On Saturday I completed my first marathon, Grandma’s Run in Duluth, MN. My standing joke had been that, given my size, I’d be in the Clydesdale’s weight divison and given my inexperience, I’d be in the back of the Clydesdales making me the horse’s ass of the race. I certainly did not break any land speed records, but I finished approximately at the time I had been pacing during my training (5:25). I was in the back of the pack, but when you factor in that about a third of those who started the race did not finish, I’ll take it.
Eight months ago, all this seemed improbable. I had this desire to get back into running, bought a pair of shoes, went out for a two mile jog and walked 1.5 miles of it. A week or two later, around Thanksgiving, I told my friend I was going to run a 56 miler — the Comrades in South Africa in June (mainly because walking the uphills is encouraged) and he told me I was insane. And when anyone tells me I’m insane, I start to think there’s some merit to it. And, even though I won’t make Comrades — this year — I have a tremendous sense of accomplishment and have learned a number of things along the way. And I believe they apply for anything, whether you are running a business, making sales, trying to retain clients or wishing to pursue your core passion.
1, Think Big. I am definitely not typecast for running 26.2 miles. But I was tired of working out. I needed something bigger than “to lose weight” or “to relieve stress”. I needed something almost impossible to shoot for. What’s the point, if you can’t aspire for something bigger than you are?
2. Get a Plan. Of course, even if you are shooting for the impossible, it helps to have a plan. And I found this wonderful resource on the interent, Hal Higdon’s Marathon Training program for novices. It gave me an 18 week plan which told me how many miles to run and which days to run them, as well as a lot of good tips (like, “run slow, the goal of a first-timer is to finish”). Although there were a few exceptions, I followed this program to the letter.
3. Talk to People who’ve Been There. Along the way I was fortunate to get encouragement and tips from those who had run marathons. One friend gave me tips on how to plan the run (such as “don’t run too fast in the beginning or you’ll die before the end”) and another (who apparently has run quite a lot of marathons) got me to go to a real running store to get shoes to match my gait after I complained of hip and knee pain (both went away with the new shoes). I drew a lot of inspiration from them, which helped me immensely.
4. The Training is the Thing. It’s amazing to me how little emphasis we place on training, whether at the office, on the field or at home. We all seem to want to focus on Just Doing It. But, what is more important is to “Just Practice It”. Practicing builds confidence, builds mental toughness and perhaps most importantly, builds agility. During the marathon, between miles 15 and 17, I began running out of steam and I switched to a “run 2 min, walk 1 min” mode which I tried during parts of my last long practice run. By 17, I got a second wind and moved back into more of a running mode. If I hadn’t trained for contingencies, I might not have finished. Remember, training isn’t just about learning how to do the right thing; it’s also about learning how to adapt when you can’t do the right the thing (which happens more than we care to believe).
5. Learn to love the Long Run. Every Saturday was my long run day. It was probably the most important part of the training program, but it also became my favorite. I enjoyed having “Pasta Night” with the family the night before, getting up to hit the road between 5am or 5:30am, startling the occassional deer, fox or raccoon on the road, waking the sheep up at a passing farm, or witnessing a beautiful spring sunrise. The long runs became the one time during the week which was all “my time”, to reconnect, to bring clarity to whatever was weighing on me or to just simply breathe. It is almost as if the Goal of the Marathon became the Training, not the other way around.
6. Scout Out the Route before you Run. The day before the race, I took a bus ride along the course. Despite a boorish tour guide who took one look at me and starting joking about eating chocolate bars and smoking Pall Malls along the way (how did he know my strategy?), I did get a chance to see the course, the hills, the turns and the neighborhoods. It helped me during the race, when I could visualize what was coming up, which spurred me along.
7. A Marathon is a Team Sport. Running a long way for a long time is helped greatly by those running with you and with those along the way routing for you or giving you water. I spent half of the race with a pace group. The leader did a great job joking and telling stories and help us maintain our pace during the run. During the last six miles, we ran through town and I marveled at the people still lining the street (remember, when I was running through the race was 4 to 5 hours old at the time) cheering us on. (Note: Although I’ve learned that there are three things specators should not say: “You look great!” (Everyone running looks like crap); “You’re almost there” (After a while, any distance seems like a lifetime.); and “This is the last hill” (Which means “this is the last hill before the next hill”.)) There is something about the loneliness of the long distance runner, but it helps to encourage others and be encouraged along the way.
8. In the end, however, it’s up to You. After the tips, the encouragement and the training, after the Canadien and American National Anthems and the Minnesota National Guard Jet Flyover and the Chariots of Fire music at the gate, there’s basically nothing left but you and your feet. You, ultimately, are responsible for finishing or not finishing and you can’t make any excuses or blame anyone else. That’s a somewhat intimidating feeling, but on the other hand, when you do finish, it is ultimately because of what you alone were able to accomplish.
After the race, I was talking to a local from Duluth and he asked whether I had jumped into Lake Superior yet. I told him I had not and he told me that it was important that I at least walk in up to my knees, that the Lake was an important part of the area and I could not leave Duluth without doing it. The next day, I took a walk alongside the Lake. It was a beautiful day and there was a nice breeze coming off the water. At one point, there was a beach like area. I made my way to the water’s edge, took off my shoes and walked in. The water was cool, but felt wonderful. I felt wonderful. Rejuvenated. And ready to do it all again.
That’s what success feels like.