Hi, lovely people. My name is Elizabeth and I blog at On Tap for Today. I am so thankful to Ashley for the opportunity to share my Marathons and Moderation story. A little over a year ago I was setting out to run my first marathon, something that seemed unfathomable to me even as I approached the starting line. With the Walt Disney World Marathon and the ING NYC Marathon behind me, I am excited to share my reflections on all that comes with marathon training.
I grew up in a family of athletes, and while I was by no means the superstar, I was off and running as early as I can remember. I first discovered that you could run for the sake of running (and not as punishment for being late to soccer practice) as an adolescent. I joined my middle school’s cross country club, coached by the school librarian, an avid runner who often wore inappropriately short shorts (though this didn’t seem weird at the time, likely because it was 1990). Each afternoon, we’d run the same loop through the woods, getting a little bit faster or running a little bit farther each week. Soon I knew the path well enough to anticipate the turns, and looked forward to the exhilaration of running down the steepest hill. Our group would often gather beneath a giant tree after runs, where our librarian/coach would talk to us about running and books, and despite being pesky pre-teens, we’d all get caught up in the adventures of both.
It’s amazing the impact adults can have on children when they share something they’re passionate about. I probably didn’t realize it then, but I suppose that’s when I fell in love with running.
I fell out of love with running when life got busy, and I started treating those steps as a chore, rather than an adventure. The miles I logged on my gym’s treadmill as an early-twenty-something certainly helped to burn off some stress, but they did nothing to refill my tank. It took crossing my first finish line, almost two decades after those afterschool runs in the woods, to reconnect to the joy and exhilaration I felt putting one foot in front of the other.
My boyfriend (now fiancé wooo) encouraged me to register for a race he was running, and so I did. I had no idea how to train properly, and pounded out a few miles on the treadmill, every day, for two weeks leading up to the race. On race day, I took off way too quickly, only to feel like I was having a heart attack at the first mile. With three more miles to go, I contemplated sneaking off the course and hiding in my car. And then I remembered that Nick had my car keys. I struggled to the finish line, but felt a rush of pride and I reached to hit the stop button on my watch. I was sucking wind, but (wo)man… I was hooked.
I ran my second race a few days later, and delighted to find that there were 5ks nearly every single weekend in Boston. Before I knew it, we were running at least a race every month. I was getting faster, stronger, and smarter about training. When a new Team in Training team was forming in our neighborhood, Nick and I headed to our local running store to check things out. The plan was to sign up for a half marathon. We left fully committed to… a full marathon. Story of my life.
As the weeks passed, our team of seven runners went from running 3 miles together to running 10 miles. As the distance of our long runs increased, so did the distance between me and the rest of the pack. And, um, I wasn’t in the lead. Though I always finished each long run, I struggled with the mental game. By Thursday evening, the dread of Saturday morning’s long run had already set in. Meanwhile, I breezed through most speed workouts and shorter runs completed on my own. As much as I love our teammates (especially the one I am marrying, obviously), I think I was destined to be a lone wolf when it comes to running. Howwwwwwwl.
I would apologize for being the last one back to the running store, feeling ashamed for how long it had taken me to run 18 or 19 or 20 miles. It wasn’t until I had completed the marathon that one of the most important lessons of my running life sunk in: No one cares. No one cares how long it took, how fast or slow you go. Likely, everyone’s wrapped up in their own run, and their own aching legs, and their own desire to order six pizzas and promptly eat all of them.
My first marathon was just incredible. As I said in my embarrassingly long recap, it took me forever, but it was the moments, not the minutes that mattered. I had firmly fallen back in love with running, with my body and its abilities, and with my heart or soul or wherever courage and perseverance come from.
I was determined to do it all over again, and differently this time. I entered the NYC ING Marathon on a whim, and by some stroke of good luck, I gained entry. I carefully created a plan for myself and stuck to it. With my attitude and ego firmly in check, Saturday mornings became something to look forward to, something to relish. Long runs gave me hours to myself to just think, hours that seemed impossible to come by during the work week. I made mental to do lists. I prayed. I problem solved. I rocked out to Michael Jackson. Each week, I came home exhausted but so grateful for Nick’s support, and the support of my family and friends.
Running had become an adventure again. I visited my favorite parts of the city every week and spent as much time along the waterfront as possible (I’m a Pisces, after all). I visited my alma mater (Boston College) and logged mile after mile on the Boston Marathon course. In just one morning, I could pace through South Boston, the Financial District, Downtown Crossing, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Cambridge, and the South End. I smiled at strangers, I high-fived firefighters, I tripped over cobblestones. Those fears about being not fast enough or not good enough became passing worries, not perpetual preoccupations.
Despite crossing the NYC Marathon finish line with a broken foot, those 26.2 miles were my victory lap. With the support of my family and friends, I conquered my insecurities, my fear… and those pain in the ass bridges. Running is a gift that someone gave me, a lanky middle schooler, long ago. It’s a gift that my fiancé, my teammates, my friends and my family gave me over the course of the past few years. It’s a gift we get to give ourselves every day that we lace up our shoes and head out the door.
Question: How do you find your mojo again when you hit a plateau, wall, or get bored?