Changing Your Life Part 1: Run A Marathon

Image from greenprophet.com

There’s no way I can run a marathon. It’s impossible.

This was my response whenever anyone asked if I’d thought of running one. It wasn’t that I couldn’t run. I jogged every other day. I loved it. 
However, I didn’t used to. I spent most of adolescence glued to a couch in front of the TV. When I started at age 13 in an attempt to lose the pudge that still hung on me, I hated those first months of slugging along while wheezing and coughing. 3 miles seemed long. A marathon seemed impossible. Even as I started building up my distances over the years, 26.2 miles was still way too far to run. It was simply a fact. Even if I did try to run that far, what if I got a leg cramp? What if I had to walk? Worst of all, what if I failed? 
That thought kept me back for fifteen years.

I ran 7 miles.

7 miles was safe.

Until I was 24 and nowhere I wanted to be in my life. The number of things I was afraid to fail at had grown, looming over me. So I decided to make a change. To face at least one of my fears and prove there was nothing holding me back. So I committed to running a marathon that year.

Then, at 25, I committed to running one for real this time.

And two years after that, I got all the way through the website and finally signed up.

But how do you even start training for a marathon? I checked Google. The instructions made no sense. So I called my lawyer friend, who I could trust to give me the truth. He confirmed what Google said, which was ridiculous.

Marathon training is a series of incremental jumps in distance over time. One Sunday, you run six miles. The next Sunday, you run four. A week later, you run eight miles. The week after that, you run six. And so on, until a few months later, you run twenty miles. Then you come home and collapse into your couch. With your remaining strength, you cancel your plans for the night and go to sleep at 8pm.

And that’s it. Your training is complete.

“If you can run twenty miles, you can run twenty six” is what my lawyer friend and Google had both told me. “Now take it easy for the next two weeks.”

That part still confounded me. Twenty miles was the farthest I’d ever run. I was toddling on soggy legs by the end and seeing static. And to then tack on an extra fifth of that distance to complete the race? It sounded impossible.

And that’s what I was thinking as I jostled in line with hundreds of others outside Seattle’s Memorial Stadium on a chilly morning in November, the day after Thanksgiving. I was told to carbo load the day before the race and hoped that gravy was a carb, because I ate a lot of it. I looked around and found the group of runners huddled around the 10 minute mile pacer. I joined them, playing it safe.

Looking past the assembled crowd milling in one pulsating queue, I saw the 6 minute mile group far ahead and shook my head in disbelief.

The airhorn went off. The crowd surged ahead. I tried to calm my anxious breaths.

I can do this.

Probably.

And if not: Hey, free T shirt. And tiny cups of Gatorade!

I set off south along Fifth Avenue. Puget Sound strobed in and out of view between the office buildings. Container ships and ferries trundled through the waves. It’s a gorgeous course. I decided to focus on that, rather than the very real possiblity that I couldn’t cross the finish line. Right now, I was on a mini tour of my city. And not one of those lame Segway ones. Before I knew it, I was climbing the Interstate onramp, with the stadiums on my right, and then crossed the bridge floating atop Lake Washington. I’d run this distance before. It wasn’t bad. Yet. I was even passing a couple of people. But there was still the last six miles that I’d never run. To make matters worse, on this course, the last six miles are where all the uphills reside. At the bridge tunnel I turned around and ran back across toward Seward Park.

Eagles perched in the branches above Lake Washington Boulevard, being harassed by the many more crows in the trees who were clearly pissed off at the mass of intruders running past. The floating bridge was at our backs. Far, far away. I started getting tired, and imagining what those last six miles would be like. I forced it out of my mind. The hills were in the future. Focus on the now.

At the halfway point the water stations were handing out GU packs. I tore open one of the small envelopes of caffinated syrup with B-12 and slurped it down. Suddenly I’d just run over a power-up. My pace quickened.
I grabbed a second and third one on the way out of the park, heading back toward the bridge.

At mile 18 I was starting to flag again. However, the doubts began melting away, replaced by joy. There we all were, hundreds of us chugging along on a damp Pacific Northwest fall the day after Thanksgiving, running beside the water and through the greenery that defined our city.

For a couple hours we were all part of a tightly knit community, a group of people from all walks of life progressing towards one common cause: crossing the finish line beneath the grey November sky. In competition with no one but our former selves, all doing what was once impossible. Along the route, the city had gathered to cheer us on. Not just the people racing for first or second, not just the people who’ll qualify for Boston, but for all of us. For the slowest of the pack, for those of us at the middle, for anyone who’s come to prove to themselves that “the impossible” is a temporary thing. I felt my spirit singing.

It’s the endorphins. So many lovely, painkilling endorphins that my grin was delirious.

I’d earned them.

The last six miles of hills were cruel, but I got over them. I dug deep as I climbed out of Madison Valley, crossed lower Capitol Hill and descended into South Lake Union. The last miles my ankles were wet concrete and each foot required direct orders to move. Things were getting swimmy. Then I entered Memorial Stadium, its bleachers filled with roaring supporters, and stomped my foot on the rubber mat of the finish line to see my time.

Soldiers placed a medal around my neck, and volunteers wrapped a space blanket around my shoulders. I lofted my fist in triumph, the space blanket my shimmering, superhero cape. Then I collapsed to the ground, limbs splayed out of my blanket like a poorly rolled burrito. A cramped, twitching, cold burrito.

My parents come meet me at the finish line. 
“Are you ready to go yet? It’s raining.” My mom asked as I moaned from the ground.

“Just go start the car, dear.” My father told her, a little more sympathetic to my anaerobic plight. He helped me limp through the concrete tunnel of Memorial Stadium. I gathered the garbage bag of my clothes, then was placed in their car and driven home.

On average, I ran it in 8:30 minute miles. A minute and a half faster than I thought I could.

From that day on, I always told people who felt lost in life that they should run a marathon. Granted, my story is not the most inspirational. I wasn’t starting from zero. I had already had done the legwork (Pun intended. You’re welcome.) of jogging all of those years. 
Still, crossing that finish line on an overcast day in November remains a life event. Because before that moment, it was impossible. I’d never run that far, and had no idea if I could. That fear of failure was real. It kept me back for years until one day, instead of accepting my inability as fact, I decided to try.

That’s why I recommend running a marathon. Even if you’ve never run before, you can train up for one in a matter of months. Less than a hundred days of commitment, then its over. All it takes is the desire to become capable of doing something that you can’t do today. And if you’re like me, after dedicating yourself to training, after chugging through the pain, you’ll reached the end and suddenly the thought arises.

“Wait, what else have I been telling myself was impossible?”

And this question will change your life.