My marathon career began in 2007. My journey began as a slow and uninformed runner. Today I am proud to be a a two time Boston Marathon finisher. My journey may be unique, but I believe the lessons I’ve learned along the way could be of value to any runner or hopeful Boston Qualifier.
1. Respect the Distance
Every race distance must be respected. However, many gifted runners can water down the training for shorter distances. But not the marathon. The marathon is a beast that will eat you up and spit you out if you don’t properly train. The distance is tough enough, do not add insult to injury by not sticking to proper training. If the week day plan says to run 10 miles, a slap of the snooze button and a 5 miler will cost you. If the plan says your long run this weekend is to be 20 miles, 16 IS NOT 20. That choice could equal you pleading with your maker at mile 21 of the race to just “make it all go away!”
Bottom line. Keep the beast happy and train properly.
2. Find Accountability
Running can be a lonely sport. When you’re alone it’s easier to make excuses, skip workouts, slow down, and give up. Runners need accountability. My secret weapon comes in the form of a weekly long run group. The group tends to be training for the same event or same distance each season. When you know people are going to be waiting on you it makes getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday doable. When you’re having an off day, a group full of conversation can take your mind off your tiredness and carry you through the miles. Accountability also keeps you in check. If you’re not hitting the weekly training miles, you’ve got people there to remind you just how horrible the race will be.
3. Have a Goal
When I learned about the Boston Marathon and its qualifying criteria, having a goal went to a whole other level. My first goal in marathoning was just to finish. Then I wanted to improve my times. After I looked up what my qualifying time for my age was, I got scared. Being a newbie I thought it was impossible for me to ever obtain a qualification. But I wanted it so badly. I had a goal that was much bigger than me at the time. I had to work very hard, find faster partners who would push me, find a tough plan that would speed me up, and I had to do the work. When I crossed the finish line, earning my first Boston Qualification (BQ), I was elated. Boston would have remained a hope tucked away in my mind if I hadn’t set a goal and worked. We all have hopes, turn them into goals and make them realities. It is completely possible.
4. It Hurts. It’s Supposed To.
Running is hard. And marathoning is excruciating. If it was easy, everyone could do it. You have to be a little crazy to be a marathoner. You are willingly training and most likely paying a nice chunk of change to be beaten to a pulp. If you’re truly giving your all, everything from your shoulders, gut, legs and even your tiny little toe should be screaming at you as you come in view of the finish line. I’ve learned that the physical pain will go away, but the personal glory of taking down the 26.2 monster is permanent. And, it’s worth every torn muscle and bloody toenail.
5. Never Give Up
The marathon is unbelievably difficult at times, we’ve established that. We know now that it is like a preying animal out to get you. However, I can not express how important it is not to let it break you. The marathon has made me stronger than I ever thought possible. Physically and mentally. As I shook in my running shoes with fear at the start of my first marathon, I knew I’d finish. Even if I had to crawl over the finish line, I would not be quitting. I was also very naive to just how much pain I’d be in at mile 22. But I finished and in some ways, I became invincible. That trait that I learned in marathon number one has stuck with me through all the others. When I wanted to make it to Boston and it hurt to keep up the fast pace I had to run, I never gave up. When my side ached with so much pain that I couldn’t breathe, I just kept going. When my mental race fell apart and I was reduced to tears, I cried while I ran through mile 20. When my first Boston experience tried to end me in the hills of Newton, I ignored the screams of pain and dug deep. Not to mention the hot summer training that dehydrated my body, the screaming winter wind that burned my face, or the hill drills that tore my calf.
To anyone struggling through pain, I implore you: NEVER GIVE UP.
Why? Why mess with all these terrible facts of marathoning? Because it’s worth every minute of it.
There’s nothing comparable to making the right on Hereford Street and then the left on Boylston. Looking ahead and seeing the most famous finish line in the world. Being engulfed in screams, roars rather. Forgetting all the pain. Forgetting that you have been scared in your life. Forgetting that you’ve been weak. Forgetting that you’ve fallen short. Forgetting that you have failed. Forgetting that you have been full of doubt. And forgetting that you just ran through hell. No, there’s nothing more amazing than increasing your speed and charging towards the line that will separate you from the majority of the world for the rest of your life. You’ll laugh at the fact that you wanted to quit, because you will finally see just how strong you really are.
Becoming a marathoner, especially a Boston Marathoner, is worth every ounce of pain. You walk away from the finish line knowing that everything else in life is possible, an invaluable reward.
May 14th, 2011