In this third post of a four-post series, I continue to share some of the insights I gained in preparing for and completing a first marathon. Topics include success, adversity, and strategy.
Even “solo” projects are easier with the support of others, and you often get back more than you give
Even if you’re training and running with a fundraising team or pacing group, a marathon is a largely solo event in many ways. In training, I usually ran alone because it’s a very meditative activity for me. However, the energy of other people at key points helps a great deal—at times, it may be the one thing that gets you through the project. Similarly, I often work with life coaching clients to identify larger support teams or networks of people who will help them get to where they want to go.
Preparing for any large project can take a great deal of time and energy, which means that a supportive partner, family, and/or friends are necessary. There were many weekends, for example, where Jen and I would have gone on hikes or attended other events combining physical activity and socializing. However, we skipped some of these so that I could train adequately. She helped out a lot when I suffered my most serious setbacks, and had to hear about it whenever I was sore after a training run, or had to get out of bed exceptionally early to complete a long run.
Having run a 10K on an island with very few spectators along the course, in contrast to runs where there had been much larger crowds, I knew about the “energy of the field” that many runners talk about. During the marathon, the musical bands and cheering spectators along the course provided me with extra energy. Later in the race, however, I needed an additional boost.
Somewhere between miles 21 and 23, I realized I had hit the dreaded “wall,” runners were much more spread out, the crowd was much sparser, and it had been some time since I had seen Jen around mile 13. My right foot was hurting a bit, and I was starting to feel both tired and hungry.
At a water stop, I caught up with a very tired looking runner who was asking a volunteer, “Are there energy gels at any more of the stops along the course?” (Energy gels, often made of rice syrup with some nutrients mixed in, are often consumed in longer races because the body depletes the energy stored in muscles.) I was pretty certain that we had passed the last gel stop, and offered him one of my remaining two gels, explaining that I probably wasn’t going to need them both. He hesitated for a moment, asking if I was sure before he took it, and then thanked me. “This may be the one thing that gets me through this.”
Ron and I ended up running together for two or three miles, slowing down to wait for each other at the water stops, and helping each other to speed the pace back up and maintain it after each stop. He explained that he had run prior marathons, but hadn’t trained adequately for this one. While I eventually had to slow down as he continued on at a slightly faster pace, the brief connection between us helped me through those few miles. He had given me just as much, if not more, support than I had given him by sharing the energy gel.
At some point over the next mile or two, I had to stop and walk for a few minutes, taking in additional water, as I was feeling overheated, lightheaded, and a bit dizzy. Suddenly I heard Jen’s voice, asking if I was okay. She gave me a few words of encouragement to help me get running again, explaining that my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew had just arrived and were waiting for me near the finish line. Drawing upon a bit of “need to be a big brother role model” energy and maybe even a few remnants of sibling rivalry, I told myself that I simply couldn’t allow my younger sister to see me walk over the finish line, even if it took the last bit of energy I could muster. I started to pick up the pace again. With her backpack and sandles on, Jen even jogged alongside me for a few moments, until I had gotten back up to speed.
A few minutes later, I spotted the finish line, and smiled with extreme happiness and relief as I jogged beneath the banners and balloons. It’s difficult to describe how many emotions I was experiencing in those final moments of the event. My brother-in-law snapped a photo of me just before I crossed the finish line.
Sometimes the lowest points come right before the highest points
As many runner-writers have noted, the last few miles really are where you’re tested. There are no other times in my life when I’ve felt tired the way I did during the last few miles of the race, and there are also no other times when I’ve felt that particular type of happiness just a few moments later. If you’ve worked hard to achieve a goal, and suddenly hit a roadblock, don’t give up yet because the finish line may be just around the corner.
How success is measured is often up to you
Around 15 miles into the race, I passed one runner who was sitting on the curb hunched over, almost in tears, while a volunteer kneeled down in front of her attempted to console her. “But I’ve worked so hard for this!” she sobbed. I felt very bad for her, but then thought selfishly to myself, “I’m thankful I’m doing better than her.” Later in the race, as my pace slowed and some other runners passed me, I groaned to myself, “Why can’t I be doing as well as they are?”
But was I really doing “better”? Each person there had overcome different types of challenges, and was starting from different levels of ability. After the race, a few people asked me how I did. I essentially responded that I felt I did quite well, given that I finished and learned a great deal. While I was reasonably happy with the time in which I finished, I knew that the numbers told only told a small part of the story. A great example of this is a friend who recently ran two half marathons, both while she was at least several months pregnant. This likely impacted her time a bit, but someone looking just at her times would have no way of knowing she was carrying an extra person the whole way.