeting my goals makes me feel, and I hope they make you feel like you can run your own marathons, too, metaphorical and otherwise.