What I Learned When I Ran my First Marathon

This January I ran the Disney Marathon at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida with an injured hip adductor. I hadn’t run more than four miles in the month leading up to the race when I toed the start line. I cried before, during and after this marathon. After all, it was my first! But it was more than my first marathon, it was overcoming obstacles of doubt, fear and loss of control and how I persevered and conquered.

I felt unprepared, nervous and scared. What was going to happen? Would I finish? Would the hip pain become unbearable leading to a DNF (did not finish)? I still wasn’t sure I would be able to start four days before the race. I worried myself to sickness and tears before I realized that I couldn’t change the condition I was in, that I wasn’t going to run a sub 4:30 marathon (my goal at the time) and that it might be more painful than I originally planned. It was on that Wednesday, four days before the marathon,  that I went out on a four mile run to assess my pain. I told myself to run at a pace that caused no pain and if that meant running over two minutes per mile slower than I was used to, so be it. My new goal was to do the damn thing. So I ran four miles without any pain for the first time in a month and I knew; I was going to be a marathoner. In just four days, I knew that I would do whatever I had to do to cross that finish line.

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I know it sounds kind of crazy. It is. But you know what’s also crazy? Running a marathon! Less than one half of one percent of people on this planet are marathoners and there’s a reason for it! It’s not easy, especially as a normal person just trying to accomplish a goal while they’re still trying to keep up with the rest of their life. And that’s what makes it so special. Against all odds; injuries, family, jobs, social engagements, school, you get the mileage done and you do it.

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This face pretty much sums up how I felt getting up at 2AM to run 26.2 Miles in 30 degree weather.

Come race day, it doesn’t matter how fast you are or how many marathons you’ve run. You’re standing shoulder to shoulder with individuals who are determined to fight with their minds, bodies and souls for twenty six point two miles, for two and a half to six hours straight. I mean, who does that?! Marathoners. You look at them and share a nervous smile: “Are we really going to do this right now?” as you’re slowly stripping the trash bag off your body that you begged your resort to give you so you could use it to stay warm before the start, since it just happens to be below forty degrees in Florida.

You’re surrounded by a bunch of strangers that all have a very unique relationship with themselves and their bodies. Nobody knows what brought you to this moment of fear and excitement, but you certainly have an understanding of each runner’s long, painful, joyful and exciting journey. The air is thick with energy and excitement, not many words are said, maybe a few giggles or quips here and there, but it’s mainly silent, the potential just waiting for us all on the other side of that line.

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We had to distract ourselves from being so, so cold so we stood in line for a half hour to get a picture with Chip & Dale, like you do.

My journey to the other side of the line was filled with a lot of pain, but the joy outweighed the pain. The fireworks for each corral’s start were beautiful and inspiring but also strange because I was watching this epic Disney firework show at 5:30AM after being awake for four hours. Nevertheless, it was exciting, despite the early hour and the freezing temperatures. Running through Magic Kingdom was an absolute childhood dream come true. Everything was still lit up for Christmas, so it was extra festive. Running through Cinderella’s castle was beyond cool; I’m pretty sure I cried the entire time. The rest of the race is a blur of smiling, high-five’s and a desperate urge to finish. Nothing was going to stop me. My mental game was on point though I definitely experienced the anger and aggression they talk about around mile 19/20. I truly hated everything and everyone and wondered why the hell Disney had allowed these miles, the hardest miles, to be the worst?! It was all their fault. By the time I got to my friends and family at mile 24.8 I was desperate for their support and encouragement because at that point I had almost fallen down a little hill, the entire bottom half of my body was sore and stiff, I felt like I had a huge  boil-like blister on the bottom of my foot and that I would never be able to stop running, ever. Which is why I started crying like a baby, of course. Naturally they had signs and were chanting my name and I was just so touched that they all were there to support my friend and I’s crazy dream. I was so happy. But I also wanted to die.

Running a marathon is a very emotional and confusing experience.

Then, the finish line was in sight. I couldn’t believe it. It took my breath away. I was giggling and crying and in complete shock. It was like I wasn’t conscious for the previous five hours and suddenly woke up and realized, “Oh, yea. You did this thing, Anne. You just ran 26.2 miles. Look at you,  you actually freaking did it!” Minnie and Mickey were waving and dancing and I couldn’t believe they were there too! I was beside myself. I high five-d Minnie and crossed the line.

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Crossing the finish line was such a huge feeling that I will never forget. I felt so proud of myself and so FULL. I was filled with pride. I felt like every person that I loved was there with me in that moment, even though nobody I know actually saw me finish. All of that love and pride that I felt, was for me, from me. Never, ever, in my life had I felt so proud. It was better than any applause or standing ovation I received when I was performing onstage. I felt that same sensation of boundless energy, love and pride that you get from an audience but all of that energy, love, and pride came from me… I didn’t even know that was possible coming from just me. I thought I needed the reassurance and acceptance of others to make me feel like I was talented, valuable, hard-working and successful. But now I know that is completely false. I have every reason to be proud of myself for so many things, not just running a marathon and it’s truly transformed the relationship I have with my body, mind and soul.

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This was taken at the Med tent. Apparently when you cry crossing the finish line they send you here.  I was also convinced I had a boil on my foot. Took of my shoe, all was fine. Okay, body.

It may be cliche, but running and training for a marathon changed my life. I learned to value my instincts and intuition and trust myself and my body. You know what, I love my body and I know that am incredibly strong. I also have the strangest mind that wanders to the strangest places.

It would’ve been easier to give up, to feel defeated, to buy into the fear of not being able to do something according to plan, the loss of control. I almost said screw it, I’ll try again next year. But I didn’t. And now I’m a marathoner. I don’t regret anything. However, I know that there is a lot I did wrong and a lot I did right during training and the race. But what I did wrong I’ve learned from and will take all of that and improve and make changes. Because, yes, I am running another marathon (surprise). On October 22, I will be running the streets of Washington D.C. in the Marine Corps marathon. Who knows what I’ll learn this time?

Let’s find out…

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