Today was the Disney World Marathon, which I ran last year. Tomorrow, technically, then, is my marathoniversary! All weekend I've been thinking a lot about my first marathon.
The road-to-the-marathon began in 2009, when I started running regularly again. Running was a major part of my high school years when I was on both the track and cross country teams. During college it trailed off, and in my first few years of teaching it was non-existent. As I reflected on the struggles in my life back in 2008-- my feelings of slugishness, unmanaged anxiety and high stress-- I realized a return to running would alleviate and combat all of that negativity. But knowing I am not the type of person who would run just to run, I told myself I would one day run a marathon. I remember talking to James, my then co-worker and a personal running inspiration, that I thought it would take me two years to build up to running a marathon, and that came to fruition. Along the way, I became a healthier, happier, better person.
It was admist my training for my 2nd half-marathon that I decided to officially register for the full. I can remember the day vividly: Kegan and I were running 10 miles along the Spring Lake boardwalk, one of my favorite places to run. It was a picture perfect running day: the sun was shining, the breeze off of the ocean was cool, and I felt lighter with each step. I knew, then and there, that if 10 miles could feel easy, I was ready to run a full. That night I registered for the marathon. While I intended to train and run the race on my own, Kegan followed signed up a few weeks later, as did my good friend and colleague Kyle. All of a sudden it was a group effort, and I was so grateful for it. In fact, when I had to compete my longest training run of 22 miles, a group of 6 of us went out to do it, in the middle of December. Not many people can say they had companionship in training, and I am so lucky that I did.
Training itself is an amazing experience. The commitment to running regularly brings a rhythm to your weeks. I would go to bed feeling achy and exhausted, but accomplished. Three days during the week Kyle and I headed out after school, and it was a great outlet during what was a stressful school year. We strengthened our friendship over those months, and when it was all over I missed having that time with him regularly. He kept me honest; days that I probably would've found an excuse not to run I couldn't just skip it, because he was running, too. We were both running the marathon for our own reasons, but it was so wonderful to share training with him. Kegan and I ran together on the weekends for our long run. Sometimes couples say that they can't run together, but we are compatible running partners. Since Kegan works such long hours, our Saturday long run was a time that we knew we would have together. We loved setting new distance records, laughing together when hysteria set in during later miles, encouraging one another when we struggled. I know that I have a great marriage, and our Saturday long runs together was a weekly reminder of that blessing.
When the 18 weeks of training ended and race day arrived, I could not believe how fast two years had gone by. The marathon was the culmination of what I had been working towards for so long, and I truly ran it as a celebration, a personal triumph. I chose Disney World because there is nowhere like it in the world to run. The tagline for their races is that "every mile is magic". Literally that's true-- from the setting to entertainment to the level of joy and kindness from the volunteers and race organizers. But I think that's just a statement true for a marathon. I wanted to run my first marathon in a place that epitomized magic. A person needs to dig very deep to keep going mile after mile. But I did it all with a smile, because I knew the experience was transcendent. In the most recent issue of Runner's World, something Marc Parent wrote struck me as true for me and my marathon experience: "The run itself, though, had suddenly become indescribable. It wasn't easy, but it was not hard, either. I didn't know until that moment that there was a hidden gear between hard and easy. I tried to figure out what it felt like, but it was unlike anything else in life I could think of...The moment a run becomes indescribable is the moment it becomes private-- not secret, just impossible to share...Distance is one of the only things in life you truly earn."
Running is one of the most important aspects of my life, and training for and running my first marathon was easily one of the most important experiences of my life. I plan to run marathons again-- I want to run one that I have to train for alone, I want to run one as a mother, I want to run in Disney again. Still, I know that there will never be anything like my first marathon, and for it, I am eternally grateful.
I extoll the virtues of running to everyone I know. My friends and family have heard it countless times, and through this blog they hear it again. If you're a reader who doesn't know me personally, I encourage you to give it a try. It might change your life, as it changed mine. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is an amazing book-- not just about running, but about the human experience itself. A passage from that novel has become one of my favorite ruminations about running and life, so I close this post with it:
"There was some kind of connection between the ability to love and the ability to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you've got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding. We wouldn't be alive without love; we wouldn't have survived without running. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other."