Desperately gasping for breath while fighting back tears I crossed the finish line… I had been running for 3 hours and 40 plus minutes and was running on fumes as I approached mile 25. For the past 6 miles, a steady stream of runners passed me as I ran the furthest distance I ever had in my life. I could barely lift my feet and since mile 15 had been thinking to myself – “Why did I decide to do this again?” “No one forced you to sign up for this misery. No one will care if you quit.” Self-doubt had taken over as the lower half of my body was in pain. But at mile 25 I saw a sign… no literally a handwritten sign that read: “You are going to finish a marathon today.” At that moment I lost it. I tore off running as fast as I could while choking back tears. All of the self-doubt, exhaustion, and pain turned into fuel. Everything I had been working towards was summed up in that statement. I sounded like a wounded animal taking its last breath as I ran on pure adrenaline the last 1.2 miles. I ran my fastest mile of the race and finished my first marathon in tears in 3 hours 51 minutes and 59 seconds. I had done it!
Let me rewind for a minute. In 2014/2015 while in Thailand, I signed up to run a local half-marathon with a friend. I hadn’t really done the proper training and the longest I’d ever run up to that point was about 8 miles. I was nervous and as the race weekend approached my friend and I almost didn’t pick up our race packet because we were having second thoughts. I convinced him to pick it up but in the end, I made up excuses as to why I didn’t want to run and I didn’t. I have regretted that decision to not run that half marathon ever since.
I analyzed why I chose not to run that morning and I have a hundred reasons, but ultimately I was looking for an excuse to avoid pain – self-doubt, fear, etc. Fast forward to December 2017 I still have not run a formal half-marathon but have been running longer distances than I ever have previously. In the past 3 months, I completed a 5-mile Tough Mudder and a 14 mile Spartan Beast Race and was feeling pretty good about myself. As a tradition leading into 2019 I made a few goals or New Years Resolutions which I’ve written about previously (Original & Revisited). One of which was to run a marathon before year’s end.
At this point, 14 miles is the longest I’ve run and I think it won’t be too difficult to get up to 26.2. Well fast forward to early September and guess what? I have still not run nor signed up for a marathon. At a leadership coaching session put on by Warren Anderson, he challenged everyone in the room to write down at least one thing you’d like to accomplish before the end of the year and build a plan around how you are going to accomplish it. Not only did he have us identify it, but put it in the calendar and all of the steps needed to achieve it. That afternoon I looked up marathons I could run before December 31st, 2018 and the Philadelphia marathon November 18th showed up. I registered and inputted a training regimen leading up to the marathon.
That Saturday I ran 16 miles and played tennis with my friend Vince that next day. The outer bottom of my foot hurt badly and I had trouble walking. I still ran 4 miles Tuesday to see if it would loosen up and when it only got worse I decided it was best to see a podiatrist. The doctor said I had tendonitis in my outer peroneal tendon (a piece of tissue that connects the leg bones to the outer arch of the foot stretching over the outer ankle). Years of playing soccer, running, and having high arches caused the injury. I caught it early enough that the treatment was simple- buy better running shoes, stay off it for at least a week, and wear a brace when running.
So within the first week of signing up for a marathon which most training programs recommend beginning training 2 and half months before I even signed up, I was sidelined. I eventually got back into the groove, but between the injury and moving from Florida to NYC, I had lost a lot of training time.
I couldn’t sleep leading up to the race between the nerves and carbo loading my stomach was in knots. When my alarm went off at 5:20am I was alone in the hotel and thought I could just snooze the alarm say I overslept. But I had flashbacks to the feeling I had after not running the Khon Kaen Marathon in Thailand and pulled myself out of bed.
The hotel I was staying at refused to give me a late checkout because 80% of the occupants were also running the marathon and had also requested one. Knowing I had to be back at the hotel before noon and having a start time of 7:15am I was going to have to hustle. My goal going into the race was to finish in under 4 hours 30 minutes and my stretch goal was under 4 hours.
I ran a little too fast in the beginning and hit a wall around mile 19 but I only stopped to walk at the later water hydration stations because I knew I had to keep moving forward or else. The actual race day was a lot of fun with tons of people supporting holding funny signs, bands playing music, and lots of high-5s. When I came to mile 25 and saw the sign that read “you are going to finish a marathon today” I couldn’t help but lose it. All of the training anticipation, doubts were about to pay off. I was going to finish my first ever marathon despite a lack of proper training, suffering an injury, and self-doubt. It was one of the most emotional moments I have had and the true sense of accomplishment I felt was unparalleled.
I finished my first marathon on my terms and under my time target. No one can take away my sense of pride in myself. It brought me such a sense of clarity to do something that challenged me physically and mentally past the point of exhaustion and ultimately to triumph over my own limitations.
I don’t know if I’ll ever run another marathon, but I do know I’ll never forget the euphoria and sense of accomplishment of finishing my first.