The Best Half Marathon I Never Ran

“That seems like the worst deal of all time,” my friend Katy told me, after I explained that I was doing long training runs for a half marathon I’m not doing. “So you’ll put in all the hard work,” she continued, “without the day-of excitement of running in the race?”

I agreed it was a very unique approach. But I was more excited to cheer on my lifelong friend, Hayley, in the race than I was about doing it myself. Instead of registering as well, our compromise was that I would accompany her on long runs.

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What I didn’t think about the time was that 8 and then 9 miles would feel a lot more natural for one of us who trained for that distance than it would for the other who did not.

But that’s really a personal problem.

Come race day, my original plan was for Brandon and I to bike to Uptown so that we could then be nimble and follow Hayley around on her path. What I didn’t factor in is an 8 am race start means we would need to start biking …before 8 am… on a Sunday. The drinks we had the night before and the rain the morning of made that plan worse and worse. Driving to uptown, instead, gave me even more respect for what Hayley was taking on.

Brandon and I met up with her husband, Ethan, and their dog, Lola, who had a lot of questions about why we were standing in one place in the rain. The course is two laps through a Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun/Bde Mke Ska loop, which made it easy to see her at the 6 mile mark and walk over to the 13 mile area. (Sharing this if you’re interested in running or watching this race next year)

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At the 13 mile area, the spectators had a new level of energy that made me consider jumping into the race, or at least jogging in place. In particular, was a couple that was cheering on each and every person turning the corner for their last .1 miles as if it were their best friend completing the race.

“Turn and burn, baby, let’s take it home!!!!” They screamed, hunched over hands on knees, like a head coach dialed in for the last minute of the most important game. They jumped up and down, and were feeding off the energy of each other.

I was in awe.

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First of all, I really wanted to get to the bottom of if they even knew any runners in the race. Which made me wonder, is this how they met? Were they just cheering on strangers like crazy, then caught each other’s eyes across the street, and thought, wow we have a lot in common? 

I was also envious of the effect they were having on the runners, and wondered why I wasn’t bringing the same energy. I encouraged our group to head up stream so we could be a little appetizer to the real cheer leaders down the way.

Rather than watching the runners, until Hayley arrived of course, I was mainly watching this couple. It brought me to tears thinking about how impactful it is to hear that encouragement as a runner.

It is the exact encouragement they need, in a moment where they feel like they have nothing left to give. It’s amazing how strangers cheering you on can validate the sense of accomplishment you should have after 13 miles, but for some reason in the moment, all you can see is the .1 you haven’t yet reached.

Since race day, this couple has stayed with me. I’ve been sharing this story with all of my yoga students, encouraging them to be this level of enthusiastic, but for themselves.

As amazing as it is to hear compliments, praise, and cheers from others, it can’t truly resonate until we believe it ourselves. It’s incredibly difficult for external validation to overpower our own talk track we have playing on repeat.

When we’re not being nice to ourselves, it’s hard to genuinely appreciate and convey what we admire in others. We know comparison is the thief of joy for the person doing the comparing, but I think it also steals from the person being complimented. It shifts from “this is something I truly admire in you,” to “this is something I wish I liked about myself.”

My #couplegoals cheer leaders weren’t inspiring runners by brushing them off, saying “Good for you, I’d never be able to do anything remotely close to this.”

They inspired by being present and fully engaged in the moment, making each and every runner feel seen. The runners I saw Sunday have carried on to their daily lives, and they may no longer have those enthusiastic cheer leaders top of mind, but I’m sure they remember how they made them feel.

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So, I’ll likely never see these people again.

But they’re what I’ll remember most from this race, which made me think of my students and whoever reads this.

It can be hard to see in ourselves how we inspire and change those around us. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have impact.

As Drew Dudley explains in his Ted Talk, there’s people out there, like strangers watching a half marathon in the rain, who just haven’t gotten around to telling us yet how we’ve changed their life.

Whatever you may be taking on this week, don’t hesitate to recognize what you’ve accomplished so far.

Even if it seems counter intuitive, when we’re intentional about directing praise inward, it makes it easier to appreciate other’s accomplishments and cheer them on.

And you can take my word for it, those sidelines are not a boring place to be.

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My First Marathon

One week ago, I was lined up with more than 7,000 runners waiting for the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon to begin. Some were listening to music, bouncing around, or starting to shed the sweats they layered for the start line. I was doing yoga, per usual, in  the little space I carved out for myself, and couldn’t help be intimidated by the people around me.

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Should I have worn a garbage bag over my torso? (A question I never thought I’d ask) I wondered what they ate for breakfast, or if I should have gotten to the corral sooner.

I was distracted from these thoughts when the emcee asked who was running a marathon for the first time. I threw up my hands and cheered, and tears came to my eyes.

When is the last time you did something for the first time? Whatever doubts I had about the next 26.2 miles were nothing compared to the intrigue of the unknown. I told myself, this is the last time you will run a marathon for the first time. You will compare any future race to this one, so you need to make this experience exactly what you want it to be.

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Whether you’re interested in running a marathon, or want to be the best cheerleader for someone else taking this challenge on, here are my takeaways and some of the best advice I received-

1. My fanny pack of love notes: On one of my long runs, I thought about a gratitude practice I could have during the race. I landed on asking friends and family to write notes with words of encouragement or anything they’d like me to read during the race. It took a bit of vulnerability to request this from others, but I’m so glad I did.

I had just over 26, and was able to open a note each mile. I would ABSOLUTELY recommend it, and can’t imagine this race without that ritual. Each mile marker, instead of thinking about how many more miles I had, I was excited it was time to open another note. I can’t thank my note writers enough!

2. “Just have fun and don’t be nervous, it’s not like you’re going to win!” This was 100 percent accurate, in fact, here’s who won, by literally running twice as fast as me. Truly, my number one goal was to have fun. At some points in my training, this seemed like a very unrealistic goal. But just like how my idea of fun being getting up at 6 am for yoga, or planning a great carpool, I had a blast running this marathon.

I was smiling ear to ear for 90% of it (here’s a hot take- what if the race was only 20 miles??) and because winning was off the table, I paid attention to my pace but not my time. That meant stopping to talk with and take selfies with the amazing cheerleaders that navigated closed roads and big crowds to watch me. I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

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Friends, Ingrid and Cyrus, mile 7
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Family friends- Taylor Ann, Owen (who ran out to hug me), and not pictured, Josh! Mile 10
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The soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Finlay!! The kisses from Lola were a game changer. Mile 13 and Mile 21
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My boyfriend and his wonderful family who visited for the weekend! Mile 17.5
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This put some pep in my step- Meeting our Senator at mile 24!!

3. Be flexible with your training: Enter the race with curiosity rather than a rigid plan. There will be surprises along the way, and this mindset will help you be present to embrace the happy ones— the INCREDIBLY enthusiastic dad that ran alongside his daughter, yelling, “ARE YOU SEEING THIS? LOOK AT HER GO!!!!”— and it will help you patiently assess the uncomfortable ones— like a stomach ache for the first 3 miles from a bigger breakfast.

Rather than reacting to this, I noticed it, and thought logically about where it could be coming from. Throughout training, I didn’t each much before my runs, which was more of a bad habit than best practice. I told myself the ache had to go away as I burned calories with each mile, and it did! Rather than going into a downward spiral about how I shouldn’t have tried something new, I postponed eating any gels until mile 7 because my body had enough fuel. You are always in control.

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Not the end of the race, or even a mile marker, just a really spirited street 🙂

4. “When something starts to hurt or get tired, think about how amazing your elbows feel. Notice the wind blowing in your hair.” This made me laugh when I first received it, and when I opened it mid-race. I can tell you one thing about a marathon, your elbows will not fail you.

I often tell my yoga students to notice everything they are doing, the space and strength they are creating, because it’s so easy to notice what we can’t do. That’s what I love about this- there is beauty in every moment.

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I loved this view crossing the bridge from Minneapolis to St. Paul

5. Lastly, carry a mantra with you. This was great advice from another yoga teacher, and I have another friend to thank for the mantra I chose. Inspired by Irene Fernando’s TedTalk, I borrowed the phrase “why not me?” If 7,000 runners are going to finish this race, why not me? If someone is going to make it up this hill, why not me? If there’s going to be someone that has fun for 26.2 miles, why can’t that person be me?

Rather than stemming from competition, this mantra reminded me that all of the strength, endurance, focus, positivity, and passion I needed to complete this goal was already within me. P.s. this question drives Irene to take on amazing challenges and make an impact in her community- you can learn more here.

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If you said encouraging words once, if you tracked my number on the race app, or followed me around the Cities on race day, thank you for being a part of this journey. While I can’t run a marathon for the first time again, I’d be very surprised if it was my last.