This past August I completed my FIRST 1/2 MARATHON!
I’ve had the goal of running a 1/2 and a full marathon since I was 15. As a long-time “casual” runner, I have run several 5K’s and 8K’s over the years. I began to run in high school as a way to stay in shape for the soccer and volleyball seasons – and because I learned very quickly that I loved it. Then, every year for the next 15 years I made endless excuses: “I’m just too busy, I’ll miss out on my social life, I’ll fail, I’m too out of shape, too fat, too tired…. blah, blah, blah.” After all of those years of excuses, it felt SO good to finally commit to this goal and kick its butt!
The race was challenging, painful at points, and completely awesome! I loved the sense of camaraderie that came with running with thousands of strangers all working toward the same end. Having cheered on my husband (and thousands of strangers) when he ran the Chicago Marathon last year, it felt great to be on the receiving end of that enthusiasm and kindness from the crowds at the 1/2 marathon. You could say I’ve definitely been bitten by the long distance racing bug!
Looking back, the most profound part of the 1/2 marathon experience was actually the buildup. My training was hard and sometimes inconsistent, often filled with self-doubt, and incredibly hard to fit in. In some ways I think I might be busier now than I’ve ever been. But, as my friend Jacque said, “It really put meaning to the saying ‘just put one foot in front of the other.’” She was SO right! There’s something so empowering about heading out the door (at 6am on a Sunday) worried and unsure if I can finish the next distance increase, but simply telling myself to put one foot in front of the other. There’s no way I would have known I was capable of achieving one of my life long goals if I hadn’t taken that first step! There’s a reason why this metaphor is so cliché – because it’s so true. It is especially meaningful for me because I’m someone who has often let fear prevent me from going after what I really want. Every time I feel that way now I can look back on my training and just commit to taking that first step.
After finishing the 1/2 I shifted my focus to my next goal: running the Chicago Marathon this October! Running the 1/2 was my midway marker in my full marathon training. For next few weeks following the race my training struggled along. Things at work were crazy, there were missed runs and I started to really beat myself up for losing sight of my goal. Two weeks ago, at the turn around point on my 15 mile run (the longest run I’d ever attempted), I started getting a nagging, tiny blister on my pinky toe. A few miles later that little bugger felt like a stabbing red-hot poker. Then began the worst 5 miles I’ve ever run. While I focused on trying not to alter my gait to avoid the pain of the blister, the unexpected happened: I hit the wall. Out of nowhere – WHAM. I just couldn’t run another step. I was nauseous, sore and couldn’t kick a nagging headache. I felt like total crap. I ended up walking in the last miles feeling totally defeated. The only thing that prevented me from turning into a blubbering mess was Mike’s encouragement and the giant bear hug he gave me when I walked in the door. I did whimper a bit and squeeze out a few tears while I stretched and felt sorry for myself.
The next day my blister was popped and on its way to healing, but my ankle was not doing well. I had clearly strained it while adjusting to avoid the pain of the nagging blister. I decided to take a few days off, rest the ankle and jump back in at the end of the week. I worried about the fact that I was already behind schedule and this break would further derail my training plan. However, I knew risking seriously injuring myself wasn’t worth it. A few days later I headed out and felt great… until mile 4 when I suddenly got a shooting pain like I’ve never experienced before in my right foot. What the heck?!? Freaked out and totally clueless, I circled back home, pathetically walk-running in an attempt to salvage my run. The next day my foot hurt so much I could barely walk on it. The pain shot up my ankle every time I put pressure on it. I was very worried I had somehow gotten a stress fracture. I booked an appointment with an orthopedic sports medicine doctor and crossed my fingers. I was SO relieved to hear it wasn’t a fracture, but still disheartened when he told me I had tendonitis – much less serious, but still painful. I got anti-inflammatory meds, a script for physical therapy, and was told to stay off it, ice and elevate for a week. With only a few weeks to the marathon the doctor told me it was my call on running the marathon. I could try to run through the pain and see how many more long runs I could get in before the big day. But I risked injuring something else if the pain caused me to alter my stride in a negative way.
I walked out of the appointment and immediately called Mike. I still felt compelled to trudge toward my goal, even if it meant I would be in serious pain and really struggling through the remaining training and the 26.2 miles. Of course Mike told me that I was crazy and reminded me that I could end up really injuring myself and potentially ruining my ability to run happily for years to come. After hanging up with Mike, I was still pressuring myself run the marathon. Then I thought about something the doctor said right before I left: “It’s up to you, but if you’re in pain the entire time, it won’t be much fun.”
Thank goodness for those two voices of reason. I wasn’t making any sense! I run because I love it – because it’s fun and it’s good for me. I like the act of challenging myself to do things that scare me and achieving goals I’ve set out for myself. But these goals need to be good for me, not risky for my long-term health. As Mike said, “There will be many, many marathons in your life – just not this one. Use this time to heal and take care of yourself and come back even stronger for the next one!” I knew I married that guys for a reason… he’s pretty darn smart.
So, for now I’m taking the time my body needs and looking forward to 2012 and all the marathons out there that I know I have the strength to conquer!