my marathon

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oh my goodness, i have so much to say about my marathon experience. my journey to those last 26.2 miles was so wild – really full of angst and learning. but in the end, it was full of triumph and glory.
(there’s so much i don’t want to forget about this experience, so i’m including a lot of details in this post just for my own record keeping. definitely feel free to skim, haha!!)

i’ve just had this life goal to run a marathon floating around in my mind and heart for as along as i can remember. my desire to achieve this accomplishment started to really grow about the time we moved to london, and eventually ian and i decided together that after he completed the three rounds of the cfa exam and when it made sense with the ages of our kids, i’d start training. we looked up all the big marathons in europe, and found just three that were on a saturday instead of a sunday (i personally didn’t want to run a marathon on what i honor as the sabbath day, but that’s totally just me – zero shade on anyone who does!). ian and i visited stockholm when we were newly married (before we moved to london) and loved it, so we decided on the stockholm marathon! and for several years i looked forward to smashing my big life goal on 1 june 2019 in sweden.

i ran a 10k last october to kick off my training and felt so excited as i registered for the stockholm marathon on the day registration opened. my really serious training started at the beginning of the year, and at first it was fantastic. i loved the built-in reason to have alone time and exercise time and running cleared my head. i adored running around different neighborhoods in london and also around other places in our travels. my first ten mile run was so exhilarating – my pace was getting faster and i was feeling so pumped to slay the 26.2.

but then, i started having knee issues. i learned a lot about the IT band muscle and tried all kinds of stretches and strengthening exercises. the pain and discomfort kicked whenever i ran over eight or so miles, but it was hard to track – feeling slightly different each time, sometimes in both knees, sometimes in the right and sometimes in the left. i had to stop running completely for a week or so several times, and that made me so stressed out that i wouldn’t have enough mileage logged in my body to complete the marathon when it came around. i asked for advice from so many people, and tried to fit all the extra maintenance for my joints into my schedule that was already stuffed given all the miles to run on top of two small children that nearly constantly needed me. when we got back from dominican republic at the end of april, i set out on an 18 miler and had to stop at mile 11, my knees simply refusing to go on without scary amounts of pain. i remember sitting in the bath that afternoon, letting the tears stream down my face, feeling utterly defeated.

it really does seem like a dumb thing to cry about, but this goal just felt so deep and layered to me. it meant something to me like nothing had before, and so much work – not just from my body but from my whole life – went into it. i wanted to finish the 2019 stockholm marathon so, so badly. and so i kept getting advice and trying different things, and running … and hoping and praying. there’s five trillion things more important in this world than me running that race, and i admit i got consumed by this goal to a point that i do regret a bit, but it was big and real for me. ian was incredibly supportive as i carried on with my eyes set on 1 june.

in the midst of all this, moses had surgery and ian resigned from his job. we traveled around europe and across the ocean. our boys became even more active and needy in new ways. the rest of life besides training for a marathon was incredibly full. phew, i was exhausted pretty much all the time!

my most-hurting-at-this-point knee started feeling a lot better after i met with a physical therapist a few times. about ten days before the race, she suggested i do one more long run to get some more mileage in my legs to allow for the endurance i would need for 26.2. i ran 17 miles and felt achey but able and was sooo pumped about that. and then almost immediately after that run, the pain became the worst it had ever been. noooo! i could hardly make it ten strides. i decided to not run at all until race day and just hope for the best – that was kind of my only option! i knew going in that it was possible, even likely, that i wouldn’t finish the race … but i had to at least try.

we all flew to stockholm together and my boys were the best to come with me to pick up my bib and goodie bag, and eat lots of pasta the night before the race. ian booked me a room at a nice hotel with points and took the boys to an airbnb across town. it was soooo nice to have a hotel room all to myself and i did a lot of stretching and meditating and sleeping. as i fell asleep that night, the amazing things my body has done for me flashed through my mind –  climbing mountains, traveling and experiencing so many different places, growing up dancing and waterskiing, trying to help others, growing two humans and giving birth to two beautiful boys, walking all over london on a daily basis, doing yoga, hugging and laughing and living and breathing. i felt overwhelming gratitude for my body and all it has done and can do, regardless of if it would be able to run 26.2 miles the next day. i prayed fervently that i would know clearly when to stop if i really should stop to prevent long-lasting damage on my joints.

on race day, the morning was full of jitters and prayers, gratitude and stretching. i met my three boys at the start line, feeling the intoxicating buzz of energy from the thousands of other runners that all came to this place with a goal. i left ian, moses and gabriel with a kiss and headed off to the start, totally having no idea what was going to happen in the next few hours.

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as i walked up to the start line, i felt great! my knee felt great! i thought, maybe this is going to go great! the atmosphere was electric. 20,000 people ran this race that day – people from nearly 100 different countries and a full range of ages and backgrounds. it was sooo cool to be in the middle of this huge crowd, everyone so hyped up with the culmination of so much anticipation.

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i crossed the start line and started jogging and immediately felt the sting of familiar pain. dang!! but it was more discomfort than pain i’d say, and i kind of just settled into the ache pretty quickly. a few times my knee gave out a little, sending a shock up my leg. i thought, “if i feel that ten times, i will stop.” (in the end, it happened seven times…!) after the race, when i watched a video that ian took of me around mile ten, i realized that my gait was super wonky … my body had subconsciously adjusted to the path of least resistance according to my aching knee.

the beginning of the race, despite my injury, was really exciting. i was in the middle of a sea of bouncing colour – a mass of humanity jogging together. at about mile two, there was a clear view downhill to an uphill, and seeing the road completely saturated with humans in pursuit of the same goal pumped thrill into my veins. the first five miles were exhilarating, with music in my ears and a hesitancy in my heart to accept that i knew i would finish. around mile 5, i kind of just eased into a blur … for most of the race i couldn’t really focus on the scenery or podcasts or audiobooks, i was just running. sometimes my body felt uncomfortable, but sometimes i felt like i could run forever. and i knew i just needed to keep going, one foot in front of the other.

ian and the boys managed to see me five times along the course. i know that was a lot of work for ian, especially through the crowded city in the rain, and i am so grateful. once he had gabriel strapped on his chest and moses hoisted up on one shoulder. i stopped to kiss each one of the three starting with the lowest and ending with the highest – gabriel, ian, mo. whenever i saw them, moses was yelling “GO MOM GO MOM GO MOM!” and gabriel was always smiling. the image of his dimple faced, gap-toothed smile got me through many hard moments throughout the race.

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having ditched all my time/pace goals when i realised my knee injury would very much be a part of my marathon experience, i switched my aim to simply not walking. i just wanted to run every bit of the race, even if it was a very slow run. as the miles passed, i was inspired by fellow runners. i saw several blind people running with guides, a runner with a prosthetic leg, lots of really old people and some really stout people, and one elderly asian guy running barefoot, wearing a lava-lava type outfit, carrying an american flag, and interacting with any human around him as much as possible. there were so many opportunities to watch runners spot their supporters and supporters spot their runners – sometimes just cheers and high fives, sometimes long embraces. around mile fifteen, a lot of people started walking. i was grateful for every single person i passed that was walking – it was incredibly motivating to me. i kept running. i continued to pray really fervently for wisdom – that i would know clearly if continuing to run would cause significant and/or lasting damage on my body – and i felt close to god as i tried to really, really listen to my body. there were a few miles when i thought i may need to stop. but i think i knew all along, sometimes deep down and sometimes closer to the surface, that i would finish.

around mile eighteen, it started raining. really raining, not just a sprinkle like there had been earlier in the race on and off. this coincided with the least scenic part of the route, basically through a construction zone, and me starting to feel outrageously weary. and then there was a huge hill. it was tough!

at mile nineteen, i turned a corner and saw my three boys. i was hurting, and all i could do was look at ian through tear-filled eyes and squeeze his hand as i passed by. this was the hardest part, but i knew it was a hump that i needed to conquer.

around mile twenty, i ran over a big long bridge that provided sweeping views of the colourful city. this got me over that grueling hump. my pace had slowed down by now to like an eleven and half minute mile (i usually run nine minute miles). but i was still running.

around mile twenty two, there was a huddled crowd kind of making a tunnel, maybe a few sets of supporters coming together waiting for their runners. they were cheering everyone on and as i watched people in front of me wearily jog past them stone-faced, i decided to take advantage of this set up. i ran through those spectators with my arms in the air yelling “yeah!!!!” and they responded with huge cheers. i felt alive, connected to strangers that are brothers and sisters, rejuvenated, and i knew i was going to do this. run the entire race. i was DOING IT!!!

when my phone app told me that had run 26 miles, i put away my headphones and prepared to turn into the stadium and finish in the next couple of minutes. this turned into about 15 minutes (something must have been off on my gps tracking), and every second felt looooong. i kept thinking i would see the finish line any second but didn’t and didn’t. until i did.

the finish of the stockholm marathon is in the olympic stadium (stockholm hosted the olympics in 1912). when i first turned into the stadium, my system felt totally flooded with emotion. my body was so depleted of energy that i couldn’t just sob, like my soul wanted to at the culmination of such a wild journey and the occurrence of what felt to me like a genuine miracle. so instead i think i made some really interesting grunting sounds as tears spilled down my face – haha! i felt so incredibly full of glory and gratitude. it was a totally surreal experience that gifted me the most intense brand of triumph i’ve ever experienced.

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i got my medal, and then immediately texted ian “I DID IT!!!!” the second i stopped running it felt like my whole body seized up, it was crazy! i was eager to find my boys, and when i did, i hugged my husband sooo fervently – one of the best hugs ever. tiny fireworks of emotion burst in my pores as i thought about the journey this marathon goal took my whole family on. “i did it, mo!!” i said. “good job, mommy!!!” he replied, so so excited.

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the first thing i wanted to do when i finished the race was take off my shoes!! i anticipated this so had ian bring me my sandals. i was also eager to put a cozy sweater on. we hung out at the post-race party for a while and then took some photos with the finish line.

here’s the stats from my run according to my “map my run” app. i’m not sure exactly what happened with the mile counting – a combination of running the longest side of the route in most places and the gps tracking getting a little off? i guess i can say i not only ran a marathon, but 1.29 miles past that, haha. i can’t decide if i should be embarrassed by my time because my pace was so much slower than usual, or if i should be proud of my time because i ran for four hours, fourty six minutes and fifty seven seconds without stopping!!
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phew, it was a wild journey indeed. i am so glad to have learned so much from this experience, and to have accomplished my life goal. and i’m sooo glad to not have to stress about training runs and hurt knees anymore. I DID IT!!! as i write this blog post, six weeks later, i still can’t believe it.

we spent the next couple of days in stockholm as a family. i had a pretty difficult time walking (let alone chasing after our kids) so our exploration of the city wasn’t too ambitious, ha! but you better believe i wore my medal around for a chunk of time! more pictures from stockholm coming next.

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14 comments

  1. What a beautiful story full of disappointment, perseverance and triumph!! I got teary as I read your story, it made me feel so connected to hard things I have accomplished. You should be proud of yourself! Well done!

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  2. Charity, I really felt this! I did my first ever marathon this year (the London marathon, I’m still pinching myself!) and after training my heart out, on the day I started being sick at mile 14 and had to walk huge chunks. I’d done all my long runs with no problems and I did everything the same on race day – I don’t know what happened. As a result, my time was an hour slower than I had hoped. When people ask, I feel a funny mix of mortified by my time and incredibly proud that I kept going. Marathons are strange beasts! Well done – you did the best you could in the circumstances you had, and that’s the most you can expect of yourself! X

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  3. My litmus test for whether I should be embarrassed about something is, would I tell a friend “what you did should embarrass you”? It’s a lot easier to be kind to others than ourselves. All the props for over 26 miles of running, no matter how long it takes you. (I’ll also say, when I run my 10+ per minute miles, I do a lot of personal reminding that what’s important is that I’m doing it, now how fast it’s happening.)

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  4. I’m literally crying. What an amazing story! Congratulations! I have never run a marathon and truthfully am way too lazy to ever do the training required! But I love watching them and find them so inspirational. Well done!

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  5. This totally made me cry! I am so happy for you that you were able to accomplish such an important goal and dream, even through hardship and pain. What a wonderful feeling! I used to be a runner and miss it so much, but I just gave birth to my seventh child a month ago and am wondering if I can ever find my strength and stamina again! Motherhood feels like my personal marathon right now, and I love it SO much but it is the hardest thing I have ever done! The worst part is how badly I long to be in shape again when I know I should be grateful I was blessed to bring another healthy child into the world, even though each child has come at a cost to my health and appearance! Anyway, those are the thoughts of an overwhelmed, sleep-deprived mom who misses her days of long runs! Thank you for sharing it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly! You should be so proud of yourself!

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