As I sit here trying to figure out my athletic goals for the upcoming year, I feel a little nervous and uncertain as to what I am capable of. I have some large ambitions and aspirations that I hope to achieve in the coming year (details to come), but I’ve been second-guessing myself and whether I am ready to take on such challenges. These thoughts however, have made me question, “What is ready?”
When I signed up for my very first marathon (2009 Chevron Houston Marathon), I was a new runner who had never participated in any type of organized race. I decided to forgo the 5K, 10K, and half marathon distances, and shoot for the stars with a marathon distance. Some said I was crazy. Others said I should train for a shorter distance first. But I knew that all I wanted was to run a marathon. I felt ready, even though I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The first time we do anything, it is a learning experience. I had no expectations going into the run, aside from the promise to myself that I WOULD finish. I was racing for my dad and to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, so there was no quitting. What happened during that first race taught me more than I could have imagined.
It was mid-January, blue sunny skies, and cool to start. I lined up with thousands of other runners, completely in awe of what was happening. The atmosphere was electrifying and I felt energy from people around me that I had never experienced before. I started pretty far back in the pack (bad decision #1); not knowing what it would be like once the gun went off. Boom!
It took about two minutes to actually get to the starting line and another twenty minutes before people had spaced out enough to enjoy a little breathing room. I felt as though I was running with the bulls, just at a much slower pace. After 5 miles I was feeling good and decided to take down a GU.
At mile 10 I decided it was time to take down another GU (bad decision #2), but once I did my stomach and intestinal region began to spasm. I passed by three porta potties at mile 11 and decided that I would give it another two miles until the next set of bathrooms, in hopes that the digestive issues would go away (bad decision #3).
They did not go away. In fact, they got much worse, really fast. I knew that I was not going to make it to the next round of porta potties, but really REALLY tried. Luckily, at the time that this was happening the course passed through a residential area, and there were houses on each side of the street. My “issues” got to the point beyond what I could control, and I yelled out into the crowd of cheering bystanders “can I use your house!!!? I have to go!!!” (Good decision #1). A couple waved me over and in I went, sprinting to their beautiful, clean restroom. I did not make it. Well, I kinda did.
Once I was finished and all cleaned up, I ran out thanking them, apologizing for what I had done to their beautiful house, and quickly joined up with the rest of the runners (some of which looked at me with confused expressions). I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable, but kept going. I saw my mom at Mile 13, told her what had happened (almost breaking down into tears), and continued on after hearing a few encouraging words.
Everything after that was pretty fine and dandy until I hit a wall at mile 19. OHHHH, this is the “wall” that everyone talks about. I started feeling as though my body had transformed into what would be my 90-year old body in the future. Aches and pains shooting in places I did not know existed. I never stopped though and kept plugging along at the pace I had been running for most of the race.
At mile 23 there was a sharp corner that pretty much turns onto the 3-mile home stretch straight into the downtown area. This was also location of a huge beer stop for those who are tired of Gatorade and water. Hey, I like beer. I was thirsty. So, I decided to take a sip (bad decision #4). My thoughts after hydrating on beer were “dumb, dumb, dumb” as I started to feel queasy. COME ON, I’m almost there, I told myself.
I snapped out of it, and pushed through, every step a little closer to the cheers echoing out of the large buildings that hovered over downtown. I could see the finish line. I could see the people around me, cheering, smiling, and sharing this moment with me. I crossed and it was AMAZING. I cried. I finished!
So there you have it. I did something completely out of my comfort zone that I believed I was capable of. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t fast. It definitely wasn’t pretty. But it was my FIRST marathon and a moment I will never forget. When I think back to it, even today, I realize how much that experience taught me about running, goals, and challenges I will face.
I decided to compile a list of things that I learned from that ONE experience that I carry with me today:
1) Anything new is somewhat scary…
2) But also without expectations. Sure I had goals, but I didn’t know what to expect mentally, physically, and emotionally. I think going into a new situation without expectations makes it THAT much better.
3) Doing something for the first time is EMOTIONAL. Mentally and Physically I was challenged, but I had no idea that the emotional element of racing would trump all else. It is one of the most euphoric feelings in the world!
4) Encourage those around you. You are in it together.
5) Thank the volunteers and people who come out to support and cheer. They aren’t getting paid. They are out there for YOU. Also, give special thanks to those that allow you to run into their home and destroy their bathroom. ☺
7) Porta Potties are there for a reason. Use them! When you are out there for an endurance event, the body will likely lose its sense of control, at some point. I actually study the course map prior to any run and have the porta potty locations engraved into my head.
8) Don’t overdue the GU. I believe I took down 5 GUs while I was out there on the course, and the thought of it now makes me cringe. I currently use three GUs and try to fuel up on other foods that are offered along the course. Too much GU can be a bad thing.
9) Discover Body Glide. I had no idea what chaffing was until I entered the shower after the marathon. It is now a running MUST.
10) Start at a good pace. Don’t go out too fast and don’t get yourself in a starting position where you become frustrated weaving through people. I now like to start a little ahead of the pace I would like to run, just to avoid excess weaving.
12) Runners high is real. And awesome. And addicting.
12) Running for THAT long will force you to reflect on things that get buried inside, and it will likely put you in a place where you rarely go.
14) It’s not all about you. Runners can’t do it alone. My family flew out to Houston to show their support and cheer me on at different places along the course. My husband takes time out of his life to train with me, travel with me, be there with me, and cheer me on from start to finish. I couldn’t do it without the support of family, friends, trainers, and other runners. It takes a community to make one runner.
I have also learned that we are all capable if we believe in ourselves and have others who believe in us. You can never really prepare yourself enough, because quite frankly, you will never know what to expect until you are actually in that moment. I have now run six marathons and all of them have brought me different experiences and challenges. No two marathons are exactly the same.
When it comes to figuring out “What am I ready for? What can I handle?” I find it a difficult question to answer, primarily because we never know what we are ready for or what we can handle – but chances are, it’s a lot more than we think.
And given these thoughts, I am excited to set some new goals and once again face the unknown – details to come…
Have you ever had an embarrassing or unexpected experience while running?
What have you learned from past experiences that you still carry with you today? Any advice?