When someone says, “I can’t”
They’re really saying, “I won’t”
NEVER LIMIT YOURSELF
The funny thing about marathons – apparently only about 1% of the world’s population ever finish one. At one point in my life, I never thought I would either. Until one month ago, when I joined the 1%…
And what an amazing experience it was!
I love distance running, but it’s something I’ve always had to work hard at. Seriously! Every run is an accomplishment for me. I never take it for granted. See, I was build for sprinting and team sports. I excelled in speed, skill and strength – not endurance (at least not the aerobic kind). Yet, the challenge was always there…
Can you go the distance, Rachael?
Can you reach beyond your natural limitations and rewrite your expectations?
You see, can’t is not part of my vocabulary. In the absence of physical disabilities and/or serious health concerns, I have no excuse not to try! Yes, many of my family, friends and associates thought I was nuts, perhaps even selfish, but this was not their journey – this was mine. And, damn it all, I was going to own it!
12 Weeks to Marathon – Time to Bite the Bullet
Three months before D-Day (the date of my marathon reckoning), I started an aggressive twelve week training schedule. Why 12, not 16 like most marathon newbies? Firstly, I had already built a solid running base over five years and several half marathons since, including a PR mileage of 18. What took me so long? Well, life, finances, and injuries. Yes, the injuries were disappointing (but I learned from them!) and being a single mom does significantly curtail your free time (but we love our kids!); mostly, though, it was the COST. For five years, I over-analyzed, guilt-tripped myself out of paying for a race. Perhaps it was my childhood – growing up poor, without things most kids take for granted. Perhaps it was the fact that every time I contemplated buying new running shoes or coughing up a cool hundred $$ or so for a race bib, I thought…shit…my kid needs this money more than I do. In my mind, I just couldn’t justify spending the money.
Let’s just say that my life, finances and free time aligned nearly perfect with a summer marathon this year. And, to top it off, I was turning 47 in August, so I really wanted to accomplish this longterm bucket goal before then…as a present to myself! To hold myself accountable, I posted all my runs on my social media – Twitter & Instagram. I scheduled all my runs ahead of time on my iPhone calendar, along with alerts and reminders.
Nothing, I mean NOTHING, was going to get between me and earning my 26.2 mile bling!
8 Weeks to Marathon – Finding the Perfect Running Shoe
I remember at this point thinking, “I got this!” I was blazing through miles at an 8″30 or lower pace, upping the miles with little or no effort.Yet, I was having serious issues with my footwear! Running shoes – brands, models, sizes – that faithfully served me in the past were now causing me problems…and not the blister, corn, lost toenails-type either. I experienced complete foot numbness often and, at times, extreme metatarsal (ball of foot) pain. I was grinding through runs, but feeling it bad. Not a good thing at the 10-13 mile point range!
I went through four different brands of running shoe until I found my holy grail – Saucony. Until then, I’d never run in Saucony shoes. I honestly didn’t know much about the brand, but it was highly recommended by my fellow runners. And after several misfires with Nike, Adidas and Hoka One One, I had nothing to lose!
From the first run, all the way through to 26.2 miles…the right shoe makes a huge difference! Price point means nothing, really. The pair I bought cost less than any other brand I tried before and yet, they felt like the most anatomically correct, performance effective pair of shoes I’ve ever run in. They were perfect for my feet.
4 Weeks to Marathon – Hitting My Stride and the Wall
By the time the last month rolled around, I was pretty confident in my training, my fueling and my marathon pace. The day I hit 18 miles was AMAZING! Last time I’d run that far was five years prior and just before I tore my meniscus. I stuck to my planned miles, never over-extended myself or over-trained in order to avoid a setback. As someone who loves running, though, this was really hard! Some days I just felt like I could run forever, yet I knew I had to train smart and stick within the parameters of my daily mile allotments. I also dialed back my weight lifting and cross-training. Yes, my body was changing…this lean muscle, speed athlete was slowly but surely becoming an endurance athlete! Huzzah!
All of a sudden, while running my 20-22 mile runs, I kept hitting the wall or “bonking” as some call it. I didn’t stop me from running, but it was extremely painful to the point that every fiber of my being wanted me to stop. Thank god for good old stubborn tenacity!
Looking back, it appears two things fundamentally impacted my performance: 1) changes to my eating habits and 2) changes to my overall fitness regimen. Now, simply looking at my experience, you could say I was not fueling properly or perhaps I was too aggressive with my training schedule (12 weeks instead of 16 weeks). Yet, one thing I now know for sure – what works for me and clearly what doesn’t…
After a very intense and heartfelt conversation with my Sports Medicine doctor, I realized what I was doing wrong. Going from a low-carb, cross-training athlete to a higher carb endurance athlete caused serious issues with my blood glucose and energy efficiency while running. In the past, I continued to eat low carb and run lengthy miles – no problem. I was a fat burner. This always worked for me and my body. Adapting mid-training (even if gradually) to a sugar burning athlete really wreaked havoc on my endocrine system. Taking typical runners fuel on my long runs quickly resulted in very painful, nearly incapacitating muscle cramps. I kept telling myself – this is what most runners need to push through the final miles…yet, it wasn’t! Every runner, like every athlete is individual. Their nutritional needs are not only determined within the context of their sport, they are designed with the individual in mind. And for me, that meant no high glucose spikes and extra carbs in my diet! Once I went back to what works for me, with some minor adjustments, I felt 100% better.
You live and you learn, right?
Marathon Day – My Ultimate Reckoning
I can honestly say I knew I would finish this race. I knew that no matter what happened, I would cross that finish line on my own account – standing, preferably running, but walking would do, too. My main concerns were some unresolved health issues I had been dealing with for several months – well before my marathon training began. I never spoke about it on my social media posts because, honestly, I wanted NOTHING to be seen as an excuse or justifiable reason to fail. Failure was not an option. This is where a lifetime of mental fortitude and “f@ck it” attitude comes into play. Mind over matter.
After being cleared by my PCP the day prior, I was ready to run the race of my life. Not much sleep (too excited), too little coffee (trying to avoid the dehydration) and an unhappy stomach (I really should not have had a salad for dinner) could not put a damper on my day! I was pumped, totally jacked up on adrenaline and excitement. To think, I was finally facing a lifelong nemesis…the long run, the big 26.2 marathon. It was quite surreal for me and yet I was completely confident in my ability to finish it. And so I did.
It was an immensely scenic trail run course. From mile 1 to 26.2, I was inspired by the sounds, sights and beauty of nature. When my running slowed and my legs felt like lead, I kept focused on my surroundings. I felt incredibly lucky to be alive, lucky to experience something most people never even attempt, let alone finish.
I also had my best friend there with me for support. She didn’t run the race with me, but met me at several check points to hand me hydration, fuel or just offer encouraging words. She knew how important this race was for me; hell, she’s known me for over 30 years…this was a BIG DEAL and I’m so grateful I could experience the moment with her (thank you, Anne!!!).
My strategy was simple: run the first half of the marathon with just water. My body would quickly burn my breakfast and begin using glycogen stores alongside burning fat. My plan worked well, except for one unexpected pitstop – the bathroom.
By mile 14, I decided to eat something…this is where second-guessing oneself never works. By mile 16, I was in a lot of pain. Based on my previous reaction to fuel consumption mid-runs, I stopped eating entirely. At mile 20, I started drinking Pedialyte, which helped replenish lost electrolytes. I should have done this sooner because I had to run/walk a couple miles at this stage. By mile 22-23, I felt a ton better.
Mile 24-26.2 was grueling…I mean, hell, it was the farthest I’d ever run in my life! But, honestly, I have to say, looking back, it was the best part of the race for me. It was those little moments when I would glance down at my watch and feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Everything from 22 miles onward was a PR! Ever step I took was yet another milestone in my running career, another hurdle I managed to overcome. This is what I remember the most…and what I’m most proud of.
They say that crossing the finish line is the pinnacle of hours of running, months of training, commitment, pain and pleasure. For me, though, the euphoria of finishing ranked second to the actual experience. The endorphins were wildly racing through my body making me feel like Wonder Woman or, better yet, Paula Radcliffe. I truly (in my demented, high-on-endorphins mind) really wanted to run the race again. To relive the good, the not-so-good and the AMAZING moments. Never before had I had to reach so deep within myself to overcome immense pain, the fear of failure and the tantalizing thought of quitting…but I stayed the course. To me, this far outweighed the joy I felt finishing. Don’t get me wrong, I love my marathon medal. It’s symbolic of one of my proudest life accomplishments (ranking up there with my PhD and motherhood). Truth be told, though, when I think back on the whole experience – 12 weeks to Race Day – I realized how much I learned since then…about myself, my willpower, my determination.
I think, that alone, is why running a marathon meant so much to me.
Why it means so much to so many people.