From a respectful half marathon finish to taking the leap to the Big Apple, this rookie runner wants to share a few lessons learned along the way!
Up until this year, I’ve been all over the map with my running endeavours. This was the year to conquer a few goals, and I did. Some with ease and confidence – other’s in great pain. It was a year of learning lessons.
After five half marathons last year, I set out to crack a sub 2:00hr. I hired a trainer and started becoming consistently consistent. I traded junk miles for fuel efficient mileage. I tracked it all on my Garmin and was always eager to review my running summaries – comparing and calculating my accomplishments. Hills and I became buddies. I toughened up and sucked it up through rain, mud and wind. I became a GU caffeine junkie and a compression ambassador. I was methodical with hydration, nourishment and sleep. I was on a mission.
Raceday was picture perfect and memorable for so many reasons. I chose the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon; a picturesque half from UBC to Stanley Park. Fired up with adrenaline and determination I was on fire and smashed all sorts of pb’s: my first 5km/3.1miles was 24:29 and the first 10km/6.2miles was 49:09. I finished the 21km/13.1 miles with 1:53:39!
Therein lies lesson no. 1: Celebrate your victories BUT don’t get too cocky.
I was thrilled with the results and my Type A personality was plotting to push my limits. If I were to ever run a marathon in my life, logic would dictate that the time to start training was now. By that point, I’d trained for 5 straight months, running every second day, injury free and I felt that it made most sense to keep the rhythm and shoot for the stars – the iconic New York City Marathon in November. I made the decision to register at the beginning of July.
My trainer, Leah Goldstein (a world class professional ultra endurance athlete) was happy to hear that I wanted to take my training to a whole new level BUT at the outset suggested I was wanting too much too soon. I remember her saying I needed to work on my base (I didn’t even have 1,000km/621miles under my training belt yet). Bless her heart, she accepted my challenge and strategized my next 5 months training agenda. (Note: this is the beginning of lesson no.2)
For the next 4 months I ran my assigned runs diligently. Funny how a half marathon (13.1miles) became a mere ‘training’ run distance?!
Training for a marathon is a lot of work! It demands a lot more of a lot of things: more therapy like long soaks standing waist deep in the lake or ocean to cool my legs after a long run and long Epsom salt baths to soothe the muscles. More sleep and deeper sleeps (and some afternoon catnaps too!) And eating – I’ve never ate so much in my life! (I even had to get up and eat in the middle of the night during nights after a long run!)
With less than 4 weeks until the marathon I ran my last long run. Major tip to all marathon rookies: know your long run elevations before you run! In my instance I ran a false flat route: 18.5km/11.5miles on a slight incline and the returning 18.5km/11.5miles slightly downhill. The result: not so slight shin splints!! From the outset Goldstein warned I was wanting too much too soon. I ran a lot in those few months, perhaps too much too soon, but it was not as if I wasn’t warned. I suppose injury was inevitable.
So there I was, a month to the marathon. My mind was racing. Goldstein booked me appointments with her physical therapy team. The assessment was awful. I was asked to hop on one foot and could not do it – on either foot. I was in pain – a lot more than I was willing to admit and in the assessment room it was suggested that I forgo the marathon and take time to heal. Sitting on the therapist’s table I looked Goldstein in the eyes and said I was running.
We live in a small town but fortunately it is equipped with state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment. At my physio clinic there was an AlterG Antigravity treadmill.
I ran the next 3 weeks practicing active recovery, running at 25% of my body’s weight. It kept my cardio and training in check for the most part, albeit an adapted workout to compensate for my injury. Every second day I was going for physio. My right leg was the worst and was wrapped with leuko tape between sessions. During those weeks I knew that Goldstein was concerned but I also knew she was biting her tongue to honor my steadfast quest to run despite not having ideal pre-marathon conditions. The final
week of marathon prep was supposed to be tapering, resting and final plans and race day strategies. My final week included a grossly swollen elephant leg (from knee to bottom of my foot) due to an allergy to the Leuko tape and a nasty viral cough.
The night before the marathon I called Goldstein. I put on my big girl pants. I tried to suppress my cough and assure her that I was ready to run.
4am came early. We were bussed to Staten Island for a 4 hour wait with cardboard, plastic bags and whatever else we could rummage to keep us warm (awesome conditions for my dry chest cough). The Sinatra start warmed our souls and for the first 15km/9.3miles I was enjoying myself. It was the first time I was running on 100% of my body weight in almost a month. And then the ghosts started coming out of the closet. It was a run of crosswinds and headwinds. At times it felt as if I was running in one spot trying to maintain my balance. I sliced my ankles with the edges of my shoes as my strides were jagged at times. My shins started to burn with impact and I had coughing fits. At the halfway point I was in severe pain and so discouraged that I called my trainer. Her words “just keep moving”. I cried and kept moving til the 27km mark – at which point my mind was going crazy “how do I get out of here?”, “Do I just stop and walk off the course”, “No, you dumbass, you’ve made it this far – just keep moving!”, “How many more miles?”, “Why can’t I calculate?”, “Why can’t I think straight”, “Why didn’t I listen to Goldstein back in July?”, “Why the hell am I doing this?”, Where the hell am I?”, “This fucking sucks!”. Note: 10 years prior I had delivered my son naturally, a 10.5lb baby with no pain meds and I was showered and ready to go an hour after he was born. The pain was intense but bearable and over as soon as he was born. This situation was by far the worst pain I’ve ever known.
I did make it to the finish line, 4:58:27 – a far cry from the 3:45 I had set as my goal back in August when that was my training pace. I went from striving to qualify for Boston to just making it across the finish line. Humbling. And as it turns out I finished and was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my right tibia.
Lesson no. 2: Listen. I did not have a solid base. I wanted too much too soon. I trained too hard in too short of time. I pushed myself rather than listening to that little voice that knows better and the voices of seasoned veterans. The traits of a Type A and that’s how we roll.
Lesson no.3: Running is a metaphor for life. The most important reason for finishing is because running is a sport and in many ways the challenges of running are like metaphors for life – not every game day is going to be ideal. There are things that happen that are out of our control. Nevertheless, they are there to be challenged or pass us by. I chose to challenge it and celebrate the accomplishment without attachment to the actual timed result. This was a process that took many weeks to make peace with.
Lesson no.4: Acceptance. Ego is a wretched thing. Personal fulfillment without attachment to results despite putting yourself out there, being vulnerable and transparent with your goals and expectation is a challenge. I was so frustrated at the finish line. I was an emotional wreck for a few weeks – a post marathon blues pity party. I was disappointed and through it all I needed to shift my focus to acceptance and appreciation for the entire process.
“Everything you wanted to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles” ~ Lori Culnane
So as I sit and reflect on the entire experience I have reconciled that I did what I did because that is who I am. I’m an “all in” kinda gal. I will forge ahead against the odds; a risk taker of sorts. I finished the marathon because I started it. I finished it for many of the friends whose stories of running challenges and persevering and overcoming adversities have touched my heart and I finished inspired by my trainer (who is ironically writing a book called “No Limits” – on shelves April 2015) and some friends who are quite literally “Marathon Maniacs”.
As a mom, I feel that perseverance through blood, sweat and tears is an important lesson to demonstrate. Furthermore, to put things in context, there are people with far greater challenges who finish –many with far better results. And there are people who cannot run one step. I am the first generation of women in my family to be involved in sport. My mom died in 2007 after spending the last 10 years of her life in a vegetative state afflicted by MS and my dad is an alcoholic; she had no control over her health and he has sabotaged his. I run in honour of health and the constant reminder that it cannot be taken for granted. I am grateful for every step. Running is an individual sport, but it’s also therapy. I refer to it as meditation in motion. Every step, every trail or road running journey has many lessons and benefits for the heart, mind and soul (and it keeps the ego in check!)
Would I do anything any differently? Hell, no. This experience has hopefully paved the way for a much smoother second marathon attempt!