Running a marathon was always one of those goals I’ve had in the back of my mind, but never fully executed on – things would come up that diverted my attention. A year ago I was at a strange crossroads in my life and oddly decided running for 5+ hours would be the best use of my time, and registered for the Marine Corps Marathon. Having never run more than a half marathon and being badly out of shape, I knew I had a really long way to go.
My parents and friends pledged full support of my endeavor and my good friend Erik, a ultra marathon runner, even promised to draft up a training plan for me. When I later found out I had won the lottery and secured a spot in the race there was no turning back.
Training was tough – not physically but mentally. I simply had no motivation for my long runs. I was giving up partly through my runs and not accomplishing the distances I needed. I was beginning to question my decision to even run the Marine Corps Marathon in the first place. My training became even more difficult because halfway through my trip to Japan came up. Before leaving for Japan I could barely run 10 miles without stopping – how was I supposed to return from the trip and get re-motivated with less than 2 months to go?
Fueled by my parents booking hotels and flights to come see my first marathon, I had new focus in my marathon training. On one of the first weekends back, I ran 18 miles, only stopping to walk a mile roughly 13.5 miles into my run. It was the longest run I had ever done (and I could barely walk afterwards!) I was worried about the marathon now but Erik assured me I had broken through “the wall” and any subsequent run would be nothing. He was partly right, the following weekend I ran 15.6 miles without stoping. I felt great afterwards and even went to the Washington Nationals play-off game afterwards!
But trouble started again. My right foot began to bother me with symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis. With only two weeks until the marathon I decided to lay low and just rest, because I was going to run the marathon, foot be dammed!
Reality struck when my parents flew into D.C. on Friday, the weekend of the marathon. The reality of my foot injury and the closeness of the marathon began to set in. There was no turning back now as all the pieces were coming into play. The night before I could barely sleep. They say no-one sleeps before running marathons and they couldn’t be more right. Worried about my foot and beginning to doubt even running at all, I think I only managed about 3 hours of sleep.
Perhaps it was the energy from being anxious, and all the pre-race excitement, but the race started off without a hitch. I decided to run with the 5 hour group – something I thought was reasonable given my injury. The pace group I ran with through me off though. We would run and at the mile markers we would walk for 15~30 seconds, which wasn’t how I had trained.
My foot began hurting at mile one. While I was able to fight it off for the first thirteen miles or so (and stay with my pace group), the combination of throbbing pain and the constant start / stop of the pace group proved too much. I began walking around mile 14 to let my foot rest some. At mile 16 I popped some pain pills I had brought with me – but as expected didn’t do too much to kill the pain. I still had 10 miles to go! Mentally I began telling myself that it was just 10 miles – I could run that in my sleep. While the mental games worked for a few miles, I had to walk the majority of mile 19 through 21 and I began doubting again my decision to run and even began to contemplate defeat.
At mile 24, I turned the corner and, not expecting to see anyone, my mom surprised me with a huge smile and hug. That spurred me on, and then I saw one sign that changed my entire outlook. Someone, who appeared to be standing by themselves, was holding a sign that said “Remember this is your dream.” It struck me in a way nothing else had the entire day. After seeing countless “Worst parade ever” and “I only run if I’m being chased” signs I began to tune them out, but I noticed this one. And it became the mantra that stuck with me as I finished the race.
I had pledged to do a marathon. It was something I always had wanted to do. My original goal of getting a good time was long gone – but the dream of completing the actual marathon was still alive. As silly as it sounds, this one sign changed my entire outlook on the race. Sometimes in the mist of chaos we loose sight of what’s important. Our set backs and doubts can overcome us, if we let them. But our dreams remain sitting on the sidelines ready to be conquered. Sometimes all we need to get back on track is a gentle reminder of what those goals are, even if it’s from a complete stranger.