A year ago tonight I was checking into my hotel in St. Paul, MN. Tomorrow would be packet pick up. The following day, I would wake up and go for a little run starting in Minneapolis, making a tour through the twin cities, and ending at the capital in St. Paul. Official course distance was 26.2 miles.
This was my second go at the distance, and the first attempt at a time goal. It was some time after the race that I heard the phrase "A marathon represents hundreds of miles. The race is simply the last 26.2 miles." And honestly, nothing could be closer to the truth. Running those hundreds of miles gives you a lot of time to think, experience, and learn.
What did I learn? Well, the short answer is simply: Everything.
No, really. Everything. Strength, weakness, pride, shame, humor, grief... At some point in the training and even the race, I think I experienced all of this. And then some. Much of it I look back on with fondness. Some of it makes me laugh. Some of it makes me worry. And some of it I'm still not sure I've fully come to terms with.
My first full was two years prior. I remember it got hot. I remember the shortage of porta potties at the start. I remember setting a 10K PR bolting for the next available potty. I remember the lady in my iPod telling me I was a marathoner sometime around mile 19. And that's when the learning started.
In this race I learned I loved hills. I learned the joy of new socks. I learned the heartbreak of being nowhere near the end. I learned how to push through discomfort, heat, lack of training, dehydration, poor fueling... I made every mistake possible. And I ran. I walked. I wanted to sit down and cry because I was no where near where I wanted to be. I did cry as I neared the finish line. I experienced the joy of cold pizza like I have never enjoyed it before (or since). I enjoyed a great shower, and a nap. And then I had ice cream. And it was all like I was experiencing those things for the first time.
2013 was different. In 2013 I was a serious runner. I trained hills. I did intervals on the track. I trained long with a running group. More importantly, the training was most definitely not easy.
This is where I learned that I am strong. I ran through the mid-day heat of the summer. I ran through a multi-week "biblical flood event." I ran hills. I ran trails. I ran pavement. For the first time in my running career I ran on a track and cared about my splits.
This is where I learned I am weak. I am human. When pushed too hard, too fast my body breaks. And I learned physical pain and injury.
I learned that when I take care of myself I feel better. Not only running, but eating well, sleeping well, stretching, having a team of professionals keep my body together like a triple crown contender.
I learned adaptability in the face of adversity. During the flooding rain I was able to find suitable high ground to train. (But only because my friends and family were all safe.) I did 12 miles of hill repeats on one paved little bump. I did a self supported 20 mile long run on one of the most boring pieces of sidewalk around because it wasn't flooded out. I modified my training schedule with confidence to work around the disaster. And I got all the miles in.
I learned lonely. I don't remember which long run I was doing, but I was a long ways away from the other runners. They had a short week. I had a much longer week. My event was several weeks ahead of theirs. I was running well. I was feeling fine and strong. It was getting hot. As my body broke down in the heat my mind did as well. I didn't want to be there. I pictured my kids sitting in front of the TV eating sugar cereal and laughing at the cartoons. And I wanted nothing more than to be right there with them. But first I had to at least make it back to the car. That was one of the hardest runs of my life. And the level of difficulty had nothing to do with the hills, the heat, or the effort.
Training for this race I learned giving. There were some slower runners in the group - the turtles, the race walkers, the warriors staring down a 5 hour half... As I came back in from my longer-than-theirs runs (remember my schedule was ahead of them...) I would often catch up to the walkers, and the runners that were having a really rough go of it. And with each one I would slow and go their pace for a while. And we would talk. After a bit there would be some minor changes - their posture, tone of voice, and sometimes attitude. And they were suddenly feeling just a little better about what they were doing. This would usually be confirmed as we stretched together after the run. And the giving of my time, and a few words helped me too. With the physical rest I was able to keep going. With the mental reward of seeing others just a bit better off my mind would allow me to keep pushing.
I believe I have blogged about the race itself in the past. But that race was a simple four hour excerpt of a much longer event. Sure, the race had the gamut of emotions and self realization as well. But it was in the training that I first experienced it all. Race day was a series of reminders about everything I had faced in training.
One of my favorite shirts of all time is the RunJunkEes orange shirt. On the back it reads, "The journey is the reward." Race day tells us when that journey is over, and when it is time to reflect and look back on the journey that got us there. I could carry on for hours...
I think the most important thing I learned running long is appreciation. Appreciation of friends, family, encouragement, difficulties... Appreciation of just the simple act of running. Appreciation of the journey for what it is. And that is what I try to carry forward with me. Appreciation. Every time I lace up, I appreciate the simple opportunity to get out there and run.