3 Lessons My First Marathon Taught Me

Running my first marathon taught me about a whole lot more than just running.

On January 1st of 2018, through the haze of a hangover, I said aloud to a coworker, “I think I want to run my first marathon in the year of 2018.” At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would actually achieve this goal or not, nor did I realize how much I would learn in the process of training for it. Training for my first marathon taught me about a whole lot more than just running. Running has a way of teaching me things I didn’t know I already knew (if that makes sense). In this post, I will summarize my top three takeaways from running my first marathon, and how they relate to so much more than just running. 

1. Be present. 

The future is exciting and fun to day dream about, but it isn’t guaranteed. I know that sounds grim, but it’s the truth! And don’t even get me started about the past.. This is why it is important to embrace right now. Yesterday, today wasn’t promised making this present moment something to be thankful for.

When it comes to running, it is really easy to constantly think of the end of the run while you’re on it (especially when you’re running 16, 18, or 26 miles at a time).

I’ve realized that letting these thoughts consume me on a long run negatively effects my time because I’m constantly checking my watch and I’m not in the best headspace. I’ve taught myself to focus on the present moment, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. When I’ve reached the finish, I’ll know, so why bother continuously checking my distance? 

Another important point to make here is this: two miles out of twenty six must go by super fast since you’ve just run twenty four, right? Wrong. The last mile or two (or three) of a marathon felt for me, not like a jog or walk, but more like a crawl. If it is a jog, it’s a jog through waste deep water of gelatinous consistency. It’s a feet digging through the soft sand of the beach, giving it your last ounce of energy run, that feels like the effort of a 7 minute mile but it’s really the speed of a twelve minute one.

Basically, the point I’m trying to make is: even if you’ve only got a mile left, there’s no point in telling yourself, “only one more mile,” because even that one mile will drag on and on and on, when you’re that close to the end of something so strenuous.

So, we’ve established why being present while running a marathon is important but it is also super important in life in general. If you spend your whole life looking forward to the next thing then you’ll forget to celebrate your accomplishments. If you think in the format of, “once I finish college I’ll get that good job,” and then you get that good job and you’re like, “once I get one year of experience I’ll get an even better job and make more money and be even happier,” and then you’re like, “as soon as I finish grad school, I’ll find THE BEST job and I will be SO HAPPY,” will you ever reach that figurative future point of eternal happiness?

Most likely, no. Most likely, you’ll one day look back on life and feel like it was all a blur because you were too busy racing through it. In our society, it is hard to be present since we are constantly being stimulated and distracted by technology, and many of us follow hectic schedules that cause us to constantly be focusing on what’s next.

My best advice on remaining present is to try to become aware of your thoughts and when you find yourself worrying about the next thing (or mile) tell yourself to be present. I use the mantra “just be here now, you can do this” when I’m running. 

2. Listen to your body.

The human body is literally built to run, but it can still sustain serious injury if you don’t recover properly. While training for my first marathon, I started to experience knee pain that radiated down my entire leg. At first, I would only feel the pain while running but then I started to feel it while doing my day-to-day tasks.

This was my first time feeling pain from running that wasn’t just soreness. It was terrifying since I had heard so many horror stories about running injuries. So, I started to do some research. What I decided was that I wasn’t at all recovering properly. I started to incorporate more stretching, utilizing ice, and I bought a foam roller (side note: foam roller = game changer).

Luckily, I got away without a serious injury but having a glimpse of what it’s like for my body to break down on me, caused me to start really listening to my body.

I started to “run until it hurts”. Basically, if I started to feel like walking or cutting my run short, I would ask myself, “am I in pain?” If the answer was yes, I would then ask myself if it was true pain from an injury or just soreness. If it was soreness, I’d keep going until it actually hurt or until my run was over; and almost every time, what came first was the ladder.

Pain during a marathon is inevitable but that’s why it is important to listen to your body in case it is trying to tell you to slow down. A huge part of marathon training is getting your legs used to running when they’re tired. So figuring out how to distinguish between soreness and a true injury is super important, and this requires you to be in touch with and aware of your body.

Listening to your body is an important practice regardless of whether you run or not. Often, when we aren’t feeling right, it’s our body telling us to make some type of change. Every time I test out some type of new diet I pay attention to the way my body reacts to it. Also, listening to my body helps me stay aware of my hormones and mental health.

3. Let go of self doubt. 

When I first said that I wanted to run a marathon, I remember thinking, “yeah, but I’m not actually going to do it”. At that time, the furthest I had ever run in my life was 9 miles.

By the October of my “goal year” 9 miles was still the longest I’d ever run. Then in November, I ran a half marathon for the first time. Once I finished that race and felt minimally sore, I took the plunge and signed up to run a marathon in December of 2018 (hey, it’s the last month of the year but it still counts). Four days after my half marathon I ran 16 miles for the first time. Ten days after that, I ran 18. Three weeks later, I ran 26.2.

It wasn’t until I believed in myself, that I became capable of accomplishing this.

Letting go of self-doubt is the first step in accomplishing any goal. Your friends could be cheering you on all day but if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to get very far. You have to just go for it. There was a time in my life when I thought even applying to nursing school wasn’t attainable for me. Then, I got in. I doubted my ability to finish nursing school. Then, I graduated. I doubted my ability to pass my boards. Then, I passed. I think you get where I’m going with this. Stop questioning yourself, and just do the things that you want to do. Instead of saying, “I can’t do that.” Ask yourself, “what are the steps that I need to take to do it?” 

I’ll never forget the feeling of crossing that finish line. Or getting that acceptance letter. Whatever it may be, tell yourself it’s possible today and start figuring out the steps it’ll take to get there.

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