Running isn’t everything, but I owe everything to running
How I went from walking the dog to running a marathon
“I would run, but I don’t want to spill my drink.”
You might have seen that saying on a magnet or bumper sticker. On my fridge or my car, in particular.
Growing up, I played soccer, and made a really great goalie. In college, I dabbled in treadmill jogging, but even Britney Spears and ‘NSync could only get me through a half an hour, tops.
I was many things -artist, sister, daughter, writer, project manager- but never runner. And I never had a problem with that. I loved spending time outdoors, swimming, and exploring bits of the Appalachian Trail that touched New Jersey. The numbers on the scale bounced mostly from chubby to let’s-not-even-look. I occasionally fantasized about being able to run with ease, ponytail flapping merrily behind me, but never considered it a tangible goal. Much like moving into Justin Timberlake’s guest house and learning to make cheese for a living, it was fun to think about, but obviously out of reach.
Until 2013. In the fall of 2013, I was laid-off from my job in pharmaceutical project management, and separated from my husband. Something inside shifted. In the middle of so many drastic changes, there was one thing I could still own: my body.
It seemed like everyone around me was competing in Tough Mudder this and Half Crazy that. I’d always thought the human body wasn’t meant for long distance running. Or dirt-laden team building. But then two little words changed everything:
In less than one week, I went from walking my usual six miles with the dog, to running them. I thought it would take me months to get to that stage, and when I hit mile six in just as many days, I felt lost again.
Even more than “Why not?” it was “What next?” that drove me forward, inspiring me to click “Register” for my first half marathon, a mere 6 weeks later.
When I finished The Wildwood Half, I swore I’d never do it again. It was hot, boring and grueling.
24 hours later, I signed up for a full marathon. The feeling of accomplishment was too rewarding to forego. I was hooked.
I ran that first half marathon in 2 hours and 7 minutes, wearing bargain sneakers and Target leggings from the juniors department. I’ve since graduated to “real” running gear like these more marathon-appropriate tights:
I had no idea what I was doing, but everything about running suddenly mystified and enchanted me. I spent hours watching ultra marathon documentaries and figuring out if I could stomach those space-agey energy gels.
In that way, training was easy. I was laser-focused, and what’s more, had decided to do it. There were no ifs, ands, or buts. I even decided to train up to the full marathon distance before the real deal, though almost any coach will advise you work up to 18- 22 miles and save your legs for race day.
I was, perhaps, a tad cocky. If I could go from 0 to 13.1 in 8 weeks, surely I could run a marathon in another 8 weeks.
And I did.
After that harrowing training run, I got a dose of reality, with my right iliotibial (I.T.) band acting up. I turned to cycling and swimming as a means of continuing my training. On September 27, 2014, I ran my first official marathon in the Hamptons, with no idea if I’d survive. I’d only run up to 8 miles over the previous two months.
The first ten miles were perfect. Then I got a stitch in my side and the temperature steadily crept into the 80s. My 4:20 goal time slipped away, and the last three miles were pure agony, exactly like my training run. When I crossed the finish line at 4:34, I was relieved. Proud. Overheated.
There was no way my I.T. band was going to let me run an ultra, and I had hit a crossroads that I think all runners eventually reach. The one where you start to wonder more about the “Why?” than the “Why not?”
For me, running was a motivator, distraction, and irresistible challenge. It gave me a north star on which to focus. After months of job hunting, my self-esteem at rock bottom, running told me I was strong enough to withstand more than I ever thought possible. I’m still fascinated by ultra endurance sports, but as life settles into a new normal, I’ve relaxed into a fitness routine that mirrors my calmer internal state: Hiking, cycling, and walking the dog.
I’ve made so many wonderful friends through racing, and I think I’d like to build up to another eventually, but I’ve realized as long as my legs are moving and I’m outside, I’m happy. Plus those energy gels really are disgusting.