it's finally in the bag! my marathon experience
Today is November 19th, 2018 - aka, the day AFTER my first marathon! I ran Philadelphia’s 26.2 miler yesterday, and I’m still in shock and awe that it’s finally over and I actually did it. It’s difficult to describe the complicated mix of emotions I feel - overwhelm, triumph, a little bit of nostalgia for the journey (but only a little), pride, self-respect, and happiness. I wanted to write a recap blog post to share some personal tips and immortalize some of these feelings and the whole experience while I’m still living it! I’ve been documenting the whole journey on Instagram since the beginning of training, so check out my “Running” highlight there @posifitivy if you’re interested!
I started running as a teenager recreationally, but for my sister Jasmin, running was a passion. At age 17, she wanted to run New Jersey’s marathon, but unfortunately, registration was closed to anyone under 18. She even tried to ask the organizers to make an exception for her, but they had a list of stipulations she needed to agree to before they were willing to grant her one. She decided to run a half marathon instead and I jumped on the bandwagon, not knowing what a challenge it was going to be. Six years later, I’ve completed eight half marathons. In the past couple of years, I’ve contemplated and deeply feared running a full marathon. It was crossing the finish line of a half marathon especially that made me reluctant to sign up for 26.2, because I couldn’t imagine running double the distance (but duh, that’s what training is for).
In late 2017, I wrote my list of resolutions. I don’t ever accomplish everything on my list of resolutions, but I like to set lofty goals because they give me something to aim for. Like I always say, I strongly believe that every day gives us the opportunity to be better and do something different, but the new year is special in that it feels like a clear turn of the page. When it comes to goals, the first step is to have one - so one of my items was to run a marathon in 2018. At the time, it was exciting to write down, but I had no idea how I was going to implement. I just knew that I wanted to finally accomplish something that I knew in my gut I really wanted to do, no matter how scary it was to me.
My resolve waned as the year went on, but reminiscent of 2013, my sister said she wanted to run the Philadelphia marathon, so I put my fears and nervousness aside and decided I was ready to commit. For training, I used Hal Higdon’s novice 1 marathon training plan:
I wasn’t prepared for how tough training was going to be, especially over the summer. Looking at this chart, it’s incredible how far I’ve come: a six mile run was intimidating in the beginning, but by the end of the eighteen weeks, it was easy, even fun. It’s easy to take stock of this now that I’m done, but every part of training was challenging. In order to run a marathon, you have to teach your body how to be efficient under extreme circumstances. Your muscle fibers break down and rebuild to accommodate the challenge, so you experience a lot of soreness. You learn how to fuel and hydrate. You learn to expect pain and must build the mental fortitude to both embark on a run with that expectation, and power through it when the going gets tough. Everything you eat and drink matters, even on days you’re not running, because it contributes to your energy levels, endurance, and ability to recover. Above all, it feels like training will never end. Around the middle, I felt done. I was tired. The monotonous regularity of running, running, and more running grated on me, especially because I get bored easily. I understand now how good that exercise was for me, and I don’t mean the running. My mental health suffered a lot this year, and I would often experience emotional hills and valleys, but my commitment to this race meant that I ran no matter what. I ran on my honeymoon. I ran on my trip to California. I ran during exams. I ran during emotional breakdowns. I showed up, and now that the race is over, I deeply honor that consistency, because only that level of consistency yields transformative change - a lesson I’ll take with me when I write my 2019 resolutions.
Before I was due for my culminating 20-miler before the race, I caught strep throat and couldn’t run for 1.5 weeks. By the time I recovered, I felt panicky about falling behind on training. I went out that weekend and attempted to complete 20 miles, but my body fought me hard, and I went home with only 13 miles under my belt, many of which were spent walking. I knew I couldn’t afford to freak out, so I resolved to keep positive and run 20 the following Sunday, and I did! I finally felt ready to take on the marathon.
My husband and I drove to Philadelphia on Saturday and checked into a hotel. I felt anxious about logistical challenges, but arriving at the race, meeting up with my sister and family, and getting into my corral went smoothly. Though the weather was cold (my hands and feet went numb waiting to start running), the sunrise was warm and friendly, the energy was electric, and I felt excited and emotional.
Finally, I crossed the start line! At this point, I was just looking forward to warming up. The first few miles were a blur. The spectators in the city were so enlivening! One of my favorite parts of races is reading the hilarious signage, high-fiving random strangers and hearing motivational cheering. My legs started feeling tired around mile eight, but I still had plenty of energy. At 13 miles, a spectator vigorously gesturing at the marker was shouting, “You’re halfway home!” This drew me out of my hyper-focus for a minute and reminded me to be conscious that every step I took brought me closer to achieving a goal I’d been working towards for months! The moment was even more special because I flashed back to my old incredulity at the idea of running a marathon. Here I was, doing just that.
At mile 14, I spotted my family and friends! Their cheering and excitement gave me a burst of joy and excitement. I was over halfway there! I could do this. The next stretch was hard, but I didn’t really start feeling pain until I approached mile 20. My back, feet, and legs were throbbing. My pacing took a nosedive at this point, which I attribute to starting too hard and not having ever run more than 20 miles. But I was in the home stretch. I allowed myself brief walk breaks at the hydration stations, but nowhere else because I didn’t want to succumb to the relief until the race was over. At the last one, I had about 1.5 miles left to complete and resolved to finish strong.
I can’t describe how I felt seeing the finish line materialize on the horizon. It was a miraculous moment. I crossed it, and a wave of disbelief washed over me; I found my husband and cried hard in his arms. That was truly the hardest thing I’d ever accomplished, but more than that, my triumph yesterday meant so much to me because of the year I’ve had. It was hard not to associate the physical battle of training with the mental struggle I went through in 2018, and crossing that finish line to me was representative of my resilience and recovery.
Training didn’t go perfectly. Like I said, I caught strep throat close to the end. Throughout, there were times I skipped a run here and there because I felt tired of training relentlessly. The beginning and end were tolerable, but in the middle, deep in the trenches of doing the work, I’d often get frustrated and doubt myself. Quitting wasn’t an option, but was it ever going to end? Could I actually run 26.2 miles?
I didn’t just wake up one day and start believing it was a doable goal. It was the work, more than anything, that convinced me it could be done. There’s nothing inherently special about me. I strongly believe that if you have a goal and consistently do the right work no matter what season or mood, you’ll get there! Stories of persistence and resolve strongly resonate because of what they mean for us: we can be the protagonists of those stories too if we show up regularly with integrity and a positive mindset. That’s one of the strongest lessons I learned. It starts with setting the goal and deeply believing it’s achievable, then implementing a plan. Those are the potent ingredients of success. That’s it. There’s no secret. If you have a dream, just go for it. I could’ve spent the last four months continuing to stew in my fear of running 26.2 miles, but instead, I wrangled with those fears during training, and ultimately won. Truly, I still can’t believe it.
I could probably write about this all day, but I’ll leave this recap at that. If it wasn’t obvious already, take this message away: You can do it! You can! You can! You can!
Let me know what big goals you have, and how you’re going to implement!