Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What are we all capable of?

[I wrote this blog entry on the plane back from Kansas City after the marathon.  I actually wrote this before I wrote my race recap.  It was what felt like coming out of my fingers and onto the keyboard as I was still coming down from the adrenaline of the race.  Thanks for being here and reading!]

When I was a senior in college, for a small period of time, while I was interviewing for my job in Albany, NY,  two of my very best friends, Teenie and Meaggie, were also looking at opportunities in the same city. For a few short weeks, I was thinking fondly of living with my best friends and exploring a new place and new stage in our lives together.  It was an exciting thought, but short lived as the girls eventually both took other roads that led them to other places.  And I set off on my own adventure and moved to Albany right after graduation without knowing a single other person there.

And although this may seem like a weird memory to reflect back on after my marathon, let me explain a little more.  Sometimes, I wonder about how much things in life can be different with the change of one or two simple things.

For example, I think about how different my life would have been had I moved to Albany with two of my best friends, rather than completely on my own. What would it have been like?

Would I have tried as hard to get involved in the different activities that I did in Albany? Would I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone as much as I did?  Working HARD to make new friends and build myself a social scene there? Would I have met some of the people that I now call incredible friends?  Would I have had the wonderful, self-explorative, fun six years there that I did have there?  Would I have started waking up at 5am to meet people I didn't know that well to run?

It can be pointless to think about the “what if’s?” and the what “could have” been at times, especially in the face of tragedy or hardship -- which is when they usually creep up.  What if I hadn’t made that one stupid comment?  Would it have made a difference in my relationship? What if I hadn’t decided to take a different route to work today? Would that car accident have ever happened?

In many situations, thinking about the “what if’s” can lead you down a spiral of pain and explanations that can't be found.

However, I like to sit and think about the "what if's" following positive things that have happened, like moving to a new city on my own. If I had moved to Albany with two best friends, I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard to get out and meet people. People who ended up being incredible friends and who introduced me to new hobbies and interests. It's a lesson I need to keep reminding myself as I get settled here in Atlanta.

And recently, I had someone who has become an incredibly special person in my life say to me, “I have never felt so lucky that I sat next to you at that wedding.”  Which, again, made me think about how the smallest decisions or the littlest choices or coincidences, can have a profound impact on your life.

And now, after marathon #2, I feel that way again about how I got started with running longer distances. About how I ended up making the decisions that have let me to pushing myself and running further and farther.

Last October I ran the Hudson Mohawk Marathon as part of a makeshift relay race with my friends. That marathon weaves throughout Schenectady and Albany, NY, over the bike path that my friends and I ran in the mornings and the path that I used to run on my own in Albany. Two friends had originally signed up to run the race, but weren’t able to train, and the week before, we decided to use their bibs and pass them from one runner to another as an unofficial relay. We made up our own sections and transition points and I ended up getting assigned the last leg of the race. For no real reason, but that’s what someone had written my name next to.  And I ended up spending my Sunday morning running miles 21 to 26 of the Hudson Mohawk Marathon alongside many other true marathon finishers.

It was an amazing and inspiring experience running alongside runners who were in the final leg of their Everest. It was more than 4 hours into the race when I was running, so these were runners like me. Not the elites, or not even the moderately fast runners.  It was people like me.  Just your every day, average person, who made the choice to push themselves mentally and physically with the race.

And here I was, fresh on my feet running beside them. In a race without a relay portion, so they wouldn’t have known that I was new on the course.

I felt so guilty and tried to give off as much encouragement as I could, cheering them along and trying to pass out positivity.

And when I finished the race, the incredible spectators cheering for me put the heaviest weight on my heart. I didn’t deserve what they were giving me. I hadn’t run the 26.2. I wasn’t the amazing, inspiring person that their signs and faces were telling me that I was. And when the volunteers handed me a tinfoil blanket and put the medal around my neck, I took them off as quickly as possible, feeling like a cheat. I had never run a marathon and I didn’t deserve the glory that had literally been hung around my neck.

When at breakfast afterwards with my friends, and talking about what it was like to finish the race, I said to everyone for the first time out loud, “I am going to run a marathon someday. I have to now.  To make up for that race. Next year, maybe this race, or maybe another one, I will run a marathon.”

And wouldn’t you know, just a couple weeks after that race, I received an e-mail from my friend Dani, who had been there that morning when I made my declaration and had just completed her first marathon. She let me know that she had signed up for the Paris Marathon that coming April and invited me to participate. My immediate reaction was, “Ummm… I didn’t actually mean right now… Not right away… Not this spring... I can’t run a marathon!” and all of the reasons why I shouldn’t do it ran through my head: It would be hard. It would be expensive. I would have to train through the winter. I would have to fly back and forth with tired legs. And the main thing was, I just don’t know if I can actually train for and run a marathon.

However, sometimes, even when there are a million reasons not to do something, you just have to take a deep breathe, say yes, and jump in. Which is what led me to one of the most incredible, challenging, and fun experience of my life – training for and running the Paris Marathon.

I finished that marathon with such a high on life, and the night of the race, I registered for another 26.2 mile race. The Kansas City Marathon.

And you know the story from there.

It’s funny to think how the past 13 months would be different if I hadn’t decided to run with my friends in that marathon relay. What if I had gotten a different leg of the relay and not been the finishing runner? Would I have felt that guilt and sense of urgency that made me determined to run a marathon someday? Would my friend have invited me to run Paris had I not made that guilty declaration? Would I have said yes? Would I have decided to run the Kansas City half marathon instead of the full? Who knows. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s pointless to try and think through all of these things because in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

But what does matter is what I have learned from running two marathons within one year of even deciding to do one. I learned that sometimes you just need to say “Yes” and follow your gut even if there are reasons stacked against you of what could go wrong. I learned how important it is to share your passions with your friends. And by share, I literally mean share. Dani shared it with me, and I shared it with my friend Kristen.  I learned how much you bond with someone by training for a marathon.  I learned how to dress for sub zero degree runs.  I learned how to hydrate through hot runs.  I learned when to replace my sneakers and how important sleep is.  I learned what an incredible city Paris is.  And most importantly, I learned what I am capable of.

And what I am capable of -- what we are ALL capable of -- is more than we can ever imagine.

I've been having a slow few weeks on the running front, but getting the urge to register for races and fill up my calendar once again.  Cheers to setting new goals and pushing to new limits.  Happy Tuesday!

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