Race Day, Every Day: Marathon Training Life Lessons

I started training for my first marathon shortly after I successfully ran my first half marathon on April 11, 2015. And let me state for the record, that the 13.1 that I completed at RaceFest in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the first race that I had ever signed up for — let alone participated in. The half, initially, began as a New Year’s Resolution — some challenge I offered to myself because I needed a new goal — but my decision to pursue a full 26.2 was based on something more — it was definitely more significant of a commitment. And the lessons that I learned from this experience are ones that will stick with me — no matter what proverbial race I am running.

Me, at the end of 13.1 (April 2015)

New Challenges — Old Friends

On April 12, 2015, the day after my first half marathon, I woke up with nothing to do — there was no training plan to follow, there was no next race to plan for. All I had scheduled on the docket was to let my body recuperate and know that I could have a true Sunday Funday. I planned on eating my face off —I had a pass, after all, because of all of those calories I burned the day before. However, I felt antsy.

Coincidentally, this was also a day where my husband, Kevin, had his best and dearest friend, Steve, in town for a quick visit. Steve, a truck driver by trade, stopped by to see us whenever he passed through the Carolinas. A husband and father of three, Steve always entered our house with a smile, a quip or two about something he observed or someone he met on the road, and a well of positive energy. He and his wife both had graduated from high school with Kevin, and Steve stood up in our wedding in 2005. In the dictionary, when you look up “Old Friend,” you find a picture of Steve — seriously. Ultimately, the day before, he had tried with all of his might to make it to Charlotte so he could be at the finish line with Kevin and my family, many of whom were visiting from Michigan. Unfortunately, his trip took longer than expected, and didn’t make it to our place until later that night. In typical Steve fashion, he used my finish line crossing as a reason to celebrate.

In any case, the next day, after a bit of time spent online doing some research, I came downstairs from my office and announced to Kevin and Steve that I had decided to run the Charlotte (then Thunder Road) Marathon, scheduled for November 2015.

Steve (left) and my husband, Kevin

Kevin said, “It’s a big time commitment, honey.”

I agreed. I had already looked up a training plan. Total monster.

Steve inquired, “Can you do it?”

I felt my stomach churn just a bit because I recalled the feeling of wanting to puke at mile 12 the day before. What in the literal hell was I going to feel like at mile 18? Mile 20? Mile 25? Did I need to bring a barf bag? Would there be Port-a-Potties? I wavered just slightly, pursed my lips, and shrugged.

“I think so,” I said.

Steve shook his head and then sighed heavily. He took a sip of his beer and gazed at me with a contemplative expression on his face. “No, Amanda, that’s not what I asked. I didn’t ask you what you were thinking about. Can you do it?”

I sighed. He wasn’t going to let up until I became my own cheerleader — that I knew. “Yes.” I rolled my eyes, smirking. “Of course I can,” I offered smugly, shaking off the worry.

Looking back, this should be one of those conversations that gets lost to time. To history, it would be some brief exchange that is quickly forgotten — bearing no great significance. However, I don’t think I ever will forget these words. I will not forget. That day — that absolutely fantastic Sunday Funday— was the last time I would I ever see our friend. And that conversation was one of the last I would ever have with him.

Steve died unexpectedly of a previously unknown heart condition at the age of 33 on May 31, 2015. He is forever missed and will always be in our hearts and minds.

You Have to Keep On Keeping On

I hadn’t started training in earnest when Steve passed — not yet, November was months off. It was still early in the scheme of things. But when it happened, and then, as his family, friends, and everyone who had ever known him — even for a day — dealt with the shock and grief in the aftermath, I started digging through my memory, trying to recall every detail of the last day he spent with Kevin and me. And I suddenly remembered that conversation. I knew immediately that there was no way that I was NOT going to run a marathon. If anything, it would be done in our friend’s memory. However, I am glad that I committed to it because I am thankful, and profoundly grateful, to say that I have learned some valuable lessons along the way.

Steve (right in the middle) with mine and Kevin’s families. He was the sort of guy to be included in family outings.

Marathon Training Lessons:

~ Setbacks in life are always going to happen. Ironically, four weeks into training during the summer of 2015, I suffered a stress fracture in my left foot. The worst part was is that it wasn’t even running induced. I tripped, literally, while going up stairs, because of course I did. There isn’t a metaphor there; in life, we all eat the pavement sometimes.

~ Sometimes, the answer is simply no. After realizing that I had a stress fracture, being the entrepreneur and business owner that I am, I decided I could probably handle the situation by entering into a series of negotiations with my doctor. “I can still run on it, right? I have a marathon to train for.” Shaking his head, my doctor replied, “No, you have to stay off of it.” I nodded in agreement and shrugged, “Right, for a few days, correct? I can start running in a week or so, yeah?” Raising his eyebrows, my doctor said, “No, you have a broken bone in your foot. If you ever want to run comfortably again, don’t do it now.” Of course, I continued to probe— but he never changed his answer. No meant no. Sometimes, there is just no getting around it.

~ Following through is important, even if no one is holding you to it. When I realized I couldn’t run in the Thunder Road Marathon in 2015, I knew I could simply let it go. But I remembered how excited I felt when I originally committed to it, and I also recalled Steve’s words. I deferred the registration. No matter if it was going to happen a year later, it was still going to happen. I was going to hold myself accountable. The same can be said about life — dedication and commitment aren’t something you only do when it’s on full display. It’s important to be able to do something successfully and through to completion, even if no one else is watching.

~ Don’t make it overly complicated. I feel like there are few sports as straight to the point as running. There really isn’t any special equipment needed — and to do it well, you don’t need a bunch of fancy or expensive stuff to get out there an simply go. The same can be said about life. Put your pants on, lace up your shoes, and get out the door. What are you waiting for?

~ Some days are simply going to suck. Seriously, really bad. Yes, there have been days where I honestly feel like I get out for a training run and that is what it is all about! If I could fist pump the entire time while listening to AC/DC scream about thunder(or Britney Spears croon over being stronger— don’t judge) without looking like a maniac, I totally would. But it’s unrealistic to think every day is going to be comprised of only red letters. There have been times where my legs feel like they are glued to the pavement, everything hurts, the whole endeavor sucks, my stomach is churning because I didn’t follow my pre-run meal plan, I’m so bad that this, I’m sick, my armpits are chafing…the list goes on. That happens in life too — but instead of whining about it, and letting it get you down, and just quitting because everything is stupid, push on and move forward, because what other choice do you have? Sometimes, in life, you run out of Body Glide— it’s a fact. Deal with the chafe.

~ You are lucky. Seriously, unbelievably lucky. Yes, on the days where I bemoan ever starting this adventure and thinking about how dumb of a sport running actually is (no one is chasing me after all…there isn’t a herd of zombies behind me), I consciously work to remind myself, “Just how many people would love to have even the smallest chance of doing what you are doing? How many people can’t walk or use their legs, and would love to simply stroll down the block — let alone run 26.2 frickin’ miles? How many people who are bedridden and sick would do anything for the chance to feel the sun on their face, the wind blowing through their hair, or even raindrops pelting against their skin?” Seriously, no matter how bad your day is, no matter what a little bastard your kid is being, regardless of how big of a prick your boss is…there is always someone who dreams of your reality, who would welcome the opportunity to be in your shoes. Who would give anything for what you have. It’s humbling when you think about your life like that.

~ You have to enjoy the journey. This one, I think is most important. Each day that we are provided with the opportunity to open our eyes, look at what we have planned, or even what tedious errands we have to do that day is a gift. Yes, I know how many miles I have to run tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that — it’s all part of my training plan. In a couple weeks’ time, I will run my first marathon. At least that is what the calendar says. But there is a real caveat here — and our dear friend, Steve, is proof positive of this reality. Ultimately, it’s one thing to plan for the future, to think about it, to do everything in your power to achieve what you want to achieve, and remain diligent so a good outcome is realized — but there is nothing to say that the outcome is guaranteed. You have to enjoy the day-to-day — life doesn’t have a training plan. It’s race day, every day.

Crossing the finish line — RaceFest 2015

On November 12, 2016, it is my goal to successfully finish the Charlotte Marathon. I said the words, “I can do it” and I plan on doing just that.