For some runners, the full marathon is a bucket list goal. For others, it’s an obsession as they constantly chase a PR or podium placement one race after another.
I am neither of those runners. I am the runner who ran recreationally (aka for fitness) for more than 18 years before I ever even considered a marathon.
Marathons are hard. I mean, 26.2 miles…of running? Oomph. Oh, and let’s not forget that doesnt even include the 16, 18 or 20 weeks of training beforehand.
Why would I sign up for that?
Well, it may have taken nearly two decades to get there, but that “why” became clear and I knew marathons were for me. Here’s how I got there the first time and why I continue to focus on them.
And no, it’s not because I am a glutton for punishment.
Running is a Privilege
Nearly 12 years ago, I had a heart attack. Then a month later, I had another one. I went from being able to walk 60 miles in 3 days as part of the Susan G. Komen Walk for a Cure, to not being able to walk a block without needing to sit down.
It is so far BEYOND frustrating to want to do something and your body simply won’t let you. To remember how capable you had been just weeks or even days ago and yet feeling stuck in your own body, desperate to get back to that ability, but physically unable to do so.
So after heart attack 2 in January 2012, I set a goal: get back to running.
It didn’t matter how fast I could run, but I wanted to be able to run a 10k race (6.2 miles) for the American Heart Association without needing to stop and walk.
To get there, I started at ground zero in cardiac rehab. My “workouts” consisted of 1 minute of walking, 30-60 seconds of “jogging” in the loosest sense of the word, then 1-2 minutes of walking and back to “jogging.” When I hit 12 minutes, I was done!
But guess what? Those 30-60 seconds of non-walking intervals added up to more “running” than I had done for weeks. I took it as a major win.
I knew what it felt like to want to run and not be able, so I wasn’t about to take any distance or any steps for granted. Running is a privilege and I had learned that the hard way.
Even when my legs eventually got sore, tired or tight, I’d refocus my mindset with…
“If my heart can do this, my legs are just going to have to get on board.”
Thankfully, they did.
With the help of doctors at cardiac rehab, friends who joined me for milestone races along the way (5k, 4 miler, 5 miler), I crossed that 10k finish line without ANY walking breaks🙌🏻 Man, did that feel good!
Upping the Challenge
For many years I stuck with 10ks as my longest distance race. I ran for fun and fitness and simply because I could.
Fast forward to September 2019 and I cheered on a friend as she ran to the finish of her umpteenth half marathon. As I watched her, I thought, “You know, I bet I could do that.”
While I hadn’t been running longer than 6 miles at a time, I had been running mid-day int he south (aka hot) and dong a lot of weight training so I felt my fitness could be at the right level.
I found a race in November, signed up, ran a single 10-miler to see if I could really do it and then showed up on race day. Despite showing up late to my first half marathon start line (🤦🏻♀️) they let me start and a little over two hours later I had done it.
A 2x heart attack survivor became a half marathoner.
Becoming A Marathoner
After that first half, I set a goal to run six half marathons in 2020. I figured every other month sounded both reasonable and still a bit of a challenge since the weather, and topography, for the races would each be different.
Well, we all know how 2020 went 👎🏻 Despite all the restrictions around me, running became the ONE thing I could control. I could choose to show up and run. I could control my pace, foot strike, nutrition and mindset.
So I ran. A few races I got to do in person and some I had to do virtually after the shut down, but I got my six medals. Challenge completed ✅
Then 2021 rolled around and the 10-year anniversary of my heart attacks loomed.
“What could I do that would really be a testament to my 10 years of heart health?” I thought.
Enter: the full marathon.
Funny enough, it wasn’t until I had been weeks into training that I realized the marathon’s 26.2 distance matched perfectly with my age at the time of those episodes. I took it as a sign, and still do, that the marathon is my race.
In addition to running the 26.2 miles in honor of my 26 year old (hospitalized) self, I also committed to raising $10,000 for the American Heart Association. A thousand dollars for each year.
Well, I ticked off both goals in November 2021 👉🏻
Each year since then I have continued to raise funds for AHA by dedicating my marathon training to spreading awareness of heart disease.
It doesn’t matter how fast you move, as long as you continue to move. Forward is a pace.