Why would anyone run a marathon?
Training for and running a marathon is a grueling process. You really only know how truly grueling it is until you’re in the thick of it. It’ll test you mentally, as well as physically. The marathon will force you to explore the limits of your body and, most often, push past them.
As I begin my fourth* marathon training cycle, I am already being tested.
*This is the fourth marathon I’ve trained for, though I’ve only completed two thus far. The last marathon I trained for I decided not to run last minute due to a nagging ankle injury. Marathon training is tough on the body!
Today I had a long run on the calendar. 16 miles. A doozy, especially given that the temps have been creeping up past 90 all week. Thankfully it had rained overnight bringing relief to the unbearable heat, but still, I wanted to get up and out early so as not to get stuck running in the mid day sun. Not to mention that a 16 miler would take up a good chunk of my day, well over 2 hours for sure.
So I got up and got going early, or at least somewhat early. 7am was late compared to the regular 5:30 wake up calls of previous marathon training cycles, but it was a Sunday and I did need my sleep. I started my usual pre-run routine with a cup of coffee and some toast. I journaled a bit while I nursed my cup of coffee, only half procrastinating my run. Eventually I got around to lacing up my sneakers and doing my warmup drills. I packed up a small bag with water, electrolytes, a towel, and a few other things I thought I might need for the run. I drove just a few minutes down the road and parked along one of my favorite trails. I surely could have just run from my apartment to the trail, but today I felt like starting my run on the trail. The vibe just felt right, so I rolled with it.
I did a few more warmup drills and contemplated a trip to the port-a-poty before taking off down the trail. Aright, I thought, this isn’t so bad. I kept the pace nice and relaxed to start, easing into the repetitive motion. One foot, then the other. I had plenty of miles ahead of me to pick up the pace. Just as I felt like I was hitting my groove I felt my ankle twist and went straight down to the ground.
“Are you okay?” A lady called from a car in the nearby parking lot. It took me a second to realize what had happened. “Yeah, I think so.” I quickly assessed the damage. It hurt, but it didn’t seem too bad. “My car isn’t far,” I replied to the kind lady who’d offered to help. I sat on the ground for another minute, before scooping up my phone and water bottle that had scattered on the sidewalk.
Thankfully my phone only had a few minor scratches. I’d had the phone for months and still hadn’t bothered to get a new screen protector. I could hear my mom lecturing me. I stood up to better assess the damage. My knee was scraped up but not badly and elbow had a small cut, but that barely hurt. I was more worried about the ankle that had rolled. I put a little weight on it and then a little more. It felt surprisingly okay. I must have just caught a rock and lost balance, I didn’t really roll my ankle. Thank god.
I exhaled, grateful things weren’t worse.
I knew things could have been much worse. I had a history of breaking my wrist during simple falls like this. So I was thankful for a few simple cuts and bruises.
Still, I wasn’t sure if I was okay enough to finish the run. I was barely a half mile in when I fell, so thankfully my car really wasn’t far. But, I did have a long way to go if I was going to complete my mileage for the day.
I jogged back to the car cautiously.
I used the towel I’d packed and a little extra water to clean up my wounds. It really wasn’t that bad, seemed like a pretty standard scraped knee. I was cautiously optimistic, but my ankle seemed okay too.
I could finish the run. But did I want to?
There was part of me that just wanted to get back in my car and go home and skip the next 15 miles. Or tell myself I’d go home and get cleaned up and finish the run later. But I knew that if I didn’t do it now I definitely wouldn’t do it later.
I wanted to cry. The scraped knee was dumb, I was fine, but I was tired. I didn’t really want to run 15 more miles. In that moment all I wanted was someone to feel sorry for me that I’d scraped up my knee. Was I just a five year old kid on the playground?
I think I really only started running again because my choice was either run or pout like a little kid. No run is perfect, I told myself.
I got into a flow. The cuts on my knee stung for a while, but eventually the pain subsided and I actually felt okay. I somehow finished the 10 mile trail loop and made it back to my car, yet again.
Just six more miles.
I remember telling myself that at mile 20 of my first marathon. “Just six more miles, just a 10k, you’ve done that a million times, you can do it.” It worked wonders for me then. I’d never run a marathon before at that point, so breaking it down into easily digestible chunks, like “just one more 10k” made it seem possible, and it was. I finished that race in just about 4 hours 20 minutes, very respectable for a first go at the marathon.
Today, six more miles felt more daunting. I was tired. It was warm and humid. Thankfully the sun hadn’t decided to make much of appearance, but still, I was tired and sweaty. I thought about calling it there, but I didn’t. Overall, I felt okay, so I pushed on. I got a second wind in the next few miles, and I breezed through to mile 13. Then I started to not feel so good.
I should have had a second piece of toast. I could feel my stomach aching. Really all that was in there was some water and the two gels I’d had gotten down thus far. My stomach was saying that it needed sustenance, but I wasn’t sure if it could take another gel. Since I was low on energy and I had no other options, I took the third gel. And it did not sit well. The nausea came first, then the cramps. I tried just slowing down, but the cramps only got worse. I hated stopping during a long run, especially so close to the finish, but I felt like I couldn’t keep moving like this.
I paused and took a few deep breaths. I didn’t want to start running again, at least not yet, so I walked for a few minutes.
What is the point? Why am I doing this? Why did I sign up for another marathon?
The negative thoughts didn’t just creep up on me, they surrounded me on all sides.
I was happy running 5k’s and 10k’s last year, and I never felt like this. So why am I doing this? Why?
I didn’t have a good answer for myself, but I knew I wasn’t a quitter, so I started up a jog again to quiet my thoughts. Somehow the 16 mile mark came and I finally got to stop. I felt accomplished sure, but that wasn’t enough to keep the ultimate question at bay.
Why the hell am I running (another) marathon?
I told myself it’s because I want to qualify for Boston. But then the devil on my shoulder came back with the “why the hell would you want to do that?”
Even if I did qualify for Boston, who knows if I would make the registration cut off. And even if I did make the cut off, I’d then have to run another marathon, Boston.
Sure, yes, I have this lofty golden goal of qualifying and running Boston. But I could have other goals, that are just as impressive, that don’t require me to run multiple additional marathons.
So I thought back on why I started running. Or at least, why I started running half marathons/marathon. Something that was a big factor in my decision to run so many of those early races that I wanted so badly to impress people. I felt like I’d been overlooked for so much of my life, my accomplishments paled in comparison to those of my siblings and my peers. Or so I felt at the time. So the marathon was a chance for me to prove myself. None of my siblings had run, or probably ever would run a marathon, and it wasn’t something many of my peers chose to do, so it was something that could be mine. Plus, it was impressive no matter what time I ran, just so long as I had run a marathon.
The accomplishment factor just didn’t ring true for me anymore, at least not in the same way. In training for and running my past marathons, I’d also learned to run fast at shorter distances. Not incredibly fast, but fast enough to be the 2nd place female in a local 10k, and win $50, which felt pretty cool to me. I didn’t need the marathon to be impressive anymore. I’ve also now made peace with myself and my accomplishments and I don’t feel the need to do things just for the attention or the “wow” factor.
So then, why was I doing this?
I then thought that was because I wanted to escape. Which is, or was, somewhat true. Between work and school and social media, running was a chance to spend a few hours outside not looking at my phone or checking my email. Especially when work was stressful, or I wanted to try and forget that I was waiting for a text from the guy I had a massive crush on, running was an excellent escape.
I still feel that way, at least to some extent. I don’t feel the need to run away from my problems anymore. And I don’t feel like I need running to put away my phone and unplug. I now face my problems head on, and deal with them in a healthy way. I’ve also gotten much better at setting boundaries with work and various aspects of my life so that I can unplug when I need to.
What I do still enjoy is getting outside and spending a few hours appreciating all that mother nature has to offer. I feel a little less appreciative when it’s 80 degrees and humid, but I do still appreciate it. I also appreciate the movement. I appreciate all that my body can do for me, like running 26.2 miles consecutively.
I then thought back to why I started running at all. I wasn’t much of a runner growing up, and I definitely wouldn’t have considered myself an athlete, but for one reason or another I found myself showing up to cross country practices my junior year of high school. I remembered how I felt then, especially in those first few practices. My mindset was much the same as it was today. Why am I doing this?
I’ll never forget how badly I wanted to quit during those first few cross country practices. I wanted so badly to feign an injury so that I could stop running. But I didn’t. I didn’t have a good reason for why I was doing it, other than I didn’t have a good enough reason to quit. And I’m so glad I didn’t quit.
Running has given me so much. It’s given me strength, both physical and mental. It’s given me confidence in myself and my ability to do just about anything I set my mind to. It’s given me an appreciation for my body, and for the world around me.
Running has made me an all around better person, as so I guess that’s why I don’t quit. And sure, I could run 5k’s, 10k’s, or even just half marathon’s and see those benefits and avoid torturing myself with 16+ mile runs. But I don’t, and not just because I don’t have a good enough reason not to. But because days like these, days where it feels like everything is going wrong and I want to quit, those are the days that make me stronger.
Also because, I’m so grateful that I laced up my shoes for that first cross country practice, so I’m sure I’ll one day be grateful that I laced up my shoes today.