It’s been about three weeks since I faced the hardest challenge of my life so far. I started training for a marathon months ago and all those months didn’t prepare me for what I would experience on November 8th 2014.
3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 14, 16, 18, 20 mile runs over the course of 5 months. Every Saturday morning and three days a week I ran. I spent so much of my time thinking about, preparing for and dreaming of the big day. I decided that a half marathon was just not a big enough accomplishment for me so I upped the ante a bit for myself. I’m someone who is often unsatisfied unless I complete the big things in life. So I set this one. I knew it would be hard. During training it felt impossible at times, while on other occasions I felt like a running super hero. That’s what running is all about. You will experience bad runs that will almost make you want to quit but a good run will overpower the pity party and uncomfortable feelings. You’ll carry a good run with you for so much longer than a bad one.
On November 8th I woke up feeling amazing. No stomach ache, no body aches, I ate well and I felt energized. I had family at the starting line with signs and encouraging words. I started the marathon with my marathon running uncle and one of by good friends who spent the previous 5 months running by my side. For the first 9 miles I was good. After that a small disaster struck! (This post will be longer than most so read on for the details. If you aren’t up for a long read I’ll wrap up the important part here.) I FINISHED! Read on for the grueling details of how it all went down.
At about 10 miles I started to get the chills. It was weird. I actually had goosebumps even though I was hot and it was in the 70’s. A couple minutes later I got dizzy. I have never felt this way on a run before. Especially at only 10 miles! I told my uncle how I was feeling and after a few additional questions he said the words I dreaded most. “You should probably walk.” In my two year running career I had never walked during a run! To me it was weakness. He suggested I eat a bit more and drink some water while walking for a few minutes. I felt unbalanced and I realized it was either pass out and not finish or walk for a while and feel better. I chose the latter and started to walk. My uncle and my friend continued without me as there was no way I would ask them to stay back. I felt like a failure. I am totally aware that people walk during marathons and there is nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t my plan and I failed to do this the way I wanted to. I walked and felt sorry for myself for about half a mile. I started to feel better and decided it was time to push through and finish this the way I had planned. After about a mile my body decided differently. I experienced the worst leg cramps ever! I had NEVER experienced a leg cramp like that. I had them in multiple muscles. Calve, quad and the bottom of my foot. My muscles felt like they were exploding. It was impossible to run. I walked again.
After a couple minutes I noticed a guy bent over on the side walk and realized it was my running BFF (RBFF). Apparently his quads had a plan similar to mine. He was in pain and unable to run. I couldn’t believe that after 20 mile straight runs with no cramps during training, this was the way it would go down on 26.2. I was relieved to see him and his words were comforting. I was no longer left to my own thoughts and pity party. We would spend the next 14 miles running, walking, laughing, crying (all me), and thanking each other for the amazing experience of training for this marathon together. I went through so many emotions. I texted my mom and sister at mile 15 with these exact words “I failed. I’m walking. Dizzy and cramps in both legs. 3 hours to finish 11 miles.” I cried as I texted that and then I snapped out of it. There was no way we wouldn’t finish and even though this is not the way I thought it would go, I would learn things about myself in the next 3 hours that would change the way I thought about life.
It was 80 degrees in Santa Barbara on November 8th. The sun was intense and we didn’t train in that kind of weather. We trained before the sun came up most mornings trying to avoid the heat. Who knew it would be that hot in November!!! We toughed it out. Our legs were weak and our muscles were sore. We never walked a full mile. We ran as much as our legs would allow before locking up and almost causing us to fall at some points. I kept thinking, “Why would this happen!? After all the successful training runs, after all the carbs, after the healing and the stretching… Why would this happen on game day?!” But as I continued to push through physical and mental pain, I realized that this was a life lesson. There will be times when you do everything right and shit still goes wrong. You can prepare perfectly and things will still turn out imperfect. It’s how you deal with those moments that truly define who you are. Those moments show you the strength you have. My body was incapable on this day, but my mind was stronger than ever. It convinced me that even though everything went wrong, I still had a job to do. I spent 5 months of my life thinking about this very day. I wouldn’t let that time be a waste, simply because my plans didn’t work out. There was a new goal and that was to finish this marathon with all those cramps, with the sun beating down on me and with every discouraging thought that was going through my head. And as each mile brought us closer to the finish line, the physical pain became greater and the mental toughness grew stronger.
We hit the 25 mile mark and we knew we had to finish strong. We ran that last mile, clinching our teeth, limping and counting down the minutes. At 5 hours and 47 minutes we crossed the finish line. It was all over. All the hard work, all the self talk, all the pain and all the anguish was over. I don’t know how to describe the feeling I had crossing the finish line. I was excited, I was proud, I was disappointed and I was relieved. I couldn’t decide which one was most powerful. I really think I was equally happy and sad about the way it all turned out. I had practiced perfection for 5 months, never failing, never losing sight of the goal.
Looking back on that day I feel pride but there are still traces of disappointment weaved in. I can check this very huge accomplishment off my bucket list but I’ve realize that marathons are not for me. I won’t be running another anytime soon, but I will always take pride in being able to say I completed 26.2 miles. Distance is something I am backing away from for a while. I have new plans and new goals. Running will forever be apart of who I am. 5k, 10k, half and full marathon were completed in 2 years. I can sleep at night knowing that I have overcome extreme physical and mental pain. I have set and achieved goals that seemed unattainable. I see my body in a whole new light and I appreciate my mind more than ever before. I am better. I am stronger. I am a runner. Now I will try something a little different.
To everyone who gave me a pep talk, listened to me vent, watched me stuff myself with carbs, picked me up after a long run, ran with me and stood at the finish line of one of the most exciting and difficult times of my life, I appreciate you more than I can even begin to describe. To my family who held signs, blasted Taylor Swift and Josh Groban and spent hours on that Santa Barbara course, you are the most amazing human beings I know. Your support meant everything to me. And as I close this chapter I take away this very important lesson… “Life is all about getting through the bad times even when you’re only prepared for the good. You will often find more value in the struggle than in times of ease. And true accomplishment doesn’t come from passing with flying colors, it comes from learning to choose different colors to pass with.”
So in the end… It’s Over and I’m Happy!
A few of my favorite pictures from that day…