Lessons From a Marathon

Running a small business teaches you a lot about the importance of persistence and optimism. You need to show up every day and get it done, whatever “it” may be. Each little step is important to achieving the end result, but that end result may not show up for weeks, months, or years. That’s why optimism is critical. You have to believe in what you’re doing, or you’ll be very tempted to throw in the towel before you reach the finish line.

I’d say all of that applies to something I did in my off-work hours this past Sunday. I ran my first marathon. Now I didn’t do this on a whim or anything, I have run a few half marathons before, and I trained for about 12 weeks leading up to the race with a goal of running under 3 hours and 5 minutes (the time needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon). On Sunday morning my wife Kaitlin and I woke up early and made our way to the race for the 7am start. I felt great. My training had gone well, I had avoided injury, and now all I had to do was go out there and, as Kaitlin said, “finish it.” Over the next 3 hours 12 minutes and 11 seconds (spoiler alert, I didn’t qualify) I learned a few things:

1.       A marathon is 26.2 miles!

This sounds obvious and of course I knew the length going in, but there is a HUGE difference between 18 miles (or 20 miles or even 22 miles) and 26.2. I had been warned by others that the marathon was a different animal, but my longest training run was 22 miles and I did not think another 4.2 would do me in. Boy was I mistaken!

2.       The first 13.1 miles is not the time to PR

As someone who has run a number of races of varying lengths, I know better than to expend too much energy early on, so I was committed to not overextending myself early in the race…then the gun went off. I was cruising through the first few miles like they were nothing and I ended up running the fastest half marathon of my life. One problem: I had to run another! By the time I hit mile 15 I started to fade and when I got to miles 18-19 I knew I was in trouble!

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Feeling really good at mile 8

3.       It helps to have great support

The course for my marathon was on the American Tobacco Trail, which is very wooded and secluded. This means that it is not a spectator friendly event, but Kaitlin and our friends Kristin and Derrek were up for the challenge. They drove to different remote points on the course where they waited with some great signs that helped keep my morale up and my thoughts positive. Every possible source of encouragement and motivation is important during a marathon and their efforts certainly helped carry me through the middle miles.

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“…It takes a special kind of idiot to run a marathon.”

4.       The miles you are most proud of may not be your fastest

As I mentioned before, I really hit the wall around 19 miles. My legs just weren’t responding and my energy level was dwindling. I was hoping for a second wind, but I could tell it wasn’t coming. To make matters worse, miles 20-22 were a continuous incline. So by the time I was on my last 4 miles, I was completely spent. There was a moment when I thought that finishing may not be in the cards, but I kept thinking about Kaitlin’s words, “finish it”, and I decided that the only way I would stop running was if I collapsed. By mile 25 I felt like I was crawling and looking back at the splits on my watch I saw that it was in fact my slowest at 9:20, which is a far cry from the 6:45 miles that I averaged for the first 13. But looking back at it, mile 25 was probably the best mile I ever ran. I can barely remember it, but the effort that it took to run that mile far exceeded any in the thousands of miles I had run prior. I will always be proud of that 9:20 mile.

5.       You can’t do it all on your own

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As much as a marathon may be a personal achievement, in my experience it was certainly a team effort. Kaitlin encouraged me throughout my training, and pushed me out the door to run many Saturday mornings when my motivation was lacking. She was also there with me at the end. As I approached the last half mile of the race I saw Kaitlin cheering me on, and I asked her to run with me. This was not premeditated and I do not remember doing it, but at the time I was existing solely on instinct and my instincts were telling me that she was as much a part of this as I was and I wanted her to be a part of it at the end. Kaitlin peeled off sometime before I crossed the finish line, but she gave me a huge boost that carried me through to the finish. Just as I crossed the finish line, my legs gave out. I barely kept myself from hitting the ground and a Marine helped me to a chair. Then Kaitlin and my friend Derrek helped me hobble to the runner’s village for some much needed hydration and caloric intake. The marathon is a humbling race, but for me it was a great opportunity to learn just how supported I truly am.

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“Little help here!”

Training for and running my first marathon was a great experience even though I fell short of my goal. I was in awe of the elite runners that were miles ahead of me, and I was proud of the dedicated runners that were soldiering on miles behind me. I will definitely run another marathon, and at some point, I will qualify for Boston. But for now I need some rest, some ice, and a cold Grins.

Keep Grinning,

NB

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