Taking on this milestone race distance can be intimidating. But I’m here to tell you, every marathoner has been there, asking the question, “Can I actually do this?”
When did I finally feel like I would be able to run a marathon? Well, it didn’t happen overnight.
My journey toward the marathon started with the nudging of friends. All good shenanigans do, as you likely know. My best friend, of course, was the instigator of this quest for me. Even when I didn’t believe I could do it, she did.
Her first goal was to convince me to sign up for a half marathon. She was subtly persistent, but she had help. I clearly remember before one of the group runs with my 8k training team in the fall of 2013, one of my coaches told the entire team that I would run a half marathon the next year. “She doesn’t know it yet, but she will!,” Coach Tammy told me. I was dumbfounded. And then Patty finally coaxed me into signing up for the Shamrock Half Marathon in March of 2014.
In preparation for that, we also ran the Richmond Road Runner’s Club Frostbite 15k in February of 2014. That was the furthest I had run at that point. It was also the first time I’ve ever experienced a post-race panic attack! I think it was just that huge adrenaline release once I crossed the finish line and realized I was safe, as strange as that may sound.
We did go on to run the Shamrock Half Marathon. I did better than I thought! I ran the entire race with no walking breaks. That was the beginning of the spark of hope that I may, perhaps, be capable of running the marathon.
So there I was, one day in early June of 2014, showing up for the first group run of the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team, petrified, and with major marathoner imposter syndrome. I cautiously handed the employee my credit card to register, feeling that slight pit in my stomach of what surely would be regret, a touch of nausea, and a sense of panic about the journey on which I was about to embark.
I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated by the more experienced runners. I was in awe of those who have done this multiple times, as I was already convinced that this would be a one and done event for me. Did I even look like a real runner? But my subteam, which catered to novice marathoners, was so welcoming and accommodating. They educated me about so many issues faced by marathoners, like proper clothing, hydration, nutrition, and shoes. And if I wasn’t running with my Saturday team, I was running on Sunday with the team that would eventually adopt me: the Pink Nation.
I continued to swirl in the moments of doubt, the thoughts that I couldn’t achieve this goal. At times, my running rhythm mocked me; my footsteps seemed to jeeringly say, “Nanny, nanny, boo boo!” It was, admittedly, difficult to shut down. But as I continued on this journey, there was a day in particular that my subconscious mantra changed.
It was during a run from the Anthem headquarters with the marathon training team. (We had to run from here a couple of weeks out of the year at one point because of the then Redskins training camp in Richmond.) It was as I was in the 15th mile of a 16 mile training run, delirious from all of that time and effort on my feet, when suddenly, I heard a Mariachi band singing, “You can do it!” This was the new way my brain heard my running rhythm. (I can’t explain the craziness of long run mentality. If you know, you know!) I finished that last mile with a bit of hope that I would succeed, and I never heard my feet mock me again.
Instead, with each week, each new distance PR I set, I began to believe that I could actually reach my goal of completing a marathon. It didn’t change the fact that my mom thought I might die, but in my mind, I felt that if my fellow teammates had done this, so could I. They were living proof that this was an achievable goal. I crossed the finish line with my friend Sarah, holding hands and both of us in tears.
There would be other delirious revelations over the course of my many years of running, but the moment my mantra changed stuck with me. The words I repeat to myself continue to evolve. But overwhelmingly, when I am met with the challenge in the moment, I simply tell myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, run the mile I’m in, and remind myself that I’ve done this before.
You, too, the new marathoner, will reach this point, and your life will never be the same! That moment that you cross that finish line for the first time will be a defining one in your life, making all of the hard work worth it. But the journey truly begins with adopting the mindset that you actually can achieve the marathon distance. Don’t be afraid to visualize the finish line of your race, the sounds of the crowd, the announcer calling your name, the volunteer placing that medal around your neck. You can do this!
My favorite place to coach the Richmond Marathon is on that last stretch of Grace Street, right before the runners make the turn to the downhill finish on 5th St. to Brown’s Island. That’s when first timers realize they will become marathoners! It’s magical.
If you are training for a fall marathon, the schedule is about to get spicy. But stay the course, run the miles, take in this experience. You will never have another first marathon.
As always, I hope you are safe and healthy.