Reflections on a Marathon

There are plenty of things I thought I might never do. Running a marathon was one of them.

For at least ten years I’ve put “run a marathon” on my bucket list, or my one-year list, or any other goal-oriented list I made. I can recount my goals for 24, 25, and 26, and all include running a marathon.

I finally got around to it.

The thing about running a marathon is this: if you want to do it, you can. Not to put off the years of hard work and effort that elite runners put into it—I’m speaking to the first timers, the wannabe’s, and the slightly interested.

If you want to run a marathon, just do it.

IMG_7392

On my 26th birthday I registered for my first marathon. I was tired of putting it off until the next year, because eventually I would be 80 and wishing I had done this thing I had spent so many years wishing I had done. There’s a quote I rely on, etched into my journal, that reads, “How you spend your days is how you spend your life.” I realized, on the celebration of my 26th year on earth, that I’d spent a lot of days (9,490 to be exact) waiting to do something, to be somebody, to finally cross things off my bucket list.

26 would be the year I stopped wanting and started becoming.

As I sat in a coffee shop with a good friend of mine, I found a marathon, I registered, I downloaded a training plan, and I set my mind to it.

It really was as easy as that.

For ten weeks or so I ran four days a week. In that time, I traveled to Mexico, had a fluke knee accident, came down with a cold that left me in bed for four days, and never ran farther than 10 miles.

I don’t recommend it.

IMG_7284

If you’re going to run a marathon, train for it. Give yourself enough time to develop your athletic base, endurance, and most importantly, your mental fortitude. Fortunately for me, climbing strengthened my mental muscles and, it turns out, I’m mentally stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.

Leading up to the marathon, when I felt I hadn’t had enough training due to circumstance, I told my friends my mental game would get me through. After all, nearly everything is 90% mental, 10% physical, right? For a marathon, however, I’d cut it down to 60/40.

I leaned on examples of extraordinary individuals. Like the young women who runs half-marathons despite frequent seizures. Or the man with no limbs who climbs mountains. Or any other individual who disregards the resounding “you can’t,” and shows them they can.

We drove up to the start line around 6:30am. I finished off a cup of water, went to the bathroom, and did a few jumping jacks to warm up. My husband and brother-in-law were running together, and I was prepared, and excited to run the race solo.

I headed to the start with my running vest equipped with some extra GU’s, a bottle of water, my phone, and headphones.

When the gun went off, I was elated.

Part of me never expected to make it to the start line.

Even a week before the event I thought about calling in and switching my registration to the half-marathon. I’d only run 10 miles. I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I didn’t want to disappoint my husband. I didn’t want to fail, and have to tell people I hadn’t met my goal. Before I started that marathon, I still believed that having not tried might be better than failing.

I started out slowly, treating the first mile as a warm-up. I began near the back of the group, with maybe ten people behind me. But it felt comfortable. I didn’t need to go out with guns-ablazing. My number one goal was to run the entire race. My number two was finishing with an average 12 minute mile (5:24:00).

Running had never felt so good.

DSC04650

Before I knew it I was coming up on mile 8.

Then mile 9.

When I passed mile 10, I was in unchartered territory. From then on, every mile was a new record, the official furthest I’d ever run.

Mentally, I was prepared. I knew I could get to mile 20, because I knew I could run 10 miles. Once I got to 20 I knew I could run 6 miles. That was my mental game plan.

It worked.

 

The miles kept passing, and I kept running. Until mile 22, I never felt the need to distract myself.

Those last four miles, though. Damn.

It took a lot to run the last four miles. My legs were aching, knees wanted to buckle, and my hips were so stiff. But I’d run so far, I couldn’t quit.

When I passed the mile 26 marker, I kicked it into high gear.

My last mile was my fastest.

DSC04652

I crossed the finish line with tears in my eyes. The volunteer handing out finisher shirts and metals asked if I was alright. I replied, “I’m just so happy!”

I don’t know what else competes for that moment. Never had I felt so accomplished, so tired, and so elated at one time. It was euphoric.

Running a marathon redefined my limits, and what’s possible for me to achieve. I’m no longer sure of the validity of “I can’t,” because can’t is a misnomer. It confuses what’s possible for you now, for what’s possible for you in the future.

You can, it just might take some time.

IMG_7428

 

 

How to Run Downhill

 

I always thought running uphill was the worst part about a long run, until I discovered the woes of running downhill. The other day I told my husband the aggressive mantra I keep when running uphill (it includes swearing and some not-so-nice suggestions about where hills can, well, shove it), and he told me I should run downhill to appreciate the uphill. I laughed thinking downhill’s are a treat, not realizing I’d never truly run down hill before.

Running down a steep trail the other day I thought, there has to be another way. There must be something better than experiencing the repetitive shock sent from my heel to my head, creating every hidden (and obvious, let’s be real) cell of fat to jiggle, as I maneuver myself between rocks and trees and puddles, praying to god I don’t trip and break open my forehead on any obstacle in my path—

And the Google delivered. From a few articles about downhill running I gathered some helpful hints and tips that will hopefully aid us all in enjoying the downhill a little more while hurting our bodies a little less.

Think of your foot as a tripod:

A downhill strike works best when you get the top and bottom of your toes to strike at the same time as your heel. It’s similar to how we should be striking anyway. However, in a typical stride, the force should be focused on the forefoot while the foot strikes the ground. When running downhill you want equal force and balance between the front and back of your foot.

Think hips not shoulders:

Where a lot of us go wrong is when we lean back and away from the hill. Our bodies should be perpendicular when running downhill, that means leading with your hips, not your shoulders. Leading with shoulders is not only bad form, but also creates unnecessary tension and pain in the neck and traps. Speaking of your neck, while you’re keeping that beautiful perpendicular form, pretend there’s a grapefruit between the chin and chest. That way you’re not leading with your neck either…

The ground is lava:

Remember that game you played as a kid? Keep it in mind while facing your downhill demons. By keeping ground contact to a minimum, you keep the spring in your step that might be necessary for quick maneuvers around hard-to-see obstacles.

Don’t fight the force:

Gravity is our friend! XTERRA world champ Lesley Paterson recommends flailing arms to the side for balance. It helps if you suddenly need to change direction, and also, it’s pretty fun.

Engage your core:

This is pretty much a rule for every outdoor activity. You can check out some easy ways to strengthen your core here.

You can check out some more flushed out, scientific articles through the following links:

http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/three-tips-for-running-downhill

http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/training/perfect-your-downhill-running-form_52804

http://www.active.com/cycling/articles/4-keys-to-running-downhill-efficiently

Hope that helps! What other tips do you have for downhill running?