Five Things I Learned from Running a Marathon
I ran a marathon. I did. Don’t laugh. It happened. I know, I can’t believe it happened either. But, I have a medal and disgusting feet to prove it happened and here’s what I learned:
1) You can do anything for six hours (as long as you’ve put in the training to do it). Baby steps.
When I wrote that I wanted to run a marathon on my life list for Camp Mighty, I secretly giggled at myself. It sounded exciting in a, “Well, if I can wish for anything… I might as well wish for a BILLION dollars instead of a million,” kind of way. Why not put it on my list? I’m putting I want to go to Africa and that’s not happening anytime soon. But, something changed once I wrote it down. I felt like a phony if I didn’t at least try, so I signed myself up for a half marathon. I thought one day, I’ll do a marathon. Right now let’s focus on the half. So, I bought some new shoes and went running for an exhausting two miles. Then I trained up to three and four and, well, all the way up to thirteen point one miles. I did it. I ran a half marathon. And, it was hard. It was one of the hottest days of the year in Pasadena and it was hard. Also, I had just learned (two days prior to the race) that my Dad was very ill. And that was hard. But, I did it.
Then my dad died twenty six days later. It was a crazy time. Prior to his death, I gained a lot of weight because I had stopped running and decided beer was my best friend. After he died, I went through a rebirth of sorts. My divorce was finalized within a month of my Dad dying. And, suddenly, I felt I could do anything I wanted. No one (specifically, a man) could tell me I couldn’t. So, I got out my life list and was determined to check things off. I jumped out of a plane, I joined S Factor, and I signed up for a FULL marathon.
I calendared all of my runs from the app I downloaded and giggled, again, when I saw that one day I would be running fifteen, then sixteen all the up to twenty miles before I actually ran the twenty six point two. How was that going to happen? I guess I’ll just focus on the three miler I have today, baby steps. Then I just focused on the six miler and the ten miler and, well, race day I focused on the twenty six point two miler. One foot in front of the other. Never believing the day I calendared it, I would actually be able to do it. And, I learned you can do anything for six hours (as long as you put in the training in to do it). But, you have to start the training first…with baby steps.
2) You will always make excuses, until you have a goal.
Even as I sit here typing, I am dreading running. I’m only three weeks out from finishing a marathon and the thought of even running three miles (which should be nothing), sounds horrible. So, I walked on the treadmill for an hour and a half instead. That’s cockamame, right? It would have taken me just over a half an hour to get a three miler in and instead I chose to walk almost triple that time in one place (I was watching Grey’s Anatomy, though). The problem is that I have no goal in the running department. It takes a lot of mental strength to keep running. (As opposed to walking on the treadmill watching Grey’s.) When I am in training, I know if I miss a day it will effect me in the long run, literally. So, I rarely missed a day. I rarely gave the excuses I gave myself today:
-I have to write.
-I’m tired from single mothering it all week.
-It’s going to rain.
-I worked out yesterday.
-I don’t have time.
It’s all bullshit. When I was training:
-I made time.
-I got babysitters if I had to.
-I ran four days a week and did S Factor and Yoga on my “off days”.
-I got up at dawn to get a fifteen mile run in (in the rain) and then boarded a plane to San Francisco to attend a Christmas party.
I had a goal. Set goals.
3) I don’t need anti-depressants…when I run.
About four years ago, I started going to therapy. Something I should have started seventeen years ago. After a few months into it, the therapist could see a pattern. About every three weeks I would come in completely unable to cope and the other weeks I was barely hanging on but managed to get through the day. It was also clear that I had anxiety. So, she recommended I see a psychiatrist who could prescribe me a low dose of anti-anxiety/anti-depressants. So I went and she did. And I hated them. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely worked. I went from a roller coaster of emotions to a gentle kiddie ride at Disneyland. But, I didn’t feel like me. I felt like if it was appropriate for me to feel sad, I should feel sad. Or, on the flip side, happy. I mean, I wasn’t a robot. But, I’m an actor I wanted to feel my emotions. I told the psychiatrist that and she said she never understood us artist types… always wanting to “feel”. And that’s when I knew it wasn’t for me. Call me coo coo bananas, but I want to feel. I’m a human being.
About a month or so into my half marathon training, I felt so great. I started to wean myself off of the generic Prozac. I was almost off of the drugs when I got the phone call that my dad had been taken to the hospital and they had found a mass in his lungs. What an apropos time to go off anti-depressants, right? Against my families wishes, I continued to taper off. By the time he died, less than a month later, I was done with my last prescription. But, I was ok. I felt like I felt the appropriate emotions and when I felt it was getting bad again, I signed up for the full marathon. The training sent my brain so many endorphins, that I feel I was able to recover (and still am recovering) in a healthy way. Running is my anti-depressant. Now, one month after my marathon (and no training) I can feel the anxiety coming back. So, as of a few minutes ago, I signed up for another half marathon and I already feel better.
I am not saying that running is the cure for everybody. I believe I was in such a dark hole that anti-depressants helped me get to a place where I could see that there was more. But, once I was out of the hole, I was able to see the sky through running. But, that’s just me.
4) You can do it alone, but it’s better with a friend.
In both training for the half and the full marathon, I trained alone. It didn’t even occur to me not to. I couldn’t commit to other people. I could get an audition or have a child emergency. I could barely fit in the running as it was, let alone try to fit it in someone else’s schedule. So, I did it alone. Which is how I prefer to do most things. So when I finally got to run my marathon, why was I surprised when I was completely alone on PCH?
This was me on a main highway in Southern California, all by myself and I was giggling. Because, look at how powerful I am! I wanted to run this race alone and here I am, literally, alone on a main highway in Southern California. This is what happened- I arrived at the race at the time I was supposed to, with an hour to spare. Only, it took and hour and a half to park and a half an hour to get to the starting line. So, all of the full marathoners had been running for an hour and the half marathoners were starting in fifteen minutes. They almost didn’t let me run. But, after almost crying, they let me. So, I ran by myself for five miles of the race. And it was lonely. And they started to shut parts of the race down and I was scared. Then, as I was running (alone) by a pond, I saw someone come running up behind me. (I didn’t hear her because, as I will discover later, she wasn’t wearing any shoes. She’s a warrior!) And I screamed,
“Hi!!! Parking? It sucked!”
“It totally did!!” said my new best friend, “They almost didn’t let me run. I’m the very last.”
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you!”
“You too! I was trying so hard to catch up.”
“Well, we’re in it now. Nice to meet you. I’m Jen.”
“I’m Maya. Hi!!”
She was my new best friend for the next five hours. We went through almost the whole thing together. We commiserated that this was not a great start to our first marathon. I knew that she was a faster runner than me, but she stuck with me almost the whole way. My friend, Dawn, had agreed to be my “tow” for the end of the marathon. And, Maya parted with me, by the end, knowing I had some support. I had resisted the idea of a tow when Dawn brought up the idea. I wanted to do it alone. But, she insisted and I’m so happy she did. I could have made it, but not by running the whole way. I would have limped across that line and I might not have made it by the cutoff time, since I started an hour late.
Dawn cheered me on for ten miles (we had to double back, I’ll explain that later).
“We’re bringing it down to four! Can you do four?” she rooted on.
“Yes, I can do four,” I exhaled.
“Let’s do it!!!”
She pushed me every time I wanted to stop and supported me every time I did stop. Which, sadly, I would not have done for myself. I would have beaten myself up the whole way. And, instead, I got orange slices and cheers from a friend.
5) You can choose your destination, but not how you get there.
I knew the marathon was going to be hard and emotional. That’s what they tell you. But, I thought it would be like that because of the breakdown of muscle tissue, or whatever, and dehydration. I didn’t know it was going to be because I would have to walk over a mile to just to get to the race, I would be an hour late and they would shut down parts of the race so I couldn’t complete the run. Let me just say that I DID COMPLETE A MARATHON, but I was probably disqualified (technically).
Maya and I are chatting and becoming life long friends, when we look up to see the mile eight marker. We are also surprised to have caught up with a group of runners.
“Well, that was fast,” I exclaim.
“Yeah, my GPS says we are only at five and a half,” Maya corrects.
“Are you fucking kidding me? Did we skip?”
“Let me get out the course map.”
Thank god for Maya. I didn’t have any of that stuff. I had a water bottle and my iPhone. I didn’t even know you could get a course map. I was such a newbie.
“We missed a whole section around another pond,” she said.
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” I angrily shouted, “I did not train for four months to skip part of the race.”
“Me neither,” she agreed, “Let’s find someone and ask what we can do. Maybe we can go back.”
So, we found a man in an official looking jacket and told him our situation.
“Well, if you would arrived on time you wouldn’t have this problem,” he patronized.
“I WILL KILL YOU,” I thought to myself.
Instead I said, “That doesn’t really solve the problem now, so what do we do now?”
“Well it’s not going to count, but if you want to do it for yourself, once you get to the beach stretch you can double back and make up your lost miles,” he offered up.
So, that was our plan. Which I was fine with, but the beach stretch wasn’t for ten more miles so that meant every mile marker that we passed was actually two and a half miles off. Which is a runner’s psychological nightmare. I finally caught up with Dawn at mile eighteen (which was really mile fifteen and a half, ugh) and she offered to double back with us.
Now, at the start of the race I got a lot of crazy looks, people trying to stop me thinking I was starting the half marathon early, wondering why I was alone, etc.. But, that was nothing compared to the looks we got when we ran a part of the course four times. Twice there and twice back. The volunteers who had offered me banana four times were probably thinking I had a memory lapse and forgot I had run this section three times prior. But, whatever, I was determined to get the miles in. After running by the beer and bacon station for the fourth time, Maya and I finally parted ways. And, then the healthy knee which was fine during training started to swell and the knee that killed me during training acted like we were cool the whole time. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s never how you think it’s going to be.
I am actually grateful for all of the mishaps. I was so distracted by everything else, the time went by faster than I anticipated. The emotional bursts started to come near the end, when all I wanted to do was see my daughter at the finish line. I was hoping she wouldn’t be shy and grumpy like she was at the end of my half marathon. I got weepy thinking about how so many people would have stopped before they started this crazy race, thinking they were too late. And, most would have never made up the miles, chalking it up to a bad race. But, I did it and I ran the whole twenty six point two miles. And when I got to the end, my daughter was so overjoyed and proud to see me that I broke down crying in the street.
I showed myself and my daughter who I was through that race. I couldn’t have predicted my journey at all, but I baby stepped my way to the finish line and accomplished my goal. Holy shit. I did it.