26.2 miles are a long distance when you are on foot. There are plenty of miles (and inches and yards) to reflect, to hope, to dream and even to cry. Sometimes you learn a lesson or two about yourself. But other times, you learn a lesson that you realize later – is about so much more.
Crossing the Marine Corps Marathon start line was perhaps the most anti-climactic beginning to a race that I’ve ever run. Granted, I had been standing still under a light drizzle on the other side of the security checkpoint until just moments before hitting “start” on my watch – unlike most race mornings where I would have been camped out at the Brooks VIP bathrooms. Because yes, I am one of those people who go in and out of these trailer-made porta potties as many times as I can before joining my corral. But something about this October day was different.
I knew that I had no idea what to expect for this, my fifth attempt at 26.2. I’d actually considered not even showing up on race day thanks to a less than stellar end of training season that looked a recovery period than an extended taper. But I’d decided that I needed to show up. And try. Give in instead of give up.
Normally, I am the queen of saying that I have no expectations. Except that hidden behind what I say outloud are a stash of secret goals. But on this day, I really meant it when I said that my only hope was feeling proud of my accomplishment when my tired feet crossed the finish line.
I could go into all sorts of marathon recap details. But the point here is that what happened had very little to do with the marathon. Everything that happened around me and to me was because of an intention. A promise. A moment.
Finding happiness during a marathon (of all places)
At some point in the first few miles, my head received a message from my body. I was not really sure what it meant at first. My legs felt stronger than I’d expected. My energy full. But I was determined not to push too hard, knowing I still had a long way to go. As a chilly drops of rain moved out of the city, replaced with sunlight reflecting off the bold reds and oranges of the season – I realized what it all meant. I made a decision that no matter what happened, I would choose ME. And better yet? I would stay positive. Something that isn’t always easy during a marathon. Something I’m not sure I’ve ever completely done successfully.
And then it happened. Instead of noticing the knee pain that was beginning to make itself known, I noticed the city that I’ve grown to call home. I noticed the shadows over the Potomac River as I crossed the Key Bridge. I noticed the contrasting clouds over the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin. I noticed the bold red leaves, bright blue sky and proud Washington Monument. I even stopped to take pictures –during a marathon that at best was already going to take me over five hours.
And on the hardest part of the course – the one that last year was where I watched my energy deflate, like a day old balloon? Instead of hitting the proverbial marathon “wall,” I smiled. And laughed. And smiled some more. I may have even sung out loud.
I recently heard life coach Martha Beck say that she transformed her life by using the “you are getting warmer versus you are getting colder” philosophy to find happiness. By continuing to move towards the things that made her happy – aka the “warm” – she found a powerful source to be deeply happy.
Yes, I happened to find my “getting warmer” moment while running a marathon. But this isn’t just about running. You don’t have to be a runner to make this choice. Choosing gratitude, to smile and to stay positive is transformational. Instead of feeding of the negative emotions that come from judgement or anxiety, my body and my muscles thrived when I allowed myself to see beauty. And then? I savored it.
I get it. Some situations are painful. Some feel impossible. Others appear void of any beauty. Normally, I’d let myself be swayed by those moments at least temporarily. But what I realized as I ran those miles was that I could mute those feelings by overpowering them with awareness and joy.
Last year, I cried tears of desperation when the Marine put a medal around my neck – unable to feel any pride in the accomplishment of finishing. I’d been so focused on one time based goal, that I was incapable of any joy from the day. But this year? My smile felt like a beam of light when I approached the young Marine. (Honestly, I kind of wanted to hug him. Or do a little dance. Or maybe both). Instead of wiping my eyes in shame, I thanked him for his service (and asked him for a picture).
Of course, old habits die hard. Did I wonder what would have happened if I’d listened to my body and pushed myself a bit more? Yes.
Did I contemplate another marathon attempt a few weeks later (like my redemption marathon attempt last year) thinking that maybe just maybe I could get in a few more training runs and actually hit the goal that I’d been chasing going into this season? Yup. I did.
Because in the end, I am a person that has always thrived on setting goals and achieving them. But this marathon reminded to just be grateful. To accept the experience for what it was.
I’d be lying if I said that since the marathon, I was now able to choose “the getting warmer” moments in every moment of every day. I’ve slipped. Even fallen here and there.
But if gratitude and loving-kindness can work to get me through a slow 5 hours and 27 minute marathon – I figure it is worth a shot in the day-to-day stuff too. Right?