Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Life is like a Marathon...

You never know what you're going to get. Preparing for my first marathon left me with tons of questions. One thing I have noticed is that all it takes is just one marathon under wraps and suddenly you're an expert on the subject, heck you can even write a book. Saturday a friend asked me what I had learned from my first marathon experience. I've been thinking about the question since then. There will be no book writing from me, but I have learned quite a bit, and I just wouldn't be me if I didn't share. So here's what I've learned.

YOU GOTTA KNOW WHY. We each have goals and things we are determined to accomplish, and various reasons behind those goals. Like going to college, having a family and choosing a career. A marathoners goal may be just to finish, to raise money for a cause, to run a certain time, or just to prove that they are capable. My motivation to run a marathon came from a desire I have to push myself to see just what I can do. I love the feeling of knowing I gave everything I've got, that I left it all out there. Running makes me happy and is my favorite release. So running a marathon was a way for me to push myself to see what I am capable of while doing something I love. It makes perfect sense to me.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. You can't rush your training any more than you can rush through Med school. You can't run before you can walk, you can't start your career without college, and you can't run 26.2 if you don't get in your long runs. I tried to add a little too much distance to what I had been doing too quickly and ended up injured. I was out for all of August during which time I should have been getting in some of my longer runs. When I did start running again, as much as I tried to ease in slowly I knew I had to get in my 17 and 20 milers before the race. It was too much too soon and I felt it. But somehow I still thought I'd be okay.
YOU GOTTA BE OKAY ON YOUR OWN. I had talked to my Brother Billy about running with him. He had figured out just how fast we should run each of the miles, and even calculated the grade of each hill into the equation. I figured I'd just stick with him and he'd keep me on track. Well I lost him before the race even got started. I was also counting on my sister meeting me at mile 20 to run in the last 6 miles with me, covering the distance I had never gone before. Turns out she wasn't able to be there at the same time I was. In life you can only lean on others so much, but if you can't stand on your own two feet you're just going to fall on your face, and thats going to hurt! If you don't know enough about why you're doing what you're doing and who you're doing it for you're really in for it! I was grateful as I realized I could do it on my own. I was doing this for ME! Maybe it wasn't what I had planned and it might not be as much fun running the course on my own, but I could do it.
SOME THINGS ARE JUST OUT OF YOUR CONTROL! Just because you trained doesn't mean you'll finish the race. You can train your heart out, read all the books, eat the right foods, wear the best shoes, the most comfortable clothes, and have all the greatest tools at your fingertips and things may still not go according to plan. You may end up with 27mph winds or 27mph winds and rain, or you may just wake up on the wrong side of the bed and have one of those off running days.
For me this was definitely the case. Both of my knees were sore the night before the race and I couldn't decide which knee to wear my brace on. I decided on the one most recently hurting and not the one that had been injured. By mile 4 I stopped and switched my brace to the other knee. At the end of mile 8 my old injured knee crumpled and completely gave out under me. I hoped it was a fluke thing and tried to just keep going. Once more about 100 yards further down the course it gave out again.
I decided to just slow it down a bit and I really started to favor the knee but still hoped maybe it would work itself out. It just continued to get worse. By mile 13 the hobble was getting pretty ugly as my friends one by one, began to pass me by with words of encouragement, looks of sympathy and surprise at coming upon me in my mangled state. Talli was the first to pass and I asked her to warn my family as she came in that I would be MUCH slower than any of us had anticipated.
LEARN TO LOVE THE TASTE OF HUMBLE PIE, YOU'LL ALWAYS BE SERVED SECONDS! You will always be able to find someone who is better off than you are, or who has exactly what it is that you want. I know this to be true. I also know that there will be those who are smarter, more kind, much cuter, tons faster, way skinnier, funnier, and more interesting than me. There are lots and lots of people who are. Not only am I okay with this but I actually like to surround myself with them. I don't have to be better than anyone at anything, but I wouldn't complain if I thought that I gave 'em a run for their money. Either that or I'm hoping a little will rub off and onto me! But really, seeing everyone I know pass me by and then fade into the path that still lay ahead of me was a little hard. But not quite as bad as when I was looking at the pictures my mom took of me on that last stretch before the finish line. Check out the guy to the right of me, yep thats who I was finishing up with. How's that for Humble pie?!
GET BACK TO THE BASICS! Somewhere around mile 15 my knee would no longer allow me to shuffle along at almost a joggers pace and I was forced to limp along at a very slow walkers pace. My pace for the next two miles was close to 16 minutes per mile and the next one took me 17 minutes and 29 seconds. I had a choice to make at this point. Either I was going to get onto the shuttle and ride to the finish line at the next aid station, or just keep on walking. I had every reason just to stop and head in. Not only was I hurt and moving slowly, but at a certain point if you haven't finished the race, they actually escort you off the course because they can no longer keep the roads closed for you any longer. At my current pace I was sure this would happen so even if I did try to walk it in, I may not finish the course.
Ahead of me Snow Canyon was coming into sight. One marathoner left the road climbed up onto a pile of rocks and pulled out his camera to take some pictures. I got caught up in what he was seeing and taking in. It was beautiful. I was suddenly reminded why I was here in the first place the very reason I was running. Because it makes me happy. I like to breathe the fresh air and take in the sights around me and feel myself moving through it. I could still do that, just not as fast as I would have liked. Then ahead of me there was a sign that read "you are no longer a runner you are a marathoner". That was when I decided I was going to finish the course. I just had to shuffle a little faster. There is a video clip of me right about this point in the race on The St George Spectrum website. My schlumping shuffle is featured 2:44 into the 4 minute video for all the world to see for almost 9 whole seconds! Another helping of humble pie anyone? Click here.
FINISH WITH A BANG, YOU'VE EARNED IT! I think I was around the 20 mile marker when I realized I might actually be able to come in under 5 hours. This gave me something to shoot for again. While it was impossible for my knee to bear any weight while going either up or down the hills at anything less than a limpy walk, I figured out that an awkward lunge like movement with a little twisting of my arms I could propel my bad leg forward. It was UGLY but I was moving along again. When I hit the hills I limped and chatted with the people around me and then gimped off as soon as we leveled out again. I was having fun, I remembered why I was here.
As I came into town and knew I was almost done, I had the most uncomfortable feeling. I was embarrassed. There were people cheering and clapping for all the runners but I didn't feel worthy of any of it. I felt that way again as I came into the last stretch and saw my mom taking my picture, and again when my sister in law Jen spotted me with the most genuine pride and excitement shining in her smile. I knew I should feel proud of myself for finishing, but I just kept feeling like I didn't really earn it. I had just schlepped through, but some people had really run this thing, and pushed themselves to their physical limits. They are the ones deserving of the cheers and pride. I don't think I was ever really sweating, I definitely didn't push myself to my physical limits. I felt like a fraud.
As I came across the finish line I made a split second decision. I may not have run this race the way I wanted to, but I was going to finish with a bang. Did you know your knees don't need to work to do a cartwheel? Well they don't! I crossed the finish line upsidedown, mid-cartwheel. That put the smile back onto my face.
GO AHEAD, MOURN THE LOSS, BUT GET OVER IT! As we met up with friends after the race the one question that everyone asks is "How did you do?" Even still I don't know how to answer that question. I didn't do what I know I can do. I didn't have the experience I came here to have. Did I have a great time? You bet, other than me knee not working, I loved it! My friend was right, it really is a 26.2 mile party. The atmosphere is charged, the people are some of the friendliest I've met. The scenery is awesome. The weather was perfect. It was a good day. I was happy to have finished it. I still feel a little shame at not having the sore muscles that say I pushed myself to my max. I don't know how fast I am actually capable of going. I still don't know what it feels like to really run a marathon. I thought I was fine with all of this until yesterday when all my family and friends back at home began to ask all the questions. By the end of the night as my husband prodded about my emotional state, I was finally able to admit , to him and myself for the first time, how terribly disappointed I really am. I let out all the sobs of disappointment for the experience I didn't have. It broke my heart a little not to be able to do what I set out to so many months ago. I went to bed without the Pollyanna smile but owning my true feelings, and I woke up today refreshed and ready to move on!
HERE'S WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE. When we started out this life we didn't get to choose our trials or our heartaches. We don't know what struggles are just over the next hill. Something that seems fine today, may be broken tomorrow. You have to know why you're here and where you're going. You have to know that you are enough on your own, without times or titles. Because you can never know what each day or any race will bring your way, you better just train hard enough to stay the course, whatever lies ahead. I may not have left it all out there physically in the way I had planned, but I do know that from where I stood there was nothing more I could do. I believe that is all that is asked of us.


Kari said...

Nice Job Jen!! It takes a lot to keep going when you are in pain like that. Most would get on the shuttle! You should be proud.

Tara Rickards said...

Jen, I am so proud of you for so many reasons! You are strong and you are a fighter. You finished what you set out to do and even more important, you had a good attitude. I know you. I know what you are capable of. I know if you were not injured, you would have "shown them who's boss"! I know that you were disappointed when you finished, but your strength inspired me. You put on a smile and didn't complain and congratulated everyone else with sincere feeling. You were so happy for your friends and family and set aside your own disappointment to celebrate with them. To me, you are a hero. You are a marathoner. You are strong and you endure to the end and that is what it is all about. I love you Jen! Can't wait for you to kick my butt in the next one!

shelleyv said...

Way to go Jen! You don't give yourself enough credit. Running all those miles with an injury. That takes a lot of determination. You did an amazing job. Just think, it should be easy to get a PR next year. I know this is the begining of many races for you.

Kristen said...

OH Jen, you are the best. I'm so proud of you, more proud than I would have been if you'd WON the race! Go you. Love ya.

Rebecca said...

You are a finisher! So many others would have given up. Congrats on entering the 26.2 club. I'd LOVE LOVE to run with you! I'm just getting back into the running after the baby . . . and trying to lose the baby fat but I'm slowly picking up miles and speed. Definitely am ready for my marathons again. Let me know when you want a running partner. Oh, and nice legs, girl!!

Anonymous said...

Good job Jen. It was cool to read about your experience. Doing a marathon is personal thing. No matter how you did it, you did it, and honestly in a pretty good time too. You thinking about doing another?

stacia said...

jen - you are awesome! you have every reason to be proud! way to GO!

Karin said...

That is such an inspiring story Jen. I think you are amazing for enduring through to the finish! You DID push yourself to your full potential...just in a slightly different way. What you did wasn't easy! Next time I'm racing and something goes wrong, I will remember you and I won't give up!
Thanks for sharing. I'm proud of you.

Bill said...

Jen, you your are SO my hero. Don't ever forget what you did that day in St George. You'll have other "race days" in your life, and I know you'll face each one with the same attitude, determination and outcome. Some will hurt more than others, but you will always give your all and see it to the end. Seeing your children as THEY approach their "finish lines" will be your greatest rewards. I'm so proud of you in every way.

Carie said...

I think you are amazing. I loved reading this. It was so well said and inspirational.

I run my 2nd Half in 6 days.

:Brittany: said...

JEn!! Congrats!! Thank you for your post! What helpful information! I've always wanted to try a marathon!! Thanks for the inspiration!!