Below is an edited version of a reflection paper I needed to write for my marathon class:
At the beginning of this semester, I remember waffling back and forth between signing up for either the half or the full marathon. I was beginning to believe that my body simply wasn’t cut out for another full marathon.
I ran my first full in 2008, and ran my second the subsequent year. Two months after my second marathon I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and was forced to give up running. For me, running was so much more than just feet pounding on pavement. Running was a reward I got at the end of a long day, it was an escape from the drama of middle school, it was an opportunity to make new friends and develop strong communication skills, and it was a way of life. I honestly couldn’t imagine how I’d survive for even a week without being able to run. Little did I know at the time, that I wouldn’t be able to run for an entire 9 months! Recovery from the eating disorder was absolutely miserable. Once I was finally able to run again, I got a stress fracture in my left tibia almost immediately. Thus marked another 9 months peppered with physical therapy and of course, no running. I resigned to the fact I’d probably never run distance ever again.
Thankfully, my physical health improved enough that by the time I was a senior in high school, I was able to register for my first half marathon. This was a feat for me, a huge victory. I ran my second half marathon later that year.
College came around, and the eating disorder decided to rear its ugly head again. I relapsed countless times, but continued to fight it because the promise of running was worth the battle.
Last year, I was able to complete an accounting internship at a local CPA firm. The lack of homework in the spring led me to believe it would be a perfect time to train for another marathon! I started training with a good friend of mine, and loved it as we started getting into the longer miles. Unfortunately, about a month before the race I injured my knee and my calves were experiencing borderline compartment syndrome. The frustration of yet again not being able to compete in the marathon was absolutely devastating. One of my good running friends from my running club in my hometown suggested I talk to someone at the expo to see if I could still compete in the half. She graciously switched my registration. However, I was still unsure if my calves and knee could handle 13.1 miles of pounding. I got all taped up with KT tape, and miraculously I was able to complete the half the next day! Even though it wasn’t the full 26.2 I had originally set out to conquer, it was still an accomplishment in my eyes.
This year, after I made the decision to commit to the full, I was determined to give it my all. I absolutely loved the Saturday morning group runs, and was blessed to have a good friend to run with during the week. Thankfully we had flexible schedules and were able to run quite often together. It was fun to create new routes, discover new GU flavors, experience nature, and witness lovely sunsets with one another. Perhaps our favorite run was a 10-miler out to the Silvermine ski jump and back. On one of our runs, we saw bats, an owl, and a fox all in the same run!
During the 20 mile “white-out” run, I had the opportunity to meet even more marathoners. It was so fun to be included in their running pack and a joy to get to know them and play running games along the way.
This class meant so much more than just training for a marathon. I learned about the importance of viewing food as fuel (contrary to the enemy I had made it be in my head), perseverance, the importance of community, accountability, and so much more.
One of my biggest concerns leading up to the marathon were the weeks directly following it. After my second marathon, I lost over 10 pounds in a month due to the fact I thought I no longer deserved to eat because I wasn’t logging the miles I used to be logging. This drastic and dangerous weight loss triggered my brain to act in harmful and terrifying ways. My brain broadcasted a never-ending reel of lies and eventually I began to believe them. This year, in effort to be proactive, I scheduled an appointment with a dietitian two weeks before the marathon. This appointment reassured me that although I have a terrifying past and have had several scary relapses, I have made the progress necessary to fend off the negative thoughts. The dietitian recommended that I meet with her again after the marathon to establish a healthy meal plan.
The training and guidance that this class provided was unparalleled. I know without a shadow of a doubt that this marathon would still stand incomplete if it weren’t for this class. It was invaluable to have the expertise and experience of both professors every week.
The race itself was an interesting experience. I was devastated right around mile 12 when I was running alone and unable to keep pace with my friends. Thank goodness for my boyfriend Josh who helped me through the difficult airport section of the race by biking in and out of the route, encouraging me, and holding onto my water and GU.
Around mile 16, I caught up with another student in the class and we ended up finishing together. We were both in pretty rotten spirits because we were not going to meet our time goal of under 4 hours, nor were we with our usual training group. However, we managed to look past our negativity, and focus on the fact we were running a marathon! It was such a blessing to be able to share in the experience of him finishing his first marathon.
My favorite memory from the marathon came right after the finish line. I found my parents and collapsed into my father’s arms. I could hear him softly beginning to cry as he whispered into my sweaty ear how proud he was of me. We had a moment of silent communication where we acknowledged the fact that this feat was about far more than just the miles.
The week following the marathon was a whirlwind. In the midst of the busyness, I had little time to reflect on the huge accomplishment that finishing my third marathon truly was. Running 26.2 miles challenges and changes a person. To me, this marathon was also:
- An opportunity to show my eating disorder who’s boss yet again, and reclaim victory over my thoughts
- A reminder to myself that I am capable of surprising myself through pushing my limits, and the fact that nothing truly incredible comes from staying in my comfort zone
- Confirmation how incredibly lucky I am to have a boyfriend as wonderfully supportive as my Josh
- An avenue to express myself and find out what really makes me, me
- A chance to encourage others and meet wonderful and inspiring people
I had the opportunity to talk with a friend from the class about his race, and how he dealt with unexpected challenges during the race. He told me that his ability to not give the negative thoughts a foothold in addition to being able to rearrange goals served him well. He told me that when he realized he would no longer be able to break 3 hours, he changed his goal to be qualifying for Boston (3:05). When he realized that goal was also unattainable, he shifted his perspective to be a PR. I was inspired by his mental toughness, and will be sure to work on my own in preparation for my next race. I will complete another marathon, and this time I will break 4 hours. By the time I’m 30, I will qualify for Boston. Truthfully nothing will ever compare to the joy I experienced during training this semester. I will cherish these memories forever, and am eternally grateful to the professors for their passion for this sport, and their belief in us.