From Non-Runner to Marathoner: 7 Life Lessons I Learned Along the Way
January 2013 I took my first steps as a runner. This is where the ugly began: Hours and days of body parts flying in odd directions and pain in places I didn’t realize I had. If you told me then I would run a marathon—anytime in any lifetime—I would have laughed loud and long until tears of mirth ran down my face.
Look who’s laughing now.
I say this as I adjust the ribbon of the medal weighing heavily around my neck. The one that says "Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2015." They don’t give those away to trick-or-treaters, you know. Gotta put in the miles, and go through the trials, and run and run and run.
How did I make it from a spry walker to a marathon runner? Here’s what I did and what I learned along the way.
Life Lesson 1: Dedication
How I did it: The first realization: My entry was selected in the race lottery. The second realization: My training would need to take place through the heat of the summer. Not. My. Thing.
I’m more of a huddle in the back of a deep, dark cave kind of girl—your stereotypical bat environment; alas, not the best site for running miles and miles.
My solution? Getting up at 5 a.m., at least 4 times a week. I laced on the sneakers and hit the road before the sun’s searing rays could touch my day-glo skin. And, for the most part, it worked.
What I learned: Know your weaknesses and play to your strengths. I am more comfortable in the dark and running sans sunlight helped me deal with the oppressive heat and humidity.
Life Lesson 2: Determination
How I did it: For most of my life I’ve been accused of being stubborn, and, those lobbing the word around weren’t giving me a compliment. I happen to consider myself tenacious and here’s where tenacious pays off: I knew with every cell in my body, willpower would guide me through the course, if necessary.
I told everyone in my acquaintence—and several random folks unlucky enough to be standing nearby—I would crawl the last mile if necessary. I was going to finish the marathon, short of a zombie invasion. The end was mine, dammit.
At long last, one of my personality traits struck gold! The zombies were a no-show, and my drive to complete 26.2 miles paid off.
What I learned: Focus on the ultimate goal. Imagine completing the goal, despite the odds. Bask in the glory when your foresight comes to fruition.
Life Lesson 3: Adaptation
How I did it: Training plans for marathons abound. From running apps to blogs to three-inch-thick books on the subject, there is an abundance of schedules available to prepare your body for the insane amount of abuse a marathon dishes out.
Research provided me with two plans, designed for runners in their inaugural marathons, but not everything suggested worked for me. While both schedules called for long runs on Saturday, I prefer taking it off and going my longest distance on Sunday, the day I typically run races. This also meant shifting the assigned Monday run and tweaking run lengths through the week.
Against professional advice, I ran the days and distances that worked for me. Call me stubborn (there’s that word again!), but I went with the gut on this one.
What I learned: Do your homework and listen to those with experience. Use the knowledge from those sources to set the groundwork, then make adjustments for what works for you.
Life Lesson 4: (Avoiding) Temptation
How I did it: Yes, I admit it, I enjoy the occasional soda, can nosh on my fair share of Ruffles (you can’t eat just one!), and am prone to staying up into the wee hours to finish a project or watch a movie. These predilections are not conducive to either early morning alarms or running like the wind.
To counteract such foibles, I made a deal with myself: The nights before training runs, I had to be in bed by 9:30pm—something I never ever believed would happen—and I would lay off the junk, for the most part. Since Saturday was the big day of rest, I allowed Friday nights to grab a few more salty, fat-ladened treats and some bubbly, soda that is.
This small bit of rebellion from the athletic lifestyle kept the cravings at bay, and, I’ll admit this too, kept me from being so darn grumpy.
What I learned: Set realistic boundaries and guidelines to help you reach your goal. Make guilt-free allowances for being an imperfect human.
Life Lesson 5: Preparation
How I did it: My OCD reared up and gave me a helping hand on this one. I like things tidy and organized. The night before runs, I would lay out my gear, fill up my water bottle, and choose my clothes. I even put out the saucer and knife for my pre-training fuel intake.
The thirty minutes or so each evening in prep cleared my mind from worry and gave me more time to rest. And, in the morning, all I had to do is roll out of bed and go.
What I learned: Find your zen. Putting life in order relaxes and calms me—nourishing my body while soothing my mind.
Life Lesson 6: Experimentation
How I did it: From my first run on the treadmill to my initial 10K race to the foundation for the 2015 Chicago Marathon, it took a while to find my rhythm. Each run I learned what worked well for me—and often found out what frankly didn’t.
From simple details—what music inspired me— to more elaborate, and important items—how to tape my feet so I still had skin, and on occasion, toenails at the end of the race—it took time and personal experience to find the balance between necessity and convenience.
What I learned: Try, try again. If it works, rinse, repeat. If it doesn’t, throw the sucker out for something better.
Life Lesson 7: Celebration
How I did it: Race day is my favorite part of running. I love pinning on my bib, absorbing the energy from my fellow racers, gathering in the corrals, and waiting for the start. The End.
Or so it has been in the past.
In my other races, after the first five minutes, my initial euphoria burned off into a mass of nerves, aches, and concern. And, an overwhelming need to get the stupid event over—give-me-my-medal, I’m done.
This time, I promised myself I would enjoy the experience of my first-ever marathon. I did. I read the signs and laughed at quite a few. I high-fived the kids, danced past the drag queens, sang with Elvis, and wagged a thumbs-up every time I was told my galaxy-print pants were “out of this world.”
The Chicago Marathon was my best racing experience, bar none. I had so much fun, I plan on doing it all over again.
What I learned: Relish the ride. Let the journey towards the finish line be its own prize.
Beyond the finish line
Training for a marathon is a dirty, sweaty nasty business. I learned to struggle through the hard parts and rejoice in the triumphs. In the end, I learned both the race and I were worth every minute of it.