To be honest, training for this marathon has been a trying experience. There is something to be said for the work, time, and spirit required to fully prepare yourself for such a major feat. I had no idea what would be required of me when I signed up to run my first full marathon back in January.
It has not been easy. There were times when I wanted to quit. Exhaustion has become a familiar friend. Some runs were painful. Others took more from me than I had to give. I have questioned my choice to run 26.2 miles over and over again. I have begun to understand what people mean when they say running a marathon is training and preparation--but mostly, it's about your mental toughness.
For me, the experience tugs at a strange place for one important reason: I have never been an athlete. I played softball, volleyball, and soccer in junior high but I would never go so far as to say I was athletic. My mother says all my athletic pursuits were based around my social life, not my interest or talent in athletics.
I starting running my freshman year of college after a girl living in my dorm came up to me after an orientation event and said I "looked like a runner." She and I became close friends since then, but I will always give her credit for lighting a spark in me that has burned brightly ever since. For some reason, all it took was the power of suggestion to make me realize I could be an athlete.
That was well over ten years ago, but I have never forgotten the experience. The mental part of running is sometimes much bigger than anyone realizes; it has the potential to empower or destroy everything you're doing. Add in the exhaustion you feel from running 35+ miles a week and it's enough to break you entirely. Fortunately, I am training with a friend who has been there every step of the way who knows exactly how this feels.
We have been closely following a training plan since June, rarely veering off course from our assigned mileage. The problem is, training for a marathon has to be thrown into the mix with working demanding full-time jobs, raising three children (for her), and just simply living life. It's a lot to take sometimes---and it requires a willingness to tell yourself it's actually OK to take a break.
That's exactly what we did last week. Instead of heading out on an 18 mile long run on Saturday, we rested instead. I came down with a brutal head cold and I knew running would make things worse, so I made the call: we were going to skip our long run. It was a painful decision mentally, but the break proved to be a great idea.
A lot of times, we get wrapped up in the idea that we have to do things "the right way" and we ignore the call to give ourselves permission to cry uncle. I sincerely believe our physical and mental health is closely tied together--and an exhausted body often leads to a jumbled brain.
Running and training for a marathon has been an exhausting experience, if not a rewarding one. Like everything else, something that requires a lot of you also gives back to you along the way. I am stronger and more capable than I ever imagined. I understand my body and give it the courtesy of listening closely when it complains.
More than anything, it is an experience to push yourself past anything you've ever done before to achieve an important goal--even if everyone else thinks it makes you crazy.
But really? Paying for the opportunity to run 26.2 miles might require just a bit of insanity.