Saturday, October 27, 2012

5 Life Lessons from Running 26.2 Miles

It is 37 degrees outside. A crisp cold day, but the warmth of the bright sun is soothing on my face. I am breathing deeply. Suddenly a pain in my right hip is shooting down my leg toward my knee. My knee stiffens. I began doing an odd combo of a run/limp now. I start to panic slightly and wonder, "is it happening again?" Hip fracture? Knee injury? The fear and doubt about what I am doing and why I am doing it, flood my mind.

I force my thoughts away from the pain and on the song my sister and I had just belted out at the top of our lungs at the starting line..."This girl is on fire, fi-ya, fi-yaaa..." Well, that was true, my feet were indeed "on fire" burning from the 20 miles of constant pounding I had forced upon them. I refocus on what's possible as a slight curve forms on my lips. What's that? A weak, half smile? (see photo) Yes. I can do this. I will finish strong and healthy. I will keep a song in my heart. I will run for those who cannot run. My hip relaxed and knee loosened with each moment I forced myself to practice possibility thinking and gratitude for good health.

On October 7, 2012 in the city I love and once lived, all I could do was keep moving forward. No time to take in the beautiful Chicago neighborhoods and fall colors along the way. Alas, this was no scenic tour. This was about finishing 26.2 miles of the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon for the second time.

From the start of my training season to the marathon finish, this year would prove to be different on so many levels. I typically run and train alone. My rationale is that I find it more peaceful and do not want to be pushed by others to injury or slow others down in their efforts. Yet, for the first time in years, I felt compelled to step out of my personal comfort zone and complete a couple of training runs with a local group of runners. I still prefer to run alone when training, but at least I tried something different.

Another difference arrived when I started making travel arrangements. I rarely travel with or stay with family or friends to avoid too many distractions when I run in different cities. But once again, this year was different. I even stayed at my sister's condo in Chicago during marathon weekend. It was pure bliss. I felt so loved. She jokingly told people she was hosting an "elite athlete." 

On race day, my sister, brother-in-law, and dear friend Tracey, came out to support me along the course with signs and shouts that are a joy to see and hear. I ran with a sign on my back in honor of my brother-in-law who has been battling Multiple Myeloma since 2005. He is the real marathoner. Wow, so much was different. My sister, Connie and I often talk about the deeper meaning of the many events, emotions and reactions that define one's life. 

This marathon experience was different and provided too much wisdom to pass up. The day after the marathon my sister and I discussed these life lessons. She came up with the points, I expanded on them. So here's what we learned that might even apply to other things in life:

1. Everybody needs a ground crew. 
Who supports you? Who do you support?  My sister, brother-in-law and dear friends made me feel stronger along the course as they cheered me on. I refer to them as the "ground crew" for all they did to support me before, during and after the race. Their prayers, cheers and love provided a quiet joy and peace throughout the weekend and during the marathon. The things no one will ever see are what mattered most to me. My sister shared a great story behind the term "ground crew" based on this 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.   I am forever grateful to my 2012 Chicago Marathon ground crew: Connie, John, and Tracey. 

2. Run your own race. 
I do not run to beat others or attempt some crazy speed, especially since I have a day job. It is a good idea to be able to walk when you return to work after a marathon or half marathon. I run to stay healthy and for the pure joy of setting a goal, inspiring myself to push past discomfort, accomplishing the goal and encouraging anyone I can along the way. I finished the 26.2 miles of the Chicago marathon for the second time in a row. That's all anyone needs to know. Don't ask me about my time so you can compare it to your definition of success. Ask me about the people I met. Ask me about the lessons I've learned.  God has a unique plan and purpose for you. Refuse the urge to compare. Run your own race for your own reasons.

3. Travel light. Take only what you need and use what you take.
I carried 4 packs of GU gel and some Sport Beans strapped around my waist. I stopped at the water stations to hydrate along the way. Anything more would have slowed me down. Simplify your life. Leave behind whatever is weighing you down. By the end of the marathon, I had used everything that was strapped to my body. I finished with a much lighter load. It felt good. Life is short and you can't take anything on this earth with you. Lighten your load whenever you can.

4. Pace yourself, for the journey is long.
No one saw me in the anonymity of preparation in the weeks and months of training. Waking up at 5 a.m. and putting one foot in front of the other for miles and miles before going to my "real" job. It was not easy, but to finish well I had to put in the time to determine the best pace for me. Nike sponsors pace teams to help people run the "splits" or various miles of the marathon consistently. They ask that you decide what time you expect to finish and run with a group led by an experienced runner who paces the group. Some of the teams use a run/walk combination to finish strong. Even when their legs are fresh and they could run faster, the pace teams start slowly and stay within the pace they have set. The worst thing to do when trying to finish any arduous journey is start too fast. You will have nothing left at the end. Choose wisely. Pace yourself. Be consistent. You will get there in your own time and in your own way.

5. Carry the music in your heart...just in case you forget your headphones. 
I usually run longer distances listening to music or speeches. This time, I forgot my headphones. I had to focus on my own heartbeat and the memories of music past to propel me forward. I enjoyed more of the sights and sounds along the course. At one point, we ran past a nursing home with lovely silver-haired people lined up in the windows and doors just to get a glimpse of the marathoners. They were waving and cheering like we were rock stars. I waved back and would have missed the moment if I had tuned out with headphones on. I thought of my father-in-law who had just passed away the week of the marathon. I thought of my mom fighting the difficulties of aging. I thought about my brother-in-law challenged by cancer, but is the most joyful person I know. I thought about the songs of all those who are facing tougher things in life than running a marathon. Guess the music was indeed inside of me, I didn't need those headphones after all.

I want to hear from you. Leave comments below. What is the marathon in your life? Choosing a career? Changing a job? Getting a degree? What tips do you use to reach your finish line? Talk to me.