Running a marathon has taught me a few things. There is a lot of time to think while out running.
This is what I have learned:
1. When I extend myself, I need to allow for the unexpected. In the unknown being flexible helps, especially when the unknown relates to our mind. Running 42.2 km is not like running 33 or 36 kilometers. Our longest run was 36 km and hilly, but it was also only 36 km. The first 10-15 km of the race flew by; I thought the km markers were incorrect. But once you have run 10 km three times, and 30 km are behind you, you realize those last 10-12 km are where the run really begins. It hurts; even if don’t acknowledge it you know something about your body is hurting and your brain is too tired to know how to deal with it. You run with your brain in charge, and your brain is against your body as to whether to keep going or not.
2. I have a hard time staying in the present moment. Being more connected and confident can start from being more present in your life. If you worry or stress, focusing only on the present moment allows you to see yours fear in a different perspective. If you are here, now, what else is there? In a race you may try to distract from the present moment because you need to keep going and the present may not be enjoyable. While running I had very different “in the next moment” thoughts — how much more I might hurt, how much longer I had to go, how I would get through the next kilometers. Not much had to do with how I felt in the present, because I was either okay, or in pain and trying to avoid that pain. Most of it worried me and I’m not sure if that just added to my worry of the present or was a distraction.
3. I like the preparation for the doing, more than the doing. I like training more than racing. I had a huge fear of racing for a long, long time and it’s not to say that I still don’t. It’s more manageable now and more in perspective. I love the training because there is less pressure and it’s not an indelible mark of your results on one day. I’m a planner and an organizer and a calculator — but the actual finale event to celebrate an accomplishment is not my forte.
4. I compare myself to my failures. I forget how far I’ve come and what I have accomplished when I only focus on the present event. Comparing myself to another person’s success, or thinking about areas I could have done differently or better are not reflecting my own efforts or results. It took 4 months of training to get here and that will not be undone in one race. It also does not diminish the improvements I’ve made and the mental challenges I overcame to even get to the start line. I am not less for what I did accomplish.
5. It’s easy to lose perspective in general. I have forgotten all the things I am thankful for that got me to my race day. My dedication to my training, my health, the strength of my body and legs that carried me through so many hills and kilometers, my supportive family, the strength and friendship of my running buddies, the amazing coaching I received, those horrible runs that made me stronger yet I dreaded even after they finished — all helped me become the person who ran those 42.2 kilometers. So much went into getting to those few hours of exertion yet I forget it’s not just about one “Everest” and being irritated that my hydration was off.
6. It’s a bigger deal than my negative feelings. I forget that this is not what others see or even think about. Most of my feelings about the race have been of relief, awe at actually finishing, and the ego-struggle after-the-fact of what-ifs. I was at the gym this morning and the receptionist at the front desk enthusiastically congratulated me on completing the full marathon. A dad from my son’s Grade 1 class yelled congratulations to me across the playground. With both of these people, I am friendly, but I only know their first name. We don’t socialize, we don’t Facebook, we say hello and goodbye. Neither of them knew I was a runner. I don’t know how they knew I ran the marathon but their congratulations were honest, unexpected, and appreciated.
7. I rely on others. Although you will still complete something on your own, a shared experience is a stronger experience. I could not have run this race without the support and energy of my running buddies. Or, at best, I would not have had such an enjoyable experience or positive result (and time). It’s a mix of individual perseverance vs group dynamics and support that gets you through rough patches and hills and keeps you motivated and distracted.
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I don’t know if I will run another marathon in the future. “Never say never” is something I have heard more than a few times in the last few days. Right now, I don’t have to know. My legs are feeling good, my body is recovering, and I’m looking forward to getting out for a run.