I generally share fitness, nutrition, and various other health topics in my posts but today I wanted to share with you a personal story, although the messages still ring loud and clear as it pertains to the usual subject matter. So if you’d like to read on and hear about my journey to running the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach and the lessons to be learned from it, I’d be delighted to it share with you. And even if you don’t, that’s ok too but I think there’s a lot of this story that relates to everyone, whether you want to run a marathon or not.
Years In The Making
Some refer to it as a bucket list item, but running a marathon was just a personal goal I had for myself. It was something I wanted to do to see what I could do, how far could I push myself out of my comfort zone, and just have a goal that was realistic, attainable, and measureable – the three solid qualities of a goal. I consider myself to be a disciplined, very fit individual and from working with many clients over the years, I know of the tremendous commitment running a marathon requires and I became intrigued. I should confess to those who don’t know me that I’m not a runner. In fact, I’m probably more of a non-runner, having a mesomorph type frame and a predominance of Type II muscle fibers. As an athlete back in school, I despised running except for chasing down the ball or an opponent. I never ran for fitness. My cardiovascular exercise of choice is the bike. I support and train those who love running, but it was never my thing. Then one day I was just inspired to run.
I was working with a client who no more than three years previous had a tremendously difficult time running one mile on the treadmill. Fast forward three years and she’s now running 5Ks, 10 milers, multiple half marathons, and participating in sprint triathlons. Some would say, “Hey, that’s great! Good for her! I’m not doing that.” And that’s ok as everyone is entitled to their opinions (more on that later). To someone like me though, my response was more along the lines of “What’s stopping you?” So it was about this time last year when I decided that when I turn 40, I want to be able to say I ran a marathon. It was always sort of in the back of my brain, but here it was, my 39th year, and I hadn’t done a thing to even remotely prepare myself. It was time to start practicing a little more of what I preach.
The First Steps
I am a fitness training professional and strength coach so it is in my experience that there is no better way to do something than the right way. I’ve heard and read all the “guru” and “expert” ideas/plans on how best to prepare for a marathon and the only common denominator I discovered is that there is no perfect way to prepare – only what’s best for you. I began to strategize and in essence work my way up, or more specifically, progress in a reasonable, timely manner to get me to the goal without injury. I had run several 5Ks, participated in the Broad Street 10 Miler in May of 2012 and then the Philadelphia Half Marathon in November 2012. The next step was the full marathon and while logic will make you think that a marathon is only two half marathons put together, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
16 Weeks To Go
There really is only one way to train for a marathon and that is to run. Remember how I didn’t like running? Yeah, well there’s a lot of it to be done. Each week is a set of little runs and progressively increasing longer runs on the weekends. It changes your daily and weekly routines; it alters your social commitments; it really puts the onus of responsibility of sticking to your plan, both in regards to training and your nutrition. If you plan to do the marathon and you want to at a minimum finish it, you better stick to the plan. And if all of that wasn’t hard enough, finding a nice day to run December through March in Southeast PA is not an easy task. I had trained in it all – wind, rain, snow, sleet, ice covered trails, darkness – you name it. Least let’s not forgot the emergency bathroom stops along trails with no bathrooms.
But a strange thing started to happen to me. Running and I started to begin to develop a better relationship. I didn’t love it necessarily but I didn’t hate it either. There were days when I actually really looked forward to the runs (nothing provided more mental calmness and clarity than a long run did) and there were days when despite my complaining about it, I would forget all about it once I began the run. In the end, it became bittersweet knowing that the long hard work was done and all that was left was to run the big one itself. I was starting to miss the misery. I found myself ready to do it three weeks in advance of the actual date and couldn’t wait to cross that finish line. There was a light at the end of this tunnel and I was starting to see it.
Achieving The Goal
As I expected, running the marathon itself was the easiest part of the journey. Not that the marathon was easy per se, but all of the training had come to this point and I knew I had prepared the best that I could. It was never without crazy thoughts running through my head either like “Why am I doing this again?”, or “Can I stop now?”, or “Really? Does the wind really have to blow any harder?” It’s still surreal to me, but I did it. I saw it all the way through and crossed the line. I received my medal. I left nothing behind and had no regrets. All the weeks of training, all the preparation, and all the sacrifices came to a glorious finish. To make the moment even sweeter, the same client in the previous story completed her first marathon as well as my wife. We all did it, standing, smiling, and truly proud. Will I run another one? I won’t say never but I am pleased to enjoy this one forever. It was personally special and taught me a lot about myself that I didn’t know which I will share with you next.
Lessons Learned From 26.2
So many times we tend to focus on what’s unimportant versus what’s truly important. With running, everyone worries about their time. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. For some, it’s a hard factual way of measuring themselves against others or how much they’ve improved since their last attempt. It wasn’t about any of that for me. It was the culmination of months of training and preparation towards a specific goal. It was the goal of doing a marathon itself. I have no delusions of trying to compete with the likes of the professional runners. To share the same exact course with them was honorable enough. Anyone who does a marathon no matter how long it takes them is a winner in my eyes. They have seen the goal all the way through to the end and when you’re not competing professionally, the time really does not matter. How many times have you beat yourself up because you only lost 5 pounds instead of 10? Isn’t the weight loss still an accomplishment itself? Or you attempted a personal best in a lift only to fall just a few inches short of completing the lift. Is not the attempt at the newer, heavier weight a step up from the previous personal best?
It’s not about settling or becoming complacent. It’s about getting better, not perfect. It’s about committing to something greater than just numbers on a scale or pounds on a lift. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and achieving something that you never thought you could. It’s not about what you can and can not do; it’s about what you will and will not do. Do I advocate that everyone run a marathon? Absolutely not! But using a marathon as a metaphor towards striving to reach and achieve goals is a powerful comparison. I never would have imagined 10 years ago that I would have run a marathon. I always feel, as I do every year, that I’m I better shape than the year before. I can’t tell you the number of times I hear, “You just wait and see” when I say that I feel great. My response now more than ever is, “If that’s how you feel, that’s your choice. If you don’t feel better, what are you going to do about it?”
You don’t have to run a marathon or compete in any one of the numerous events that are available to us today. If you have a goal that you truly want to achieve and it’s realistic, attainable, and measureable, prepare yourself to do something you’ve never done; prepare to make the necessary sacrifices; prepare to endure the social pressures; prepare to change the way you currently do things. If what you’ve wanted to achieve still eludes you, you haven’t embraced all that it will entail. Come to terms with that, and I guarantee you will be successful. And believe me, the reward of the achievement is all its worth and more. May your goals become reality.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.