What Marathons Can Teach Us
I officially started training for my 8th marathon, the New York City Marathon, on Labor Day, which means that I trained for about 8 weeks. Definitely not something I recommend others do, and the only reason I would do this is because I have been running and doing triathlons for about 11 years now, so I have a decent base. The other thing is that I don’t really have a time goal. I am not trying to qualify for Boston Marathon (BQ), or beat my 4:03 PR. So, when I showed up on Sunday, after about 3 hours of sleep, for my first ever NYC Marathon, my expectations as far as finishing time were really low. As in, I assumed my time would be high – around the 4.5 hour mark. I wasn’t wearing a watch, and I wanted to save my phone battery for photos and videos along the course, so I didn’t use any tracking apps. I really had no idea what my pace or the time was the entire race.
I took loads of photos and videos. Of the start, with the singing of America the Beautiful, and the first mile as we ran across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn.
I took photos of some of the many hilarious signs spectators had made to encourage us along.
When I came upon my husband and son and my friends, who had made the trip in to support me and another friend running it, I stopped each time, to hug them. I took pictures.
My husband texted me to tell me where they were located, and as the miles passed and my legs and feet started longing for some downward dog love, I clung to the expectation of seeing their beautiful faces 30 or so blocks away.
At a few points I thought, 26.2 miles is a helluva long way. It’s a distance that truly demands respect. I can’t believe I did this twice, after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles, in my two Ironman triathlons. And that I am considering repeating that feat. The enormity of what it does to your body and mind really hit home when at mile 25, a woman collapsed a little ways in front of me and was rushed off on a stretcher.
This particular marathon was not really on my radar until I was asked to join a team that was fundraising for St. Jude’s Children. I didn’t know that much about what St. Jude’s does until I accepted the invitation to run for this team, first for this past March’s New York City Half Marathon, and then this full marathon. A few times during Sunday’s marathon, when it crossed my mind that some of my lower extremities were a tad achy, I immediately thought of the children and their families, who were benefiting from St. Jude’s mind-boggling support (they don’t have to pay a dime for their cancer treatment or any associated costs – for life!). Who was I to complain about a blister or ailing toenail or tired muscle?
I didn’t know what my finish time was until a couple hours after crossing the finish line, when I was headed home. I pulled up my name in the marathon app on my smartphone and saw I had finished in 4:32. Huh. My slowest marathon to date. I thought about the time I had taken to fiddle with my phone (camera), hug my family and friends, pee. Since I hadn’t been tracking my progress, while I knew I had negative splits starting around mile 18, I didn’t know exactly by how much or how consistently. I suppose that would have been interesting to know. I knew I could have gone a bit faster, especially if I hadn’t smilepaced and treated this like a fun party as opposed to something to measure and prove. So, I sat with both parts – the part of me that is competitive and was a little annoyed I hadn’t pushed myself more, trained harder (or at least for longer!), that part of me that was ruffled when other people shared their faster times and PR’s. And then the other part of me that really and truly loves to be immersed in the whole experience of soaking in the scenery, the crowds, the effort that my friends and family make as they support me all year long in all of my endeavors, and especially on the day of the event. The part of me that loves to document it all, even if it means running 26.2 miles with a phone the size of a tablet (iPhone 7 Plus), in my hand, and running more slowly to get certain footage to share with those who aren’t up for the actual run themselves.
My first New York City HALF Marathon several years ago was one of my most unpleasant race experiences ever. I had made poor food and alcohol choices the night before. The morning of the race was much colder than expected (it was August, but was in the 40s), and around mile 7 the driving, cold rain and the dehydration from stupid choices kicked in and my knee became a throbbing mess. Every step was excruciating. It was all I could do to continue running. I just focused on one step at a time for the next 6 miles. I don’t remember what my time was but it wasn’t spectacular by any means. And yet – it will always be one of my most memorable races, one of the ones I am most proud of finishing. It was the closest I had ever come to quitting. But I didn’t quit. I grit my teeth and kept moving forward.
Some of my friends, real or virtual, complain after their races that they were dismayed by how lousy they felt. That their time sucked. They felt great in training – and yet they fell apart in the race. What happened? They ask themselves. When I got my triathlon coaching certification, one of my favorite workshops was with Bobby McGee, the author of Magical Running and a coach to elite and professional athletes. He explained that if we go into a race with a specific time goal, we are very likely to be disappointed. There are so many variables beyond our control, no matter what our training looked like. Weather, terrain, crowd behavior, opponents, etc. He suggested, instead, that we choose a time possible as a target, but that our goals be something we actually can control: patience; flexibility; gratitude. In other words, that we adopt a certain attitude as our goal. Because, inevitably, no matter how much or how we train, there will be surprises on race day. And if we are married to a time-measured goal or a rank, we are setting ourselves up for potential failure.
So – if your performance at your recent event was in your opinion, disappointing or downright mortifying – I invite you to look at it this way: did you quit? Or did you keep going, in spite of the fact that you were in pain, you wanted to puke, you questioned your sanity? So, you missed your desired finishing time by a few minutes or hours – what did that teach you? Maybe you need to tweak your nutrition (try FuXion by the way – it’s amazing stuff!). Maybe you need to build more rest into your training plan, especially if you have a stressful life. Maybe you need to do more strength training, cross-training, yoga. Maybe you need to say the Serenity Prayer on a regular basis. Whatever it is that you learned from this experience, the fact that it was an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself and about life, makes it in many ways an awesome race. I have a lot of finisher medals and podium medals and trophies, and the ones that mean the most to me are not always the ones that looked the best on paper (or in an App).
Sometimes success is not measured as much by a GPS watch as by what is felt in the soul. The fact that people can so easily track us now via race apps and social media can put a lot of pressure on us. But it’s good to remember that most of us are not sponsored by NIKE (though if anyone from HOKA or OOfos is reading this, I would love to be sponsored by you, you saved my feet!!!) – so our split times and finishing time is really not that important to most people. And all that work that we put into ourselves by living in the discomfort zone for hours on end each week, working toward something that very few people do – that cannot be measured by linear time as recorded by a finish line mat. No more than the love that we have for running can be measured by a ruler.
YOU ARE AMAZING.
Just. Keep. Going.
Wellness coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.