Over the years I have run many races for charity, most of them for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Among those races were several half marathons, marathons, and two Dopey Challenges (48.6 miles run over 4 consecutive days, 5K, 10K, half marathon, and the last day a full marathon).
While running long distance events is a testament to one’s training, and physical condition, it is the other things that I learned about myself along the way that really stuck with me. Running a marathon is not just a physical journey, it is a mental one as well.
During training, and on race day, obstacles and setbacks will arise. But it is not the challenge that counts, rather how you react to it. I have had injuries, I have had roadblocks, but I found ways to overcome those challenges. Staying focussed and knowing that I was doing this to raise money to find a cure kept me going.
I learned that there is a lot of truth to the statement “You get out of life what you put into it.” I have had marathons that I trained well for, and ones where I did not devote the time I should have to my training. I learned that if I was not prepared, if I hadn’t taken care of myself, there was no way I was going to achieve the outcome I was looking for.
One of best lessons I learned from running long distances events is to never underestimate myself, or anyone else for that matter. When I signed up for my first Dopey Challenge the 48.6 miles seemed rather daunting. To know that I would be running four races in four days, with the last day being a full marathon was a task that in my mind bordered on impossible. But I wanted to challenge myself. I trained, I prepared, and after three days of running, I finished the last 26.2 miles on day four at the fastest pace I had ever run any marathon. So when things seem impossible I remind myself of the age old adage, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
My most memorable race, which happened to be one of my worst finishing times, was special to me because it taught me who I am. I was running the NYC Marathon in 2014, it was cold, it was windy, and I waiting on the Verrazano Bridge for four hours before my start time. By the time the race started I was already not feeling great. I struggled through the first 18 miles, wanting to stop but knowing I should continue. I had run several marathons before this one, so I knew I could do it. And even though I am not an elite runner, I still had a time in my head that I wanted to beat. As I passed the 18 mile marker I saw a Team in Training (TNT) participant from the New York chapter bent over on the side of the road. As a TNT coach I went from runner mode to coach mode. I ran over to him to see if he was ok. It was his first marathon and he had gone out to fast and was in some pain. I told him to walk with me for a bit. As we walked he told me he was running for his nephew who was recently diagnosed with Leukemia. He was upset because he didn’t think he could finish the race. I told him he was going to finish, that I would make sure of it. We continued walking to the mile 20 marker. At this point there was no chance that I would finish with the time I hoped for, but it didn’t matter, getting this person across the finish line so he could tell his nephew what he had done for him was much more important. At mile 20 I suggested we walk for a minute and run for a minute. We did that right up to the last 50 yards of the course. At that point I turned to him and said, “You are running across that finish line,” and he did. After we crossed the finish line he thanked me, and told me he would’ve never finished the race if it hadn’t been for me. It really became the race I was most proud of.
Enjoy the journey. If you only focus on the end result you’ll miss out on all the important moments, both small and large, along the way. Yes, as the saying goes, you should always “keep your eyes on the prize,” but don’t forget the how and why of that journey to get there. Always do your best. At the end of the day, knowing you did your absolute best, you should have no regrets. Remember, you didn’t achieve your goals alone. People supported you along the way, and at times you supported others on their journeys. Never forget that. Believe in yourself, keep moving forward, and do the right thing.