My Marathon Journey: We can do hard things

When I started running at 28, it was on a treadmill. It took a couple of friends to get me to commit to running on the streets. My first few years of running were nearly always with a group – first with my friends, then while training kids to run the Los Angeles Marathon with an organization called Students Run Los Angeles (SRLA).

I had just barely started running when I decided to commit to the SRLA kids and running a marathon. I knew that if I ran with teenagers, I’d have to be a role model and there would be no backing down. Running 26.2 miles seemed like an impossibility.

My first LA Marathon was amazing. I felt on top of the world and ran decently fast. When I came to the finish line (hurting like every marathoner does), I was ecstatic. I had done what I thought was nearly impossible, and I wanted to do it again.

In the following 4 years, I ran the LA Marathon twice more. The second time I was in better shape, but the temperature on the day of the marathon was over 90 degrees by the time I finished. The third time, I had lost my mojo and I finished more than an hour slower than my first. I decided to switch to triathlons.

Fast forward 11 years. I needed a new challenge in my running and a marathon felt like the right choice. I had vowed to never run another marathon all those years ago, but had since learned that “never” was usually an invitation. When I committed to running a marathon in May of 2018, I did not know that I was about to enter into one of the roughest patches of my life.

I had planned on running a fall marathon, but when my emotional world went spiraling into a tornado, I changed my mind and decided to run the closest winter marathon I could find. Luckily, the California International Marathon still had spaces.

I logged miles and cried through the transition out of my first business. Running became a place where I was able to be in all of my emotions, find inspiration, zone out, find peace, and sometimes just allow the overwhelm of everything to just be.

When I ran CIM in 2018, I mostly just wanted to prove to myself that I could run a marathon again. I had done it before, but during my 2018 training, I struggled to finish my long runs. Crossing the finish line was enough.

But the fire to get a personal record burned brighter than ever after my 2018 marathon, and I committed to running CIM in 2019 early in the new year.

Being in a much better emotional space allowed me to focus on running. I loved training for this marathon. My coach, Mark Sekelsky, challenged me and I saw myself running faster and harder and for longer than I believed possible. I started believing what he believed for me…that I could run a sub 4 hour marathon.

On the race day morning, it was a relief to learn that it would not be showering rain through the entire run. I was able to relax and get ready to enjoy the experience.

Not only that, but I had invited so many people to join me on my run. I had never asked my extended network to support me in such a clear way…it was a bit of an experiment. I had called out my big, fat, hairy, and audacious goal.

Can I just say that this was one of the best decisions I made? Having my supporters there with me from before the race until days after was an incredibly uplifting, motivating, and joy filled experience. I know there is research around asking people to help you. It’s not only good for you, it’s good for the people who help too! I decided to put this research to practice when I asked you all to join me. I hope it’s been as good for you as it has been for me! đź™‚ xoxo

When I moved across the starting line, I felt the momentum of the community of supporters carrying me. When I reached 13.1 miles, though, it all started unraveling. I had been running the pace I needed to run, but I wasn’t feeling amazing in the way I expected to.

When I took my nutrition, I felt like throwing up. My side started aching. I turned on my music and decided I would use one of my strategies for the hills…count to 20 in my breath cycle (3 in, 4 out) and then walk for 20. I tried not to do this too much and vowed to run as much as possible to mile 20 where I knew my husband and kids would be.

I couldn’t wait to reach mile 17 because then it was down to the single digit miles. 9.2 is somehow much easier to run than 10. At 18.5 miles I looked at my phone. The list of cheerleading texts was long, and it energized me, but I saw that my husband had alerted me that he was close. I sent him the best text I could telling him that I was struggling. It was a little easier to run that mile and a half, knowing that I would see my family.

Cielle, my 9 year old daughter, ran out to hug me. I think she was surprised by the look of discomfort/pain on my face. It was so good to get that hug. Gregory, 6 years old, did a little dance and gave me a hug. I took a couple sips of my requested chicken broth and moved on.

The battle between me reminding myself that I only had 6.2 miles to go and feeling like 6.2 miles was an eternity had set in. Mark, my coach, has said that the last third of any race is where you question everything. Knowing that my thoughts were normal and that I didn’t have to give into them gave me the strength of mind to just keep going. When the 3:55 pace group passed me, I surged to stay with them, but when the urge to throw up waved into my stomach and another hill emerged from around the corner, I slowed down.

I reminded myself that “I can do hard things.” I started playing my counting game again. This time I pushed myself to run farther, and as the course got flatter and the distance between myself and the finish line closer, I changed the games to take the counting out of it. “After a half mile I’ll walk.”

I saw people who were struggling harder than I was. The lady with a streak of poop down her pants put a fire under my feet, not because I was disgusted but because she had been through that and kept going. I remembered everyone who was watching and cheering. I thought of my goal – which had simply changed to “beat my personal record.” I pushed in whatever way I could, and then I walked.

My cheerleaders in the interwebs were the most important voices as I came into the final mile. I knew you were there with me. At the sign that said 400 meters, I vowed to run the entire way to the finish line. 200 meters was forever, but the finish line was there and I did my best to speed up and crossed the finish line, arms up, pleased that I had beat my 2003 personal best.

I want to say thank you. Thank you to my husband for navigating the tricky race course driving and parking and being there in the places I needed you to be. Thank you to every single person who wished me good luck, sent me a message in whatever form, tracked me on the web, asked me about my race. I didn’t know how wonderful it would feel to have a community deep and wide supporting me.

Thank you to my coach. My husband was very impressed by the myriad ways my coach paid attention – and I am grateful for it all. I am grateful to him for making my training fun because it’s mostly about the process, and for believing in me.

Thank you all for being there with me in spirit. It made all the difference.

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