Our journey as runners often takes us down shared roads. At times, those roads are harder and more challenging than we planned for and we need to adjust our pace to make our way through. But always, our grit, determination, perseverance, humanity, and sheer belief in ourselves and our community guide us to the finish line.Michael Capiraso, President & CEO, New York Road Runners
Today I should be toeing the line at my first Boston Marathon. Just qualifying to run this historic race is an accomplishment I will hold as one of my proudest for as long as I live. It is not lost on me that of the 27,288 people that BQ’d (Boston Qualified) for this year’s race by running a qualifying time at another marathon, there are still more than 3,000 that did not make the cutoff (1:39 faster than the posted qualifying time). Months of sacrifice, mental and physical exhaustion, and a few lost toenails (lol) went into preparing for this day that will now come and go much like any other.
Instead of spending today dwelling on that which is out of my control, I’ve decided to reflect on the important life lessons that I have learned along my journey to becoming a runner but more importantly, what it has taught me about learning to love myself. My running journey started as something I did because I thought it would make me beautiful by society’s standards and quickly morphed into something essential to my well-being, almost how air is required for our lungs to breathe.
Like way too many young girls, I used to waste a lot of emotional energy wishing to be viewed as only one thing in this world: skinny, as if somehow our worth is measured by how little space we take up. When I think about the beginning of my running journey I specifically recall setting out to run on a treadmill one night towards the end of high school. I had made it maybe a quarter of a mile when I flat out gave up, nearly in tears. It was uncomfortable, it was hard, my leg fat jiggled with every step and I was self-conscious, but most of all my mind was telling me “you can’t”. I don’t remember how long it was before I ran again but I’d venture to guess it was well over a year. Eventually I set a goal and began working towards it. I added distance little by little and over time running became easier and I began to appreciate the way it made me feel once I had accomplished a goal I’d set out to achieve, no matter how small. When I lacked motivation, I found a friend to run with so we could keep each other accountable.
Nowadays, if I could be described in only one word, it would be disciplined. I view one form of discipline as honoring the commitments we make to ourselves. After all, shouldn’t we value the relationship with ourselves as much as those we share with our closest friends? I’m not going to lie and say that at times my friendships haven’t taken a backseat as a result. I sometimes questioned myself when I’d stay in weekend after weekend so I could go to bed early in order to wake up the next day and get a training run in (I ALWAYS questioned my sanity when that was 4 a.m. on a Saturday). One thing I’m certain of is that by continually honoring this commitment I’d made to my goals, somewhere along the road running became a source of comfort, my time to reflect and unwind, a birthplace of strength and mental toughness where I could escape to when life felt difficult. When I finally let it, running showed me that my mind and body are capable of so much more than I give them credit for on the average day. Most importantly, running allows me the time for myself in a busy world that is constantly telling us we aren’t enough and begging us to turn our attention elsewhere.
When I started getting messages from friends who wanted to try running but didn’t know where to begin, I reflected and realized that there really isn’t much magic to it. Whether you run several miles a year or several hundred, you are a runner. It’s sticking to that personal commitment that makes all the difference.
Be patient with yourself and your body. Weather, hydration level, what you ate (or didn’t) the night before or morning of, amount of sleep you’ve gotten, stress level, can all impact a run. At the end of the day, running shouldn’t feel like a burden. There are days my pace is an entire 2 minutes slower than another. There are days I could run for miles and days I want to quit, just like I did all those years ago on the treadmill. Just know that each run you go on, each time you honor the commitment you’ve made to yourself, you are improving the person you were yesterday. Remember to celebrate your accomplishments no matter how small they may seem. Running has given me strength, pushing my body places my mind told me were impossible for it to go and reminds me to keep score of my successes not just the failures.
At 17 I never imagined I could run a mile. At 19 I never imaged I could run a half marathon. At 21 the idea of running a marathon seemed ludicrous. At 25 I said I could never Boston Qualify. At 27 I attempted my moonshot and I succeeded. The only thing that ever changed is my mindset and the way I viewed myself.
The path to life’s greatest achievements is seldom straight and those accomplishments almost never happen overnight. Instead life will take you weaving and bobbing sometimes to unknown destinations with uncertain outcomes. When times get difficult and you feel like giving up, remember that the things most worth having in life seldom come easy or without sacrifice. Remember why you started and why it’s worth finishing. My quest to BQ taught me that I am mentally and physically stronger than I ever dreamt and that with a little discipline and some self-confidence, no goal you set out to achieve is ever out of reach. More than anything, I learned the value of making promises to myself and keeping them no matter what conspired to get in the way.
“Running has given me so much-friends, a strong and healthy body, a reason to travel to new places, an outlet after a tough day, and the confidence to chase difficult goals. Today and everyday, I’m thankful for my legs for all the adventures they take me on.”Mara, one of my best friends & the person who helped convince me that I had a BQ in me
Every run doesn’t have to end with a cheering crowd, as they seldom do, to warrant celebration. Be proud of each and every mile and cherish your body for all the amazing things your eyes can see because your legs took you there. No matter what road life takes you down I’ll be right here, celebrating with you during every step of the journey.