I am currently training for my fourth marathon. I had replaced running with cardio dance and strength training years ago. I was content with this new focus and certainly felt as if I transformed myself into my strongest, fittest self. Then, a group of friends asked me to train with them and join them on their first marathon adventure. I should note that these friends are half my age, and getting caught up in their youthful excitement, I gave them my yes. My husband, I think having some foresight into the crazy that awaited him over the next few months of training, decided it was in his best interest to sign up too. In my "yes" moment, I had forgotten the incredible amount of commitment needed to train for a marathon. What I am learning, however, is the experience of training often teaches us much more about life and who we are more than how to be long-distance runners.
I often here people say "I could never run 26 miles." It's a lie. I would much rather have folks tell me they have no desire to run 26 miles than limit their possibility. With the exception of those with medical or health issues, most people can run that distance if they are willing to put in the time to train. Training is hard, sometimes brutal, but available to anyone willing to embrace the challenge. Marathoners don't start out running huge distances. We start small and add just a little bit each week. It's in that "little bit more" that we begin to see our own potential. We know we will be sore. We know we will have good runs and not so good runs. We know we have to prioritize the time and embrace whatever weather conditions are present. We don't make excuses and we are stronger than the negative thinking that sometimes overwhelms our minds. It's not easy, but it is worth it and it is a choice available to anyone brave enough to take it on.
One of the biggest points to remember is a marathoner's strength is far more mental than physical. Marathoners have a why. A why may be as simple as "because I can" or "because my brother can't" or something far more personal driving someone to push past the status quo and endure the hardships of training. A why has to resonate so deeply that the pain of regret of not finishing or giving up would be far worse than the physical pain of training. Their why is one of their most powerful tools in facing whatever is encountered on the long road that lies ahead. Without a why, however, it is easy to fall victim to the negative thinking and give in to the intense desire to quit. It's the why that makes it all worth it.
There comes a point in training that sometimes, even with a why, a marathoner questions their desire to keep moving forward. Last week, I had a very difficult training run. I was able to finish 18 miles, but I had hit "the runner's wall" and pulled my hamstring along the way. I was running with my husband and we were taking a new route. That route led us on to the side of a highway at which point we had to finish our last six miles running with no shoulder while dodging speeding cars that had no sympathy for exhausted runners. During the next few days after that run, my excitement for the race turned into statements of "this is stupid," "you have nothing to prove," "is this all really worth it?"
I was dreading this week's training run. I had no desire to repeat last week let alone add on an extra mile on top of it. My why had me committed to the long haul, but as I laced up I had a "let's just get this over with" attitude. During the first few miles, I was having all sorts of issues with my fuel belt (a belt that carriers water and gels to keep runners fueled and hydrated). The belt was repeatedly falling off. Luckily, I had had some safety pins in one of my pockets and ended up pinning the belt to my shorts. I was beyond frustrated and couldn't stop focusing on how my belt issue was going to interfere with my time. Runners measure their success in timed miles just as much as distance, and with this start I knew this wasn't going to be a run I could feel good about. Every negative thought possible was pounding in my head. I needed a distraction from myself. It was time to pull out the headphones and turn on some tunes in an effort to drown out the "you might as well just quit now" voices.
As I began to get lost in the playfulness of the music, my reasoning mind returned and I turned to one of the greatest powers available to get one through hard situations. I gave thanks. In that thanks, I began to open my eyes to the beauty around me. That's when I decided this run was not going to be about speed or time. It was going to be a photography run in which I fed my soul just as much as I worked my body. My run soon turned into a game of gratitude tag where I would stop and take a picture of the things I was grateful for along my journey.
Before I knew it, my entire demeanor shifted. I was running lighter, faster, while grinning ear to ear. I gave myself permission to stop at any and every moment to awe some at the beauty around me. The time I took during those stops didn't matter. I began to think of myself as a visitor to this beautiful planet who was seeing things for the very first time (I believe this was a result of the many Dr. Who episodes my children have been watching).
The colors before me were radiant. The planet was alive with wonder. I let go of my need for control and planning, followed my intuition, and turned down a path I hadn't planned on running. Turns out that path added a bit of extra distance to my planned run, but it led me on a wondrous and magical journey. I found myself running free through the woods, alongside rivers, over wooden bridges, surrounded by every color of the rainbow. There weren't any other people around and I became metaphorically lost on the journey. I was living completely in the moment rather than visualizing my last few miles and praying for time to speed up so the run could be over.
It took me a little over 4 hours to run 20.25 miles. It was dark by the time I made it home. I felt alive and energized and knew I had more in me. Don't get me wrong, even though my run had many stops along the path, my body still ached. I was still sore and still avoided stairs at all costs. My heart, however, was filled with gratitude and appreciation and I couldn't wait to share my journey and the small moments of beauty I was able to capture on my phone with those I love.
I realized something on this run. My days of running for time are over. If it truly is the journey and not the destination that matters, I am better served going slow and being awe-struck. I know I will go the distance. I know I will finish my race. I also know it is more important to feed my soul on the journey than my ego (which needs to focus on time and compare it to others). The long distance isn't something that's meant to be endured, it's meant to be appreciated and embraced. When one is anchored in faith with their why and sees the world before them as being abundantly filled with miracles, that's when impossible becomes I'm possible. That's when the real magic begins to happen. I know the road ahead won't be an easy journey. It will be one filled with pain, with hardship, with exhaustion. But, it will also be filled with passion, and beauty, and an overwhelming sense of wonder that fills the soul. It will be a journey of constant discovery. It will be my journey, and oh, will it be worth it.
Hidden face in tree eating clovers...
"Yum, those clovers were delicious!"
Beauty even in their brokeness...
It's not what you look at that matters...it's what you see.
The light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes we have to travel through the darkest of places to get to the most brilliant and radiant places.
Love Big. Hug Hard. Laugh Loud. Write On.