This coming Sunday, I will run my tenth marathon, a milestone deserving some reflection.
When I tell people about my upcoming milestone marathon, they speculate that I must have been running for a while. In some respects, I have dedicated quite a bit of time to running. In other respects, I have called myself a marathoner for only the past six of my thirty-two years.
This journey began back in 2009 when I set foot in a gym for the first time. A casual comment introduced me to Spinx Run Fest, the site of my first half marathon and full marathon. I decided to run the half marathon in 2010, doubting that I could actually complete the distance. this doubt persisted even after I finally registered three weeks before race day. In the middle of that race as my mind wandered through the miles, I realized that the following October, I would be 26.2 years old. That thought planted a seed that took root in fertile ground. The roots dug deep.
I registered for that first marathon the first hour of registration. I stumbled through the training, making my fair share of rookie mistakes. However, I crossed that finish line and became a marathoner, finishing less than a tenth of a second under five hours. I knew when I finished that one was not enough.
I thought that marathon #2 would come the next November after I took advantage of an 11/11/11 sale and registered for the Savannah Rock n Roll Marathon. Instead, after reading someone else’s musings about being thought crazy for running two marathons in a year, I decided to up the ante at one of my May half marathons and go the full distance. Marathon #2 in New River taught me that this marathon thing might just be right up my alley. Even with a last minute training plan chance to bump up the mileage, I shaved twenty-four minutes off my first marathon time.
Marathon #3 taught me the power of mantras and the importance of hydration. Even in approaching winter, Savannah maintains humidity. My mantra for that race was “I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.” (Bonus points if you can name that move.) That marathon still bears the distinction of being the only marathon I have ever run completely without music. At the time, I planned to run a trail 50k a couple months later.
Then came marathon #4, San Francisco. After running first the first half marathon and then the second half marathon, I had to run the full. Not only that but I also made the audacious goal of making San Francisco my first sub 4 hour marathon. I met that goal even though the odds seemed to stretch out of my favor in the last 10k. I also lost my first toenail. (It’s also the only toenail I have ever lost.)
I ran my first really big marathon for #5 that fall when I ran the Marine Corp Marathon. I had big, in retrospect too big, goals of qualifying for Boston. Instead, the beginnings of what, so far, has been my only injury a mere week before the marathon cropped up and grabbed my attention. I learned how to deal with unexpected curveballs with humility as I crossed the finish line with a nearly identical time as San Francisco three months before.
I took time to regroup and put off my next marathon, #6, until the fall of 2014. I got a coach, a new type of training plan and headed to the Twin Cities to a marathon that is still one of my favorites. I learned that I had improved as much as I could on my own; it was now time to reach for more experienced help. That extra help paid off. I shaved off another ten minutes.
Marathon #7 took me across the Atlantic to the Eternal City. I started under the shadow of the Colosseum, ran across cobblestones slick with a light drizzle, smelled the “stinky man from Bologna,” marveled at the splendid opulence as I ran through St. Peter’s Square and finished back where I started with a time that still today is my PR. That marathon taught me that I could do this. I came so close to that ever elusive BQ with marathon #7. I giddily registered for Chicago and continued to push forward. I ended up with a distal hamstring strain. Although I trained smart, I had underlying structural issues that finally came to a head. Chicago 2015 was not to be.
Once I, with a lot of help, started figuring things out and rebuilding, I wanted redemption. Marathon #8 taught me that I could still do this. I enjoyed Tobacco Road even though for the first time on my marathon journey, I went “backwards,” time-wise.
Marathon #9 took a lot longer coming due to major life changes that started the week before Tobacco Road. I wanted to run another marathon in 2016 but I knew that I wanted to make my return to the classroom my priority so instead I trained for and ran the Hilton Head Island Marathon with Mom. Marathon #9 taught me that tackling this sort of training with someone else often exceeds expectations of marathon running enjoyment. I learned that putting my goals aside for the sake of someone else brings much greater rewards.
Even though I have yet to run marathon #10, I have already learned a lot. I have become a smarter runner. I have learned to adjust to ridiculous weather and a lack of AC at work after 3:15 – the district turns off A/C at that time in all the school buildings to save money – and the subsequent exhaustion. I have learned that rebuilding takes time, especially rebuilding the right way. I have learned to hold loosely to my goals so that a slower than expected time doesn’t completely crush me.
Here’s to marathon #10 and to the ten that follow!