Last Sunday morning I got to do something I’ve been waiting for since January- cross “run a marathon” off my bucket list. It was something I’ve wanted to do for a few years, but always doubted my ability to discipline myself to put in the training miles. They say life is a journey and not a destination, and it couldn’t apply more in this experience. I went through many highs and many lows along the way, and I thought I’d pass along a few words of wisdom that could bridge the gap of what I’ve learned and how it will stay with me the rest of my life.
Set high goals for yourself, and tell people about them so you are held accountable. I feel like I’ve made a ton of New Year’s resolutions in my life, but only had minimal success following through on them. I knew if I didn’t tell anyone about my goal to run the Rock and Roll Marathon San Diego marathon in June, it would be too easy to just give up or conveniently “forget” to get in my run that day.
Follow a reliable, proven formula. When I first got the idea in my head to run a marathon, the longest distance I had ever run in a single stretch was about 12 miles- and that was about 11 years ago while in college! My typical runs lately were about 4-5 miles at the max, so even the idea of a HALF marathon seemed overwhelming. I knew I needed help, so I consulted the web and found an array of training routines from reputable running coaches that would allow me to work with the foundation I had in place and gradually work up my mileage each week. I wanted a routine that was realistic and set me up for success. I knew going in that this would be a commitment, but I didn’t want to have to dedicate my entire life to running. I chose Hal Higdon’s program for the fact it only required three relatively short runs days during the workweek (when I am busiest) and then a long-distance run on Saturdays
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This was a favorite quote of a professor of mine back in grad school and while I always understood it’s value in the business world, I have a new appreciation of the term after this experience. There were seemingly endless examples of this in my journey- from the 6:30 weekday morning runs before work, to a long Saturday run in the pouring rain. Even if the weather is perfect and its not 6:30am- running is exhausting and will make you want to double over in pain. It’s up to each person to anticipate and deal with this each and every time.
Make sure you have the right equipment. Running takes a toll on the feet, the knees, the hips, and even the mind. I liked wearing sunglasses when I run during the day, but the pair I had kept fogging up all the time. Once on a long run I wore a pair of cheap socks and it lead to awful blisters. I would always seem to “hit the wall” around mile 18 or so in my training runs, and couldn’t understand why until I saw a nutritionist at a health food store and she explained to me that I needed to carry amino acids and electrolyte supplements with me to relieve the dizzy feeling I would always suffer and once my body’s storage was depleted. Try out different combinations of gear and when you find a combination that works- stick with it.
Look for little wins. On long runs, knowing I had 10 miles to go before finishing always seemed overwhelming to me. I discovered that breaking up the distance and utilizing this theory can make the task a bit more tolerable. This can mean anything to any person- it could be as simple as making it to a water fountain, letting momentum carry you down a hill, or even just turning a corner so the wind is at your back can be a huge pick me up.
Not everyday is going to be a great day. For about two weeks, I fought a nasty hip flexor pain in my left side, and then a few months later I had the exact same thing happen in my right. I also experienced my first bout with plantar fasciitis in my right foot for about a week. I was fortunate not to suffer any major injuries in my training, but there were no shortage of days I either physically or mentally wasn’t interested. These were the days I just went into autopilot mode: laced up my shoes, put my head down, and got it done.
You can’t fake hard work. The reason I was so intrigued at setting this goal for myself back in January was the challenge of it, and the discipline needed to achieve it. There is no way to cheat the system and breeze your way through a marathon- a person needs to train for months and months to build the stamina required.
When life knocks you down, you get right back up. When I attempted the Rock and Roll Marathon back in June, I may have been prepared physically, but not mentally. The pressure of so many people cheering me on had me running at too fast of a pace and ultimately lead to me burning out around the 19-mile mark. I was so disappointed in myself while sitting in the Medic Tent- I felt like such a failure and all my months of training was worthless. It wasn’t until a week or so later that I realized that it didn’t have to be a big disappointment unless I made it that way. I found the next race in Southern California (today in Long Beach) and treated the Rock and Roll experience as if it were just a long weekday training run. This kept me motivated and focused at achieving my goal- even if it were a bit postponed.
Hard work is always worth it in the end. Looking back- I’ve learned so much about myself. As much as running is classified as an “individual sport”, there is no chance I could have completed this race today without my wife, and the friends and family that have stood by me throughout this experience with unwavering support. There is a reason people put themselves through the seemingly torture of a marathon- it is an amazing feeling to cross that finish line and know you have pushed your body to the absolute limit.