Running My First Marathon and How It Changed My Life
Ever since I started running road races after graduating college I had the thought of completing a marathon. For years I doubted myself. I'd seen others of all ages run marathons, some friends of mine, some acquaintances, and some just strangers that I saw when I ran other road races. However, I thought to myself "Yeah they can do it, but there's no way I could". Until about a year ago the thought started becoming more profound. The desire began to creep up more and more. I was working through grief and healing from the loss of my mother and started finding solace in running again. My sister and I started to focus on running as a way of healing, encouraging one another to push through the pain of the loss, and hoping that on the other side of the pain would be some sense of peace.
As I've shared with you, my readers, before; running was something my sister and I shared with our mother for years. We ran races together, talked running, shopped for running gear, and set goals that we accomplished together. As I worked through the pain and grief of her loss running became my escape. I ran on days I was happy. I ran on days I was hurting. I ran on days that I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts. As I started to get back into a routine I began to write in my journal each morning "Run a marathon in Mom's honor". At first I didn't set a timeline, I just wrote it down every day. Day after day I looked at those words "run a marathon". As I wrote these words it became more real. It became something that I started believing maybe, just maybe I could do it. Then on May 8th of 2021 I made the decision I was going to run my first marathon for my 41st birthday. I knew if I signed up I couldn't back out. I'm a competitive person and once I new I'd be getting my bib number I would do everything to cross that finish line and have the medal put around my neck. I wasn't going to let my Mom, my boys, or myself down. Amy and I stared texting one another as we trained. We encouraged one another. We set goals to run a few races before the big day to prepare for the marathon. We pushed each other. When I felt frustrated, defeated, or had a hard day I texted or called her. As each week passed and the miles added up I started to feel a bit stronger. I had days I felt confident in my training and days I felt frustrated and defeated. So much of marathon training is a head game. You doubt yourself. You have days where you wonder "What the HELL was I thinking". You have days where you think how am I going to run this far. I can't do this. I'm not a marathoner. But then...then there are the days you feel strong. You feel like your feat could run forever. You believe in yourself just a little bit more. You hit a PR run, you ran the furthest you ever have, or you accomplish a goal you set for yourself and you think to yourself "I've got this!"
Running is a funny thing...it's a love hate relationship. It's a battle to get through each run just like life. There's days that are great and there's days that are hard. The hardest part of running a marathon is the dedication to the training and I began to realize this as each month passed and I got tired and run down. It's committing to months of getting up each day to work out or go for a run. It's learning to listen to your body and know the days you need to rest and the days you need to push hard. It's committing to a goal and seeing it through. That's the hardest part. That's the true battle.
On the day of the marathon Amy and I had our matching outfits, our shoes laced up, our hydration packs, and our smiles. She brought her heart stone that she brings each race to carry with her in honor of our Mom. I had my necklace with Mom's ashes. She without question was going to be with us as we crossed that finish line. I was filled with nerves and excitement. It was a cool morning but the temperature was supposed to rise to mid 50's that day and filled with sunshine. Truly a perfect fall race day. We committed to run this race side by side each step of the way. To not worry about time or any other goals but to cross the finish line together. As we got to the starting line with the pacers for an 11 minute mile I looked at her and said "We did it. We're here. Our hard work, God, and Mom got us here. We've got this." She looked at me and said "Yup we did" with a smile.
As they played the national anthem and the gun went off and we crossed under the arches the butterflies rose up in my stomach. I felt strong as we started the race and kept a slow pace knowing we were running 26.2 miles. I didn't want to start too fast and burn out. It worked out well because I kept Amy at a slow pace and she pulled me along so I wouldn't give up. I felt amazing the first half of the race. Walking up the hills to conserve energy, and ran the whole first 13 miles with very little walking. I felt good. Along the way there were people cheering and my Aunt was there with Ben my brother-in-law and my nephew Joey cheering for us. As we crossed the halfway point Joey handed Amy and I flowers. It was the sweetest thing!
After we finished the first half of the race I started to feel fatigued. Amy kept me going along, encouraging me, and trying to keep me out of my own head. I started to doubt myself a bit thinking that I had another 13 miles to go. I was letting my self doubt get to me. My legs started feeling heavy and my body kept telling me to stop. I was determined that I was going to push through. As we neared mile 15 we headed up a hill. Amy was a bit ahead of me running strong and I slowed down and walked. As she looked back and saw me she slowed down and started to walk back towards me. I felt bad that I was holding her back. I knew that she could've taken off and crushed this race, but she didn't leave me. She stuck with me because she knew I needed her to keep me going. As we got to the top of the hill I started to jog again as we started to head down a rail trail. This was the hardest part of the race for me. From this point to mile 22 we were on dirt roads through the woods. Everything looked the same, trees, dirt roads, and people passing you by on both sides of the road. You want to talk about head games this rail trail was full of them. I hit mile 17 and I started to lose it. I cried. I cried so hard I knelt down right there in the middle of the race. There were two women that were running with us most of the race that saw me crying and stopped. One of them asked if I had a cramp and offered me a salt stick. I looked up at her with tears streaming down my face and said "No, I'm okay, I'm just having a moment". She looked at me with caring eyes "Okay, you've got this, you've come this far, don't give up" I looked up at my sister in that moment and said "I'm sorry, I just need a minute". She took a step towards me and said "It's okay. You've got this. We've only got 9 miles left. You run that all the time. It's just over a 10k." I stood up, I wiped my tears, took a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other. As we ran the next few miles I jogged and walked. I kept pushing myself forward. I talked to my Mom and told her "I'm not giving up. I need you to help get me through this." I talked to God and asked him to give me strength and courage. And I knew at that point. As I neared mile 18, 19, and 20 I was going to do it. Even if I walked I would finish.
The hardest part was as I neared mile 24. I had only 2 miles left but my stomach started to hurt. I had tried to use the bathrooms twice but my body wasn't having it. As mile 24 neared I had to walk. I couldn't run or my stomach started to cramp up. Amy was jogging ahead of me and and kept looking back. She'd slow down until I got closer then jog ahead again. I finally stopped at a bathroom at the park we were running by and was able to go. I texted Amy from inside the bathroom and told her I stopped. I didn't want her to worry because she was far enough ahead of me that when I tried to yell to her she didn't hear me. When I came out of the bathroom she was waiting. I said "I'm sorry" and she said "It's okay" and started to jog ahead. I started jogging again, but had to speed walk until my stomach settled. Amy started to take off. I knew that at this point with 2 miles left and the possibility that I may walk the rest of the way that she had to go on her own. I wasn't giving up. I started to pick up my pace a little bit. I thought to myself "You've got 2 miles left. This is nothing. You can jog this in less than 20 minutes. You're so close." I picked up my feet, putting one foot in front of the other. I kept talking to myself, through a few tears. "You've got this. you're doing it. You're almost there".
As Mile 24 turned into mile 25 I came into downtown Manchester. The crowd started to grow again and there were more people cheering. There was a water stop at mile 25 with some young kids and they shared encouraging words as I stopped for a quick drink. I headed off and the more I got into the center of town I could hear the announcers at the finish line. I began to get excited and my feet began to move quicker. As mile 25 turned into mile 26 I was I felt my energy pick up. I knew that at some point I'd see Travis as I got towards the end. Then out of nowhere Amy came running towards me. She came back to run the rest of the way with me. "I'm sorry I just had to go. I couldn't walk anymore" she said as we started to run together "It's okay!" Having her with me gave me the extra pep I needed to finish. I felt at that point we were running in circles winding through the downtown area and around the center common. "Where is the finish line?" I yelled to her. "Just up here around the corner. We'll see Travis up here." As we turned a corner I saw Travis waving and taking pictures. Then out of the corner of my eye I see two little heads bob up and down over the bushes. Out from behind the car pops Zachary and Joey. I squealed with excitement to see Zachary and tears started streaming down my face. "You did it Mom! You're almost there!" He said to me with such excitement. His hand patted and rubbed my back as we ran down the street together. 6 years earlier he crossed the finish line of my second Big Lake Half Marathon with me, and on this day he was going to cross the finish line with me for my first Marathon. I felt like we were running forever to get to the finish line as we rounded through streets. Joey was dumping his water on his head, Zach and him were running along backwards and around each other, and I couldn't help but laugh as I was in fear of tripping over them. With each step the announcer got louder, the music grew closer, and I knew I was only moments away from reaching my goal.
We rounded the corner of the common and could see the finish line. I was almost there. The 6 months of training, the hard work, the dedication, and the commitment were coming to a culmination. I doubted myself so many times. I wanted to give up over the 6 months. I wanted to give up that day during those 26.2 miles. But I didn't. I didn't quit when I felt weak. I didn't quit when my legs hurt, when my lungs ached, or when the little voice in my head said to stop. As I neared the finish line with my family cheering me along, with Zachary running by me each step, and my mother's strength burning inside I felt a rush of emotion. I did it. A goal I had set for myself and had written each day for years in my journal I finally achieved.
As I look back on the past 6 months I see how I've grown and changed. I've learned that I can set a difficult goal and accomplish it. I've learned that I can push through self doubt even during the toughest of moments. I learned that pain, suffering, and fear are only temporary and on the other side of it you find strength, courage, and growth. As I stepped across that finish line I became a new version of myself. Through the ups and downs of training and with each mile of that marathon I learned something about myself. I grew, I changed, and I healed. When I started my journey I was filled with so much pain, hurt, grief, and sadness. Running this marathon wasn't only to check off something on my bucket list, but it was a journey of healing. A journey of pushing through the sadness and grief of loss and learning how to live through pain. Running is more than just putting one foot in front of the other it's learning how to push through the desire to quit and give up and to keep going when everything inside you is yelling at you to stop. It's learning how to deal with suffering and knowing that on the other side you become stronger as you heal.
I can now say I'm truly a marathoner. I can say I didn't give up. I didn't give in to self doubt. This experience without a doubt changed me. Since this day Zachary has said multiple times he wants to run a race with me and some day a marathon. My proudest accomplishment through all of this is not actually finishing the race but that I've set a positive example for my children and inspired Zachary to set goals for himself. Our children are watching us even when we think they aren't and leading by example is the best gift we can give them. Run your race.