This past May, I ran my first marathon…and it was well, overwhelming. It’s taken me awhile to fully process it, and I am finally getting around to posting my thoughts about the entire experience. I’ve decided to break it all up into three sections; here is the second (read the first, Challenges, here).
Well, there must good parts to training for and running a marathon, right? Otherwise why would so many people attempt it? I’m not quite sure what I hoped would come from the entire experience, but here are some things that I learned.
- Scheduled Exercise is amazing.
If you pick up any women’s health magazine, it will surely be spouting the benefits of regularly scheduled exercise. I can attest that having a plan and sticking to it made a huge difference—and not just in my level of fitness. Despite being tired or sore or busy, knowing that I had to run a certain number of times per week or on a certain afternoon was a game-changer for me. Although I have always enjoyed exercise (previously through team sports or group exercise classes.. it has taken me awhile to truly love running), and in spite of the knowledge that motion changes emotion (ie after a terrible day or stressful week or too much ice cream, a good workout can completely alter your mindset), I struggled with my level of dedication. It is a weakness of mine to be overcome by my list of things to do and stressed out/burned out after a tough day or week and it was easy to cut exercise from the list first. However, knowing that I most likely wouldn’t achieve my goal if I didn’t run enough helped to ensure that training was of the utmost priority. Sticking to the plan definitely helped me finish (and in a reasonable time, even if it wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping for) and did wonders for my mood and mind (more on that later).
- Goal Setting
Sticking to the plan was much easier once I made several goals of differing levels of attainability. My goals were (from simplest to most difficult): 1. Finish the marathon; 2. Finish under 4:15 (or as close to the four hour mark as possible); 3. Qualify for Boston (BQ – for my age group that meant finishing in under 3:35, or about an 8min/mile pace). I knew that if I stuck to the plan I would definitely be able to finish. My final time was 4:30:05, which was just shy of my second goal, but still respectable for a first-timer. The final goal was definitely a stretch, but is also something to strive for in future races.
- Mental Sharpness
Besides the physical benefits of being in good cardiovascular shape, I felt that all of my time running was really good for my head. I solved many problems (both work and personal) while I was out pounding pavement. In fact, it was during several runs that I cooked up the plan (and perhaps the courage!) to start blogging. Running for me definitely helps lower my stress levels, and clear the clutter out of my head. There is something about the repetitive nature of running that lends itself to thinking without thinking. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but I am definitely not the only one or the first one to notice; many articles have been written about the boons of simple repetitive tasks to aid in problem solving or an overactive mind. It’s something that is easy to forget when you’re in the thick of things, and something that I constantly need to remind myself of. Running/exercise changes your perspective, even if it’s only a quick mile or two or a half an hour of your day.
- Dedication = Success
It seems to me, that if you are dedicated and completely focused on achieving a goal (any goal!) and have the correct tools in your arsenal, you can most definitely succeed. Similarly, I think that passion matters much more than talent. I am not built to be a long-distance runner, and I (still) don’t count myself as an expert on the subject. However, I put in the work and the time and was able to make it happen. No, I wasn’t as fast as I wished to be, but I did finish! If you want something to happen, make it happen! Make a plan, stick to it (well, to a certain extent anyways. It’s not likely you’ll figure out the most perfect plan on the first try…but you know what I mean), and remain focused on the outcome you are hoping for. I feel like I surprised myself by what I accomplished and wonder what else I can do that I don’t think that I can… we are our own worst enemies in that we know (and therefore can exploit) our own weaknesses better than anyone. Finishing the race helped to quiet that little voice in the back of my head who tells me that I “can’t.”
I feel like there are so many more things that I want to say about training, but can’t find the words for… so many more benefits of running so far and training so long.
It’s the feeling that you get after a tough run, the run where you so badly want to stop, but struggle through and keep going, and you finish it and you are so tired (and sometimes nauseous) when you get back but then you force yourself to eat something and rehydrate and then you feel like you can do anything because you just ran “x” miles and for “x” hours and wow, how many people spend their weekend doing that, and oh man, the race is coming up, and you’re going to kill it, except it’s so much more than you have ever done, much farther than you ran today and can you even do it… yes, you’re working your butt off and putting everything you have towards it and you are going to crush it!
Have you ever felt like that before? Like you are simultaneously exhausted but soaring, proud but apprehensive of the next challenge.. so many contradicting feelings but ultimately confident in your efforts and your plan? Like you have no choice but to keep going and to finish what you started. Unsettled, but good, ready for the next step. That’s how I felt. More to come.
*Photo from around the third mile in the VT City Marathon, taken by my husband, Casey.