The Journey to 26.2

People always use the expression, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, but what they don’t understand is that it’s not just the marathon. Yes, a marathon has its highs and lows, the times where you feel like flying and the times where you can’t imagine moving another inch, but what most people don’t realize is that those 26.2 miles are just the last push of a journey that’s spanned hundreds of miles, hundreds of days, and hundreds of moments where you’ve pushed pass the desire to quit. This is my journey, not only to the finish, but to the start of my first 26.2.

When I was 10 years old I promised myself that by the time I was 16 I would run a half marathon, and by the time I was 21 I would run a marathon. Where I got these numbers I have no idea, but the inspiration, I think I have a clue. I grew up never being very good at the sports I tried playing. I was never very good at dribbling the ball in soccer. I was never very coordinated enough to make very many baskets in basketball. Since I was a dancer, I could kick people in the head while I sparred at my karate matches, but I was never aggressive enough to thrive in martial arts. Underlying all of this, I struggled with my weight. I noticed I was bigger than the other kids, and that that made me different. I lacked a lot of confidence and never really felt like I fit in with the other kids. 

In 3rd grade my mom signed me up for running club at our local rec center. Day one I ran an 11 minute mile around the roller skating rink. My lungs burned and it seemed like I was running forever, but I finished. I started falling in love with my Tuesdays and Thursdays because I could go to Running Club. I don’t remember really running outside of this, but here I knew I would always have fun and felt like I fit in. Eventually I became one of the fastest kids. I felt so inspired by my coach to run faster, and driven by my competitive spirit to finish the workouts faster and stronger than the other girls. 

I had grown up mesmerizing over my Dad’s marathon medals hanging on the mirror in his bedroom. I loved staring at the posters from his Rock and Roll Marathons, and marveled as he told stories of running in the hot desert or not being able to walk down the stairs at the airport one of his races. Somewhere in my journey of discovering running I made the promise to myself– by 16 a half, and by 21 a full. I had locked it in, a contract with the universe. 

At 15 years old running had become an off-and-on event for me. I loved it, but dance was my main focus when it came to athletic activity. In middle school I prided myself on beating the mile record and placing well at local track meets, but Dance Team prevented me from joining cross country in high school, so I would occasionally go on a run, but didn’t have any structure or goals. 

I realized that if I wanted to complete the first part of my goal, I needed to act soon. One day during an off period in the library I went for it, I signed up for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon in Disneyland the weekend before my 16th birthday. I completely undertrained, prioritizing social runs with friends over longer, more serious training runs and developed a stress fracture by picking up mileage too quickly, but race day came and I finished the race, a smile on my face, once again feeling the high that had addicted me to the sport 6 years earlier. 

As high school went on the trend continued. Dance became even more important in my life, and strength training and HIIT became important tools for me to get stronger and more fit. I would go through phases where running came into my life, usually around the annual Bolder Boulder 10k, my favorite race, but other than that running wasn’t really a priority.

The summer after high school I had double hip surgery which ended my dance career and made me rethink the way I view movement. I lost pretty much all of my muscle and spent 6 months in physical therapy reteaching my body to move in the ways I’d become so accustomed to. My physical body went through a lot of changes and I felt like I’d lost my identity as a dancer and athlete. Once I could finally return to yoga, I dove head first into my practice. I had been a Corepower student for the last couple of years, but this was when I became addicted. Through vinyasa and sculpt classes I was able to gain strength and mental clarity. Yoga changed and continues to change my life in more ways that I can imagine and allowed me to return to other movement modalities. 

After my first summer of college I was determined to start running again. I ran a 10k PR at the Bolder Boulder after only 2 weeks of training, and begin to tentatively train for the Twin Cities Marathon is Minneapolis that October, where I was attending university at the time. Only a few weeks into the training cycle I had immense knee pain which ended up being severe IT band syndrome. I went to PT but was ultimately just told to rest for a while and see if I could run in a few months without pain.

Throughout the next year I would occasionally try to run, but pain would always accompany the attempt within the first 2-3 miles. I knew that I didn’t have that much time to meet my goal, but I still had enough time to trust my body’s process.

On my birthday this year, my Dad and I were on a hike and somehow got back to the stories of his marathon days. Once again I marveled at his experiences and had a burning feeling inside of me that it was time, I had to do this, I had to know what it felt like. 

A few weeks later I started training for my marathon. I didn’t establish a base of running 3-4 times a week before I dove in like running experts recommend. I knew that I was in good athletic shape and that I was in tune enough with my body to know if I needed to stop. I went online to pick a race and ended up choosing the American Discovery Trail Marathon on September 2nd. I knew I wanted to be done training before school started. I knew that it didn’t make sense with my other summer travel to do a destination race. This was the one race that worked perfectly with my schedule, and I figured it was meant to be. 

I officially had 13 weeks until race day. I knew I would be traveling for 2 of those weeks, so I adapted a 12 week plan and started training. This is also a shorter training period than most people recommend for first time marathoners, but deep down inside I knew it would be enough.

My promise to myself was that the first month was a test run. Could my body handle running? Were my IT bands finally relaxed enough to take the repetitive stress? I practiced the yogic principle of ahimsa, non-attachment, trusting the process and trusting that if it was right, it would happen. 

The first few weeks were ROUGH. Getting back into running and running 4 days a week was a shock to my body. I was devoted to self care both before and after my runs. I foam rolled and stretched thoroughly before and after. I took alternating showers after my long runs and slathered my sore muscles in CBD/arnica. The first long run was only 6 miles but it was hard. The searing pain in my knee started acting up after only 2.5 miles, but I kept going and finished.

Week 2-3 brought intense soreness from my right hip flexor from overcompensating for my left knee. My hip flexor muscles were just overworked and tired. Even lifting up my knee to 90 degrees took work, but I kept with it, knowing that even though my body was talking, that these weren’t true injuries and were just signs that my body was adapting to running again. As the weeks went on I could go further and further without my knee or hip flexors acting up, and they usually didn’t get bad until the end of the run– progress. Around week 6, my ankles started to swell after and during my runs, the next wave of my body’s adaptation, but I focused on eating anti-inflammatory foods and drinking lots of water.

As my runs started getting longer, I recognized the need to start hydrating and fueling during my runs, something I had never done before, but was resistant. I have an extremely sensitive stomach, especially before and after I workout, so the idea of intaking fuel on my runs felt unthinkable. I also ran in the morning on an empty stomach, and didn’t want to start eating before. I had no interest in carrying water with me because I thought it would add extra weight and be an annoyance. I had never needed these things before, so why would I need them now? Nevertheless, I tried to eat a little before I ran and bought whole ingredient running goos, knowing that overly processed gels were not for me. I tried to open my mind to this new realm of training. 

My trip to Europe was approaching as my long runs started reaching 16 miles. I was so proud of myself and knew that if I made it this far, I could finish off this process. I used Europe as a chance to back off on running, trading longs runs for shorter, less-frequent modalities to explore the cities I was visiting. I stayed incredibly active by walking and hiking and enjoyed the break from the pre-scheduled training. 

I returned back to the states ready to run and get into the meat of my training. My first long run back was an 18 miler. I woke up early to have something small to eat before I went out and drink a little bit of water, but had no intention of bringing water with me. This ended up being a huge mistake. I made it through the first 16 miles feeling amazing, running a faster pace than most of my previous long runs. The day was getting hot, but I just kept on running, enjoying the beautiful morning. Then mile 17 and 18 starting around and it felt like I would never be done running. Putting one step in front of the other was a mental battlefield, but I was so close to being done and I finally finished.

I was about ¾ of a mile away from home, a perfect cool down walk! I started walking and literally all I could think about was water. I wanted it and I needed it. I knew I just had to get home so that I could replenish my body. Every time I walked through a patch of shade I was tempted to stop right then and there and sit down. I finally made it home, grabbed my water, and went outside in the backyard and laid down under the trees. I started becoming nauseated and light-headed. I knew I needed electrolytes but I didn’t have any, so I would have to drive to the store to buy some. I got myself into the car and started driving and thankfully made it to the store safely.

Every step I took felt like work. I got to the electrolyte isle, grabbed a single serve packet and poured it straight into my water bottle. I stumbled over to the cafe and sat down attempting to drink the solution fast enough that I would get the nutrients, but slow enough to not overwhelm my system. I was the sickest I had ever been from exercise, extremely nauseous and coming in and out of consciousness. 

As I sat at this little organic grocery store I started questioning why I run. Why in the world am I voluntarily putting myself through this discomfort just to prove a point to myself? Why do I think this is worth it? At that moment I couldn’t imagine running another step and dreamt about hanging up my running shoes for good.

But Monday came around, and it was time for another run. 

I had learned that I needed to develop a method for fueling and hydrating. I’m not superhuman. I can’t run for 3 hours in the summer heat and not replenish my stores. If I want to be successful I have to bite the bullet and take care of my vessel. It’s not optional, but it was a great lesson. 

The next long run was my longest and last before I started tapering, the 20-miler. I was a bit worried after my previous long run. I was trying out a hydration belt and the fuel packets I had begun trying a few weeks earlier, and wasn’t sure what the run would bring, but the only way to find out was to start. As I approached the halfway mark I felt great, and running up the final hills at mile 18 I felt strong and confident, hydrated, fueled, and so proud of myself for not giving up. Making my way to the 20 mile mark felt like such a victory. I knew that if I could run 20 miles I was ready for this marathon, that I really could do it. I threw my hands in the air and had a mini dance party as I grinned ear to ear, this was really happening. 

The taper period passed relatively unsignificantly, besides my rattlesnake encounter on my last 10 mile run (lets just say my pacing significantly increased after seeing that guy). It was hard to take it easy in the last week and not feel like I was losing fitness, but this is a common feeling and is all part of the process for preparing my body for race day. Instead I taught lots of yoga classes and focused on getting back into my school routine during my first week of classes. 

Then all the sudden it arrived. The day before the race my Dad and I drove up to Colorado Springs for packet pick-up where I received my bright yellow bib and race shirt. It was still unfathomable that I was less than 24 hours away from running an actual marathon. I felt really confident I had prepared and followed my training plan. I had mostly taken it easy during the taper. I had focused on eating a high percentage of carbohydrates to build up my glycogen stores. I prepared mentally to tackle any challenges that appeared on race day and was ready to run. 

The next morning I woke up at 3:30am giving myself enough time for a modified version of my morning routine. I meditated, ate something, and started warming up my mind and my body, including a solo dance party in the bathroom, one of my favorite activities. I had to catch the bus to the start line at 4:45am, which picked us up from the finish line which was a short walk away from the hotel. It was so fun chatting with other runners and hearing about everyone’s different experiences. For some people this was also their first marathon, and for others, they had done so many they’d lost count. Although the race was decently small, it was a Boston Qualifier, so several runners were there for one last attempt before the qualifying deadline for the 2020 race. This is a goal of mine, so it was so inspiring to see these runners and dream about what the future might hold.

I had an hour from the time I got to the starting line until the race started. I was shaking, partly from nerves and partly from the early morning temps. Time moved slowly, then so so fast. All the sudden it was time to start the race. I was nervous about starting out too fast. 26.2 is a lot of miles and it’s better to start out slow and be able to pick it up in later miles than burn out at the beginning and suffer through the second half. I had thought about running with a pacer but wasn’t quite sure what the best pace would be for me. 30 seconds before we started I decided to start with the 3:45 pacer. My range goal was pretty wide for the race. I had no idea what a realistic time goal would be, so I gave myself a range of 3:45-4:15 to shoot for. My real goal was under 4 hours and I thought that it would be really cool to run closer to 3:45, but I definetly did not want to burn out too quickly. After looking at the mile splits the 3:45 pace group would run, I decided it seemed attainable based on my training runs, so I decided to go for it. 

The pace group started out with a bunch of people, but narrowed down to 3 of us with the pacer after the first few miles. An older guy, Kyle, working on running a marathon in all 50 states and a mom, Elise, running her first marathon as well were my two companions. It was really fun to talk to them as well as my pacer and hear more about their stories. I was inspired by all of the states Kyle had run and all of the training runs Elise had gotten in before her 4 young children woke up. I was incredibly inspired by the races and times my pacer, also named Kyle, had run and loved how much knowledge he had about the course and running in general. 

A few miles later Elise dropped off and not too long afterwards pacer Kyle congratulated us for being half way done. I was shocked. I hadn’t been keeping track of miles since the course wasn’t very well marked and I use my phone to track my runs rather than a running watch, which I hadn’t been looking at. In the first few miles I wondered how long I would be able to keep this pace, but now I was in the groove and felt absolutely amazing. Before long Kyle dropped off and it was just pacer Kyle and I. I loved hearing about his running goals and upcoming races. We chatted nutrition and fueling strategies and I marvelled at the beautiful course, a trail that ran through the Air Force Academy. 

Around mile 16 Kyle told me he was letting me go. We were almost a minute ahead of pace which meant he needed to slow down. He told me to keep this pace for 3-4 more miles, then pick it up as long as I still felt good. I was shocked that this was his advice, but I gained trust in him, and after he got me up the next big hill, I ran ahead. 

Soon I reached the next water stop at mile 17 and was greeted by my Dad, my biggest fan, and my friend Kenna and her mom cheering me on. I felt a rush of adreneline as I ran through. Everyone was cheering and telling me that I looked strong. I internalized this as I picked up my pace. I looked good and I felt good. I could do this. 

I stayed with this new faster pace mentally chanting the mantra “I can and I will”. I made sure to stay on top of hydration and kept my thoughts positive and clear. I eventaully passed the 3:40 pacer and was in disbelief. As long as I kept this up, I would beat my fastest goal. Even if I slowed down I would still run faster than I thought I would, but I wouldn’t let that happen, I was capable of keeping this pace and I was capable of meeting and beating my goals. 

Finally I reached the park where the race finished, the America the Beautiful park where I had loaded the bus so many hours and miles before. The finish was a giant loop of the park before finally crossing the finish line. I reached down deep for a last surge of energy as I was ready to be done running. Kenna and her mom cheered as I passed by and gave me the last push to bring it in strong. 

I crossed the finish line in 3 hours 37 minutes and 4 seconds. My medal was placed around my neck and a cold water was thrust into my hands and I could finally start walking for the first time in hours. A smile spread across my face, I did it. 

This journey was more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. Even though I trained a lot less than many people suggested I still worked hard, and I knew I could do this and that I was ready. I tapped into myself. I listened to my body. I worked past injuries and inflammation, past mental blocks and physiological ones. I had done something I promised myself 10 years earlier I would do and finished faster and stronger than I could have imagined.

People always use the expression, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, but what they don’t understand is that it’s not just the marathon. Yes, a marathon has its highs and lows, the times where you feel like flying and the times where you can’t imagine moving another inch, but what most people don’t realize is that those 26.2 miles are just the last push of a journey that’s spanned hundreds of miles, hundreds of days, and hundreds of moments where you’ve pushed pass the desire to quit. This is my journey, not only to the finish, but to the start of my first 26.2.

And believe me, the journey will not end here.


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