Run the Good Race

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A Nun’s Life community member Julia writes about training for a marathon. Whether you are a runner or not, how might Julia’s words apply to a situation in your life? What bits of wisdom shine out for you?

“I’m training for a marathon.”

The words are like magic. They surprise, confuse, and even inspire awe from time to time. They excuse all manner of quirks, too–nobody questions my choice to eat a big honking ice cream sundae when I can justify it as necessary preparation for a 15-mile run the next morning, and few people have the nerve to laugh at me when I hobble around like an old lady because I tweaked my hamstring during my fartlek workout.  (Some people laugh at me for using the word “fartlek”, though.  For the record, it is a real word.)

Start LineWhat about this statement is so impressive?  In my humble opinion, it’s the mental picture that appears in our minds when we think of a marathon.  Ever since Phidippides ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens in Ancient Greece, the race has represented the human tradition of meeting–and making friends with–our physical limits.  Upon mention of the word, we imagine smiling men and women striding gracefully across the finish line–of course, they would be tired after 26.2 miles, but they have transcended the boundaries of exhaustion and found themselves in a state of calm and happiness.

Well… not necessarily.

First of all, the marathon experience is often more about the training than it is about the actual race.  True, nobody gets a medal for finishing their training, it’s rarely televised, and I’ve never worn a number on my shirt when I go out for a Saturday morning run.  But the training takes at least 16 weeks, not counting the “base mileage” that must be in place beforehand (most beginner training plans recommend the ability to run at least 5 miles comfortably before starting Week 1).  Getting myself out the door for all of those runs felt like just as much of an accomplishment as the one day where I showed up at the starting line and ran 26.2 miles.

Second of all, training is so much more than running.  Attention to factors like weight training, cross-training, and core work can make or break a race.  Food issues–too much, not enough, or the wrong kind–can leave a runner hurting, and poor clothing choices can spell doom on a long run.

That brings me to Third of all: running a marathon is hard.  By mile 22 or so, I was pretty miserable.  My legs were jello; it was all I could do to keep them moving.  I tried stopping and walking, but it didn’t feel any better–plus, I knew that running would get me to the finish line faster, so I stuck with that as much as possible.  I never wanted to see water or energy drinks EVER AGAIN, and if one more person said “you’re almost there!” I was going to scream.

However, Fourth of all is really important: I did reach a point where the pain was worth it.  I thought of people who would love to be able to do what I was doing, of people who supported me, and dedicated a mile–or a half mile, or a few steps–to them.  I felt as if, for a little while, I was standing on the edge of something bigger than myself, and it was both energizing and humbling.

So when I run in Ann Arbor on the 17th of June, will I glide over the finish line, smiling serenely?  Absolutely not.  I plan to stagger across, grinning from ear to ear.

Read all of Julia’s posts as she trains for the Ann Arbor Marathon.

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Comments

LeeAnn March 30, 2012 at 7:51 am

I trained one year to WALK a mini-marathon. Yeah, it doesn’t surprise or confuse or inspire awe in anyone. And it pales in comparison to what you are doing, Julia, but I will never forget that feeling of crossing that finish line and the euphoria I felt. I always tell people it was the best natural high I have ever felt, yet it was only half a marathon–and I walked it. (Around mile marker 9-10 I was able to run, I felt so good) But I can’t even imagine what a marathoner feels when they are crossing their finish line.

Just keep running…
Just keep running…

Julia March 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm

LeeAnn, that is AWESOME! Walking or running, a half-marathon is a huge accomplishment. And you’re so right–the euphoria at the finish is absolutely the best part. I can’t decide whether the euphoria is because of the endorphins, or simply because I finished and I’m still alive… 

sistermaxine March 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm

I love your comment that “the marathon experience is often more about the training than it is about the actual race.” I’ve never run a marathon. But I’ve done lots of training in bicycling and in martial arts. What I discovered is that the training has value in itself, far beyond preparing for a single race or a test for rank. It’s the training that transforms me!