Lessons from the 26.2: What I’ve Learned from Running Marathons

Ever since I was a little girl, I loved to run. As in, I never walked from place to place, even if it was to get out of the car and walk into the grocery store. No, instead of walking like any sane human being, I ran. Full speed. I remember watching my sister’s softball practices when she was in high school. If her teammates hit a foul ball or overthrew a base, they would yell to me, “Hey, Haley, you wanna run? Wanna grab that ball for us?” Before the words were out of their mouths, I was racing for that ball. So, it just seemed natural to try running competitively when an injury sidelined me from soccer in college. Before long, I was attempting my first marathon. However, I’ve found that marathon running, like life, involves a lot more than simply sprinting across the parking lot. Here are some lessons I’ve gleaned from my experiences.

1. Never try to keep up with the Kenyans. Not only will you be unsuccessful, but you will also get tired really quickly – and you still have 26 miles to go.

2. Make sure to download more than eight songs onto your MP3 player. That eight-song loop is going to get really annoying in about three miles.

3. Once you’ve downloaded more than eight songs, make sure your MP3 is charged so that you can actually listen to your 372 tunes. It really stinks when the thing dies after the first mile of a mountain race before you even hit the first hill.

4. BodyGlide is perhaps the best invention ever. Use it. If you refuse, you will find yourself not only chafed but also stinging from sweating into the rawness.

5. Just as in life, we often try to brave the course alone. When the going gets tough, you will inevitably feel like quitting. During these times, you need strength from a source outside yourself. Pray. Grab a friend for the run. Listen to the crowd cheering you on. Use the advice of those friendly fellow runners who tell you how to get rid of that pesky side cramp or who stop to help you when your chip falls off your shoe. Most likely, they have been down the same path as you and are glad to be able to use their experiences to help others.

6. Be a good samaritan. Offer encouragement to others. If someone stumbles, help them up. If you see someone in need, be the first to extend a hand. Come on, if two seconds keep you from qualifying for Boston, you should have kicked harder at the end. At least you will never look back on your experience with regret for failing as a person.

7. Double-knot your shoes. No matter how coordinated you are before the race, you will become increasingly inept at doing anything short of shuffling as the race goes on. And you will trip on everything.

8. Do not go dry before the race. Please eat. Otherwise, you will find that although you felt at the halfway mark like you could keep your 7:30 pace for the rest of your life, approximately a mile and a quarter later, you will want to catch a ride with the kid on the mini-bike instead of running.

9. Resist the temptation to drink the beer offered to you by the friendly spectators during the race. This may seem like a good idea at the time, but trust me, you aren’t thinking clearly.

10. Drink on the course. Water and Powerade will not make you sloshy, or heavy, or crampy if you sip it. They will make you feel better.

11. Fuel up on energy gels and bars after the first 30 minutes to an hour of the race. Once again, you’re going to need an energy boost.

12. Regardless of how confident you feel, you cannot really run a marathon without training. It’s not quite like running a friendly 5k.

13. Find a place in your heart and mind where you can meditate and pray while you push forward. Running is rhythmic, so it is a perfect gateway activity for deep thought and contemplation. Kristin Armstrong, a competitive runner (and, yes, Lance’s ex-wife), commits to praying for a different person or cause each mile of her marathons.

14. Marathons are often a physical representation of the milestones we reach and mountains we climb in life. Let it be a celebration of what you have overcome or a motivation to reach your life goals.

15. Do not look at the guy peeing on the tree to the side of the course. You will be sorry if you do.

16. Oftentimes, just when you think you’ve had enough, reached your limit, and are hurting worse than you ever have before in your whole life, you will see, hear, or think of exactly what you need to keep you going.

17. If you get upset when people pass you, you need to let go a bit and realize that you are about to accomplish something incredible. Just tell yourself that the people who pass you are really from Kenya.

18. Resist the urge to dress up like Elvis or a banana for the marathon. I bet the running frogs, dead rockers, and fruit wish they were wearing a bit less costume.

19. No matter how you feel, you will most likely not die.

20. You will indeed run like a penguin if you attempt to do so the day after the marathon.

21. Try to take a shower as soon as possible after the race. The salt caked on your skin will burn it.

22. If you are a girl, I suggest wearing a pad to control leakage. This may sound gross, but I have to pass on my words of wisdom. The results can be pretty embarrassing when you try to push a little further even though your really have to go.

23. Age doesn’t matter. You are never to old to learn to run, or to attempt great things, or to succeed. Your past does not matter, either. Previous performances and experiences are not counted against you, nor do they cling to you, but you can choose to use them for good. It doesn’t matter if you have kids, if you are single or married, if you are rich or poor, if you have a career or if you are still searching for your calling. What matters is that nothing can stop you from running the race.

24. Like life, marathons are a test of faith. You try to stay on the course even though distractions beckon you to quit. Sometimes you struggle to put one foot in front of the other, but you continue to do so because you believe that the finish line lies ahead and you long with all your heart to reach it.

25. Before the field spreads out, the crowds can be a bit frustrating the first couple miles. If you are wanting to really compete or are aiming for a certain time, it may a good idea to find a starting place towards the front, even if the pace is faster than you care to run. It’s okay to get passed by people, but if you are wanting to qualify for Boston and you start towards the back, those densely packed crowds can cost you precious time.

26. In the end, what counts is not what your time was or what place you finished in but how you ran the race.

.2. Do not eat the colorless goo on the popsicle sticks. That is Vaseline. Some things you learn from experience.

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