“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

~ Theodore Roosevelt

I always wanted to run a marathon. Yes, 26.2 miles. I had never been a runner, ever. But during the 2020 pandemic, I joined a running group, which trained people to complete half marathons. I have done several such races since and I am perfectly pleased with that outcome. It’s a distance that challenges my body and mind and gives me plenty of satisfaction once completed.  However, I always had an inkling that I wanted to do a full marathon. During my second ever half marathon, at the end of the race I was mistakenly given the marathon medal. I stared at it for a while thinking “what if?”

The answer to ‘what if’ was this year. Sometime around September 2022, I officially registered for the Miami Marathon. I was in a marathon training group with other motivated runners. Yet, I didn’t tell any of my family or friends. I had not internalized that I was really doing this. I could easily have switched back to half marathon prior to the race, or even during the actual race.

At mile 13.1 (midway point), there is a literal fork on the road for half and full marathon runners. Last year, as the last ounces of energy were leaving my body, I thought, “boy look at those crazy people go for another 13 miles in this excruciating heat!”. Well, this year I was one of the crazies. Those who say follow the road less traveled forget to mention what goes on there. I will try to explain my personal experience.

2023 Miami Marathon course

Going solo on any journey means that you must be comfortable with yourself. And I had exactly 13.1 miles to get acquainted with my own internal voices in my head (yes, it seems I have more than one). I had decided not to bring headphones or have a playlist, based on the advice of a wise friend who told me to “enjoy the experience”. Yeah, I will come back to that.

I have an encouraging voice who congratulated me on completing 13 miles and on still feeling pretty good (last year I was destroyed by this mileage). It also told me that perhaps now an internal switch would go on and untapped energy would appear and would carry my body through the last half. See, the previous two weeks I read David Goggins’ book “Can’t Hurt Me” (I highly recommend it!). He writes that when our body feels like it can’t go anymore, we have only used 40% of our tank, and we can tap into our reserves to complete the rest of any seemingly impossible task. Unfortunately reading and doing are very different and I could never find that switch by myself.   

Around mile 16-17, despair set in. At this point, I entered the Key Biscayne causeway, which is hot and unshaded. I could see faster runners on the other side of causeway, on their way out, and they looked fresh and were running with good form. I, on the other hand, was feeling like an ant with cinder blocks on its feet and a kid had a magnifying glass over me! My internal dialogue had a different tone now. “I still had 10 miles to go!”, “What did I get myself into?”, and “I had only trained for 4 months?!” were thoughts going through my mind.

At one of the water stations, I must have expressed distress in such a way that someone saw it and laughed. That made me laugh and I kept chugging along until eventually I was on the other side of the causeway, and finally leaving that dreadful place. There, I saw others just entering and they were perhaps looking at me and thinking, “look at that guy, he’s fresh looking and has good form” Haha, if they only knew! All is relative in life as well. Sometimes we’re entering the causeway and sometimes we’re leaving it. But no one knows how we are feeling inside.  

I had written several mantras on my wrists prior to the race. “Strength comes from within”, “Train your Will”, “Slay your Dragon”, and other such nonsense. LOL By this time, sweat had made them barely visible and even seeing them clearly wouldn’t have made a difference. I knew miles 18 and 19 well, having ran on them during my training sessions. However, during the race they seemed foreign and unwelcoming. My stomach was feeling queasy, and when I stopped to pee at one of the portable restrooms, it hurt to do so, and liquid was darker than usual. I got worried because I remembered on Goggins’ book about organ failure in extreme heat. My internal voice advised me to slow down to 2/2 intervals (run for 2 minutes, walk for 2 minutes) from my usual 3/1. I followed his advice and was glad I did, as it carried me to the next point of the race, the 20-mile mark.

Out of nowhere I saw my training group leader appear. She asked me how I was feeling, and I think I said something like, “xzherf pfi$n krltr”. I meant to say, “I’m not doing well, but thanks for asking”. She enthusiastically replied, “maybe this will help” and pointed to the side of the road. The first thing I saw in double vision was a white sign, then my sister appeared like a mirage and was holding the sign and cheerfully screaming! Then I saw my brother and brother-in-law with similar signs (I couldn’t read what was written). Wow, I couldn’t believe they had shown up to this, my first ever marathon! I was so grateful and appreciative, that something came over me and I started sprinting for the next 10 minutes without stopping. I saw them again later on and this time, my group leader had special treats, peanut butter cups! It was something so simple, yet lifted my spirit and got me to the next stage.

Speaking in tongues to my training group leader! lol

I forgot my physical pain and realized that sometimes we get energy from others, so it’s key to have a solid support system when doing something extraordinary. Motivation (external or internal) only carries you so far, and we need that extra push. My voice was now telling me to run hard because I couldn’t let them down. I mean, they love me unconditionally, but still, I couldn’t let them see me suffering. I also really felt much better after encountering them on the road.

At one of the stations, a volunteer asked if I needed anything, and I said my left inner thigh was on fire. I believe this was due to running with a tired posture for prolonged time. She applied cream on the muscle and that carried me thru another couple of miles. Then later on, a lady had a bucket of cold water and sponges and offered to pour cold water on my head. I wasn’t sure, but she enthusiastically mentioned it would feel great. I agreed and the cold drops of water on my head felt so relieving. So, I learned to accept help from strangers. I somehow believe these people knew from prior experience how tough is to run 26 miles and were there to make it more bearable. Some day I plan to volunteer and help those in need, to pay back their kindness.

There is a long stretch on mile 24 where there are only residential houses, and nobody was outside. All runners were walking here, myself included. Therefore, it’s important to have others encouraging us. My voice was now telling me how disappointed it was that I had run/walked entire race except now. My perfect race was no more. I wish I could say I talked myself out of this negative talk, but I did not. Now, looking back, I understand that it was my first marathon, and that reaction was normal. Perfection is a mirage.

Reaching mile 25 gave me a new boost of energy, I went back to my 3/1 pace at a much slower pace than when I started. But no matter, barring a last minute extremely rare occurrence, I was on my way to finishing this beast. This race had felt at times like a Dragon whom I was afraid to face. I won’t say I killed the beast, but I can say it was at least a draw! But most importantly, I lived to fight another day. As I crossed the finish line, I had a mix of relief, pride, and disorientation! Veteran marathon runners say there is nothing like your first marathon, so I remembered that and tried to enjoy the whole experience: hearing my name being called out loud, seeing my family at the finish line, seeing the photographers taking my finish line photo, feeling the medal placed around my neck. This time, it was not a mistake. I had earned it with all the early morning wakeups, all the training runs, all the missed personal events. It had been all worth it.

My family with their inspirational signs!

Some people say, “run your race”. This is true but also misleading. Yes, you cannot compare yourself to others and must stay true to what works for you. But also, it is so very difficult to run a marathon alone. I noticed that at the end of the race, there were lots of people running in pairs. I didn’t pay attention to it until now. They must have been motivating each other. Sometimes we all need that external voice, giving you their perspective. And other times it’s easier to be strong for others than for yourself. I was self-motivating and fell short many times.

A marathon is like life. Good and bad moments will come and go, and your mind will try to tell you which are which. You decide. Sometimes you must run alone, and sometimes with others. Be intentional. Signs and peanut butter cups will be around when you most need them. Use them. Find small nuggets of joy among difficulties. As for myself, the person who started the marathon is not the same who finished. I gained a more profound understanding of myself, and for that I’m glad to have gone through the experience. Will I do it again? Never say never. I would recommend everyone to do something that seems impossible to the current you, something that excites, challenges, and frightens you. There, you will find the “undiscovered you”.

Crossing the Finish Line!

2 thoughts on “Marathon”

  1. Wow! What a remarkable story of your first marathon race! Thank you for your vulnerability as you describe the grueling process of such as daunting task. Personally, I only know a couple of people who have ran and completed a marathon. I will borrow the lessons you learned throughout this experience and put them into action in my life. It was an honor to have witnessed your transformation. Keep going and inspiring me to be the very best I can be! You did it, René! You did it!


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