November 4, 2018. I ran the New York City Marathon.
WHAT!? I RAN A FREAKIN’ MARATHON!?
This was, by far, the biggest surprise of 2018 for me. Maybe one of the biggest shocks of my life! It was never something I thought I’d do. I still can’t believe I can say those words: “I ran a marathon.” I can’t believe it’s me in those pictures.
In high school I did whatever I could to get out of running a mile. Seriously. Sickness, music lessons, appointments, make up tests… you name it, I’m sure I thought of the excuse! Running made me so aware of my lack of athletic ability. I felt weak and slow and uncoordinated. I felt like running was an activity reserved for those on sports teams.
The only time I ran willingly was alone in my parents’ bedroom on their treadmill. This was another part of the problem. I associated running with calorie-control, and that was it. Just like so many young women in high school – especially as a dancer – I had a very unhealthy body image and an even worse relationship with food. So running was my means of punishing myself if I ate the cookie my mom packed me with lunch, or if I ate a real dinner instead of just a bowl of cereal or a salad. You can see how I developed such a strong hatred of running.
In college, my friend Baili would run for miles! I didn’t understand it! She wasn’t on a sports team. But she trained for races – for fun. What?! I used to try to go meet her to run one of her many miles with her. I can’t say I made a habit of it. Our other friend Brandon tried to get me to run a 5K with him at some point freshman year. I think I may have made it halfway.
Flash forward to 2014. I was living in NYC, in a horrible, little apartment with no heat or hot water. There were rats outside, mice inside, and I couldn’t stand up straight in my bedroom because the ceiling was so low. It also SNOWED. IN. MY. BEDROOM. I won’t tell you how much I was paying for this horrendous Lower East Side apartment. I also won’t tell you about the cult downstairs…
I will say that my time there was some of the darkest of my life. I was heartbroken, cold, and broke. So, much to my own surprise, I found myself jogging along the East River as a means of getting out of my apartment. It was one of the only free activities in NYC, and it got me out of my dark, low-ceiling room. It also gave me some sense of satisfaction to walk around my office for the rest of the day and think to myself ” at least I could outrun you” or “I am stronger than you think I am” whenever someone was rude to me.
I spent almost a year in New York. It wasn’t a complete waste of time. I made some amazing friends. I learned exactly what I could endure, and also what I shouldn’t have to. I increased my caffeine tolerance. I found my favorite places for bagels, cupcakes, and late-night pizza. I learned how to walk fast and straight-faced. I can navigate the subways without a map. But, ultimately, I left New York, defeated, tired, and broken (literally – long story).
2015. I had moved to Boston and was working – as I still am – at EF Education First. I was rediscovering my confidence and was realizing that I could enjoy being at work! I had joined EF’s running club — not because I was any better at running. I still wasn’t fast or consistent, but it was a good way to meet some amazing people in my new city and it kept me busy. And I recognized that running saved me in NYC.
I started to surprise myself with it. I joined the unofficial EF team for their annual Ragnar Reach the Beach race. I ran 7 miles with a colleague (and friend) in San Francisco just to see the Golden Gate Bridge during our work trip. Then, last year, I completed a life goal by running my first half marathon with my friend and roommate (and co-worker) Ali! I felt inspired by my co-workers, who were not necessarily athletes, but who committed to their workout regiments for their own health and enjoyment! There were so many stories of people who had turned their lives around with fitness. Those same people made running and working out feel accessible. For the first time in my life, I felt invited to this previously-exclusive-club reserved for the naturally thin or the athletically gifted. Somewhere along the way, I found that running was no longer just a means of losing weight or escaping. It made me feel strong and confident.
I still had no intention of running further than my half marathon, but when EF gave me the opportunity to run NYC with their non-profit organization, Kids First, it felt like everything was coming full circle. I would go back to NYC and this time I would conquer it! (Ironically, Brandon – my friend from freshman year – was running it too! Really full circle.)
I never gave myself the time or space to consider not finishing. I’m not saying it was easy. In fact, it was pretty miserable most of the time. I was either hungry or nauseous all the time. It took time away from my other activities. My usually-full social calendar felt too daunting, so I ended up spending too much time in my own head. I had to limit what I was eating and drinking. I kept up training during the hottest days of summer and whenever I traveled for work. Check out my Instagram story for proof!
But I had to do it. I never thought about not doing it – or about what would happen if I didn’t finish. I would finish. I had to. I find that’s how most goals have to work – without any space for doubt.
I don’t know if I ever need to run another marathon. I think I probably won’t. But knowing that I CAN has changed the way I look at everything in life that seems challenging. I know what perseverance and discipline feel like. I know not to question something that I want, but to go for it – without any room for doubt. And I learned not to define myself by my past. By labeling myself as “not an athlete,” I was only limiting myself. I was boxing myself in, keeping myself from achieving bigger goals and discovering something new about myself.
It is an important lesson to learn – to be with yourself now, to acknowledge where you are – not where you used to be, and not by some standard that may have been given to you years ago by someone who doesn’t matter.
Check in with yourself every day. Allow yourself to grow and change. Don’t let previous you to hold current you back from potential future you!