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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.