13 Things Running a Marathon Taught Me

13 Things Running a Marathon Taught Me

About sixteen years ago, back when I was in college, I got a wild idea. I heard somebody talking about their experience of running a marathon, and I was intrigued. She seemed like an average person, someone I could relate to, and yet she had done this unimaginable thing! She had run 26.2 miles! And she had lived to tell about it. Could I possibly do it too? I started to wonder…

Before this, I had dabbled a bit in distance running. In high school, I ran the mile in track and thought I was a “distance runner.” And the summer after high school graduation, I joined my mom for a 4th of July Fun Run, which was a whopping 8 miles!! But still, the thought of running a marathon had never really occurred to me until I heard her talking about it. And then, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

I got my sister, who loved anything to do with extreme dedication, to join me, and we signed up for our first marathon! For me, it was just a bucket list item–something I would do once just to know that I had done it.  Our goal was just to finish, and to hopefully not walk. And we did it! And it was exhilarating! I finished in 4 hours and 10 minutes, and knew I would run another one someday.

Someday ended up being 15 years and 5 kids later! I had continued running during that time, running for exercise and throwing in a half marathon here and there. And then, once again, about a year ago, I felt that pull. My baby was almost two, my body was my own, my big kids were old enough to babysit (which makes training so much more doable!), and I had really been improving as a runner and wanted to tackle the next item on my bucket list: qualify for the Boston Marathon.

I made the commitment by registering for the race way back in March, six months before the race. And then, what followed has been life changing. The end result was a time that not only qualified me for the Boston Marathon, but was good enough to win my age group and place 4th overall among the female runners. But it isn’t the end result that has been life changing. It was the lessons all along the way. This marathon journey has taught me lessons that will help me in everything that I do—lessons that are helping me become the person I am meant to be. Let me share 13 of them with you.

  1. Heavenly Father cares about my ambitions. All along the way, I prayed and asked Him for help. I thanked him for my healthy body and the ability to run, and asked Him to help me to stay healthy and uninjured and to be able to do the training, improve, and reach my goal. I felt His strengthening power many times during the process, and know that He cares about the things that are important to me.
  2. Believe in yourself. I kept a training journal, and the cover of the journal had a scripture that I reflected on daily. “All things are possible to him who believeth.” –Mark 9:23. Of course, all things are possible because of our Savior, but I think this scripture also means that we need to believe in ourselves and our ability to do things with His help. Soon after registering for the race, I decided I needed some expert advice about how to train for a marathon. So I bought a book that became my training bible. In my first browsing of the book, I discovered that, based on my most recent half marathon time, the authors of the book thought I was capable of running a 3:15 marathon. What?! I didn’t believe it. I had 3:40 in my head—the BQ time for my age group. To think about running it 25 minutes faster? I just couldn’t believe that was possible. But I took a leap of faith, trusting the experts, myself, and my Savior. I believed in myself enough to try. And I started following their 3:15 marathon training plan.
  3. Be patient. At first, the speed workouts were extremely difficult and frustrating for me. I could run the paces prescribed in my training plan for both my tempo and long runs, but was failing consistently on the speed interval days. In taking a look back in my journal during these first few speed workouts, there are words like “failed,” “killer,” and “not my strength.” After the third one, I wrote, “Not sure I’m training for the right pace. I may need to re-evaluate my goal pace.” But I decided to give it another week or two and keep trying. Being patient with myself paid off.
  4. The body is amazing! In week 7, something amazing happened. From my journal: “Yay! Finally hitting the prescribed paces for speed intervals. I hope this can continue. I feel like I am finally adapting!” Our bodies will adapt to the stress placed upon them. This adaptation may take time, but we will adapt and improve. This is a principle. And it is one that continues to amaze me!!
  5. Experimentation is a great way to learn. Throughout the first month, I dealt with various stomach issues and often felt sick after long runs. I had had this problem in the past when running distances longer than ten miles. I knew I didn’t want to be sick every single long run day all summer. So I did some research, and then started experimenting. I tried different foods, liquids, and medicines before, during, and after the long runs until I found what worked for me. And once I did, I felt great!! Without a little experimentation, I may never have found the answer. (By the way, the answer for me was whole grain bread with peanut butter and a banana, and about 8 oz. of water 30 minutes to 1 hour before the run. Then during the run, some Gatorade at 30 minutes in, 100 calories of Gatorade chews every hour, and water and more Gatorade as needed. And then, if I still felt sick after the run, one Immodium would do the trick. And NO ibuprofen!!)
  6. I can MAKE time for the things that are important to me. Marathon training takes time. I did follow a 3-run-a-week plan with 2 additional days of cross training, which is less time intensive than other training plans out there. But still. It takes time. As a mom of five busy kids, there were times that I had to get a little creative. One week in August, I took my daughters to a gymnastics camp in Provo, UT, (two hours away) on Monday through Thursday, and then left Friday morning with my husband for a weekend vacation. I ended up driving home two nights, staying with family three nights, running on a track in Heber, UT, running in the dark at night, and running in the dark of morning (like before 5am!) to get everything in that week. But with a plan, some flexibility, and some courage (running in the dark is scary!!), I didn’t miss a single run that week.
  7. Listen to your body. And by that, I mean your wise body, not the toddler within. Let me expound. Week three of speed work, I listened to my body. It was just whining so loudly! I was beat. It was too hard. I didn’t have what it takes. I convinced myself that it would be better for me to just quit early than to continue a bad run. And I quit. Mid-workout. There really was no good reason. I wasn’t injured, sick, in danger, or going to die. But my toddler within had had it! And I succumbed. I regretted it later. About a month later, my heels started hurting after a tempo run. My body was telling me that something was wrong. My plantar fascia was inflamed for some reason. I was supposed to run 18 miles two days later, and I was looking forward to that run sooo much! I was in Alaska on vacation, and I had been dreaming of doing a long run with low elevation and eye candy views all summer long. I argued and argued with my inner voice, and then did the right thing and didn’t do the 18-miler. Within a week, with some rest, icing, and stretching, my heels felt much better and I didn’t end up dealing with a major injury. So glad I listened to my wise body!
  8. Nutrition matters. Although I was able to run my training paces almost every time on my tempo and long runs, there were a few bad runs. And the culprit was consistently poor nutrition. You know my mantra, “Love your body, and your body will love you”? Well, this is especially true in marathon training. If I want my body to perform, I have to fuel it right.
  9. Our thoughts are POWERFUL! So, this is a topic I’ve touched on quite a bit here on the blog. But I lived it this summer! In the beginning, when I was having my doubts about my goal time, I developed a thought that I focused on daily: “I can adapt and improve as a runner. I have not arrived.” I know that continuing to re-direct my mind to this thought was a key in me not quitting or changing my goal. By the time I entered my taper weeks, I knew I was capable of a 3:15. And THEN…..on race week, I came down with a cold. I felt horrible. My head was congested, I was blowing my nose constantly, and for the first time in literally years, I had a cough. I prayed. I took vitamin C. I got extra sleep. I drank plenty of water. AND, over and over in my mind, I deliberately thought “My body is healthy. My body is strong. My body is amazing and can fight off sickness quickly.” By thinking this thought over and over, I started to believe it, and knew I would be fine. I woke up race day morning feeling good as new!
  10. Trust the experts. In the weeks approaching the race, I started thinking about race strategy. The race had a big elevation loss, and most of the drop happened during the first half. I really thought it would be a good idea to run those downhill miles at a faster pace than I had trained for. That way, I would be ahead of pace, and then if I died at the end, maybe I would be able to make up for it by how fast my first half was. But everything I read told me not to do it. According to the experts, successful runners run conservative in the beginning. They try to run a consistent race, or even a negative split, meaning that the second half of the race is run faster than the first. I decided to trust them. It was difficult at first to hold back. It felt so easy. The people around me were running so fast! My mind wanted to worry about “later” and I had to keep focusing on “now.” But I did it. I just shot for a 7:25, mile after mile. Sometimes I was slightly ahead, sometimes slightly behind. But I just kept trying to run that pace. And I never died! I was strong all the way to the finish. When I was able to see the results after the race, I was so glad I had trusted the experts! My first half marathon was only three seconds faster than my second. At the halfway point, I was in 61st But between there and the finish line, I passed almost 40 runners who had taken off too fast, and I placed 23rd overall.
  11. Taking time to think is important. I know a lot of runners who love a good playlist. But I don’t listen to music when I run. One of my favorite parts of running is the built in time to think. I have thought about all kinds of things over the years. This summer, after a particularly rough week for me emotionally, I was able to use my long run as a self-coaching session. I worked through my thoughts and what was causing me my negative emotions. By the time I got home, I had some things figured out and was ready to tackle life once again! And I’m so glad I just allowed myself to think during the race as well. The ability to just be with my thoughts helped me strategize my way to my goal. Early on I came up with this plan: “Run the first 13 miles with your head. Run the next 7 miles with your legs. And run the final 6 miles with your heart.” And that is almost what I did. Except that when mile 20 came, my legs still felt great! I was able to keep running with my legs until about mile23, and then I ran with my heart.
  12. Support systems matter. About the time I started running with my heart, the number of spectators started to increase. I had also caught up to a lot of the half marathoners, and so there were a lot more people around. And they were so encouraging! The out-of-breath “Good job!” from another runner, the “You’re looking strong!” from a woman on the side of the road, and the musical talents of the clarinet player, the singer, the bongo player, and the guy in the kilt with the bagpipes all strengthened my heart. As I came down the final stretch, I started looking for the people who were my real supporters—the ones who knew the task I had undertaken, the day-to-day joys and struggles of it. My family. My mom. My sisters-in-law. My cousin. My kids. And most of all, my husband. I could never have done it without him. And then, seeing and hearing them cheering me on gave me the final push I needed to make it to the finish.
  13. We are capable of more than we think. As I crossed the finish line, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Somehow, I had done it! My time was 3:15:14. It was exactly what I had trained for. Exactly what the experts said I could do. Exactly what I couldn’t wrap my head around a short four months ago. But I had done it. What else might I be capable of if I just believe and do the work? I think we all are capable of far more than we know!
The emotion at seeing my family near the finish line

I’ve tried to express what this experience has meant for me, what it has done for me. And I’ve done the best I can. But there is something about it that I still can’t quite put into words, and that’s okay. Because I can put it into action instead.  It is pushing me forward toward whatever is next. And with all that running a marathon has taught me, I feel willing and ready to let it drive me into the next experience, and the lessons it will teach.

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