Running Down a Dream: Overcoming Obstacles

By , SparkPeople Blogger
"There will be days when I don't know if I can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime knowing that I have." Unknown

It was only 8 short months ago when Coach Jen sent me an email asking if I would consider running the Chicago Marathon with her. I must say the mere thought scared me to death, not only running a race of that distance but putting in the hours and hours training for it as well seemed even more daunting. But that feeling would only last a short while as I quickly took the liberty to sign up less than a few hours later. That was the easy part--I had no idea the challenges and obstacles that would lie ahead of me in the days, weeks and months ahead, even up to the very last hour of my life changing event.

I had kept a solid running base after running my last 1/2 marathon in November 2008 so I was confident that in the time I had to train I could be ready by October. However, in March I developed a piriformis issue which would not allow me to run more than 5 miles without a major pain in the bum, literally. I could not imagine running another 21.2 miles in that much pain. I went in for an Active Release Technique which released adhesions in the muscle allowing me to run yet again. This would only be the first of many obstacles I would face in my quest to conquer the marathon.

I did well with my training until I reached my long run of 16 miles in August. Those LONG 16 miles could have easily been a marathon by the way I felt after that grueling run. It was truly one of the most, if not the most, difficult training runs I had ever done. I felt as though I would never make it to the start line, much less cross the finish line. Tears were a plenty, however the SparkPeople running community came to my rescue and I overcame that hurdle.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion."– Muhammad Ali

The morning of the marathon was VERY cold for an early October morning, even by Chicago's standards. The meteorologist kept referring to these temps as unseasonably cold. To say I was a little taken aback by the temperature at race time was an understatement. Standing with other runners and sharing our stories on how we all got to this point in our lives helped to keep the teeth chattering to a minimum. All the runners in my area were running their first marathon as well, so I felt quite comfortable taking in all I could. I was going to remember as many details of this day as this ol' brain could, after all this may be the one and only time I would ever run a marathon.

Before the race started, "The Star Spangled Banner" was sung as three helicopters flew overhead. I can only imagine what a sea of 45,000 runners looked like from above, but it was something I will never forget standing in silence listening to our country's anthem. The gun went off promptly at 7:30 and the race was on. It took our group 18 minutes to cross the starting line and we were off. I wished my fellow runners luck as these legs began the race of a lifetime. A race I was running to prove to my sixth grade PE teacher that Nancy Howard IS A RUNNER!

The crowds were phenomenal from the start. To be participating in one of the five most prestigious marathons in the world was truly mind-boggling. Because I spent my time training in the heat, running in the cold was, as I expected, much easier than running in the sweltering summer temperatures of Texas.Within the first mile it hit me that my bladder was feeling a tad full. I had not changed my hydration plan to compensate for the colder temps and because my high blood pressure med has a diuretic component, I was beginning to feel the first hint that I needed to find a porta-let soon. I decided to see how long I could go before I needed to stop.

My first mile was great. I was running at a 9:40 minute per mile pace, way too fast for me to maintain, so I forced myself to slow down knowing that I had a long, long way to go. In mile two I finally found my groove and kept to my run/walk plan I had been training with for the past 17 weeks. My legs felt great but unfortunately not so with the ol' bladder. I stopped at the first aid station at mile 3, but the lines to the porta-lets were so LONG that the volunteer suggested I go next station 2 miles up the road. I arrived at the mile five aid station within 52 minutes from the start and to my disappointment, the lines were even longer. I had no choice but to wait it out. I lost a good 20 minutes waiting and of course I was beginning to develop great anxiety because of this lost time.

After my detour, I started up running again and totally enjoyed the next 17 miles high-fiving the Elvi (is that the plural for multiple Elvis? LOL) along the way and chatting with others who were running for various charities. I even ran with runners from France, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Great Britain, and Canada--all sporting their shirts with the flags of their native country plastered on the sleeves and front. And of course no race would be complete if I did not find some money along the way. I am proud to say I found 57 cents on the streets of Chicago to add to my ever growing coffers at home.

"If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon"- Emil Zatopek

But my great race all changed when I reached the 21 mile distance marker. Because I tried to make up for the lost time from my bathroom break, my pace was too fast. Couple that with running too long on the camber of the street, my right knee started giving me huge issues. It was more painful to continue with my run/walk method than it was to just keep running. I was having to stop every quarter mile or so to stretch my IT band. This only offered temporary relief. Now it was becoming too painful to even continue running. Having never had IT band issues I was totally overcome with emotions. I did not know what to do and there was still so much of the race to be completed. Tears were flowing like the rivers I had just run across. As I ran past one of the aid stations, the medic was working on another runner's knee which was wrapped in ice as well as a thick ACE bandage. The emotions this young lady was going through was heart-wrenching, she kept repeating in sobs, "I want to finish."

"If you can't fly then run. If you can't run then walk. If you can't walk then crawl. But whatever you do, keep moving." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

That was when I had to have a stern talk with myself. I had two choices--I could push through the pain, continue running and risk doing major damage to my knee which could keep me from running for a very long time or possibly forever and keep me from finishing OR I could chock it up for lack of experience for pushing myself too hard to make up for the lost 20 minutes and do my best to finish still moving. That's when I decided to do what I knew in my heart I needed to do, I was going to fight to the finish even if that meant walking. I walked the last 4 miles which took me a tad less than an hour until I was within 2/10ths of a mile from the finish line. To say it wasn't hard to see so many many people pass me by still running was an understatement, but I had to do what I had to do and what was best for me. I may not have been able to run those last 4 miles, but nothing was going to stop me from RUNNING ACROSS THE FINISH LINE, which I DID in 5 hours 13 minutes and 10 seconds.

A Spark member who ran Chicago a few years ago recently told me, "The Chicago Marathon is basically a 26.2 mile long parade, in which the runners are the participants." She was not kidding. I could not have asked for a greater experience, even though things didn't go as planned. I still finished as a MARATHONER no matter how I got there. I remember passing a young Army Captain dressed in full fatigues carrying a heavy backpack which made me realize we ARE ALL WINNERS no matter how long it took or how we got across the finish line.

"Losers visualize the penalties of failure. Winners visualize the rewards of success." Dr. Rob Gilbert

So how does my marathon parallel my own healthy living journey?

I believe many of us have preconceived expectations when we start this journey as to how long it will take. We think that by doing everything to a T, which I did, everything will go as planned. But many times that is not the case, as my own marathon experience taught me on that cold October morn. I may have had to change my strategy and it may have taken me a little longer than I thought, but I crossed the finish line just like all those ahead of me.

We must learn to accept the obstacles that are inevitable in this journey, knowing that the end is not what made us who we are or who we were meant to be. It was, and is, the journey of overcoming obstacles that define who we are and who we are meant to be. Giving up was not an option at mile 22! I finished. I got my medal and I LIVED MY DREAM!

Oh and for those of you who may be wondering, will I do it again? You betcha! It was well worth every step I ran, every tear I cried, and the pain of a wonky knee only 4 short miles from the finish line. The love and support of the running community who welcomed me, a middle-aged, overweight woman into their world with open arms just 43 short months ago has given me hope that this sport has no limitations unless we put them up ourselves.



What obstacles have you overcome on your own personal journey? Have overcoming them made you more resilient on your quest to embracing healthy living?

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