What I Learned From Running 26.2 Miles

On September 11th, 2016, I took my mark in Allentown and ran all the way to Easton to complete my first full marathon. For those of you who don’t know, a full marathon is a 26.2 mile run. I had run 2 official half marathons before and wanted to check the BIG one off my bucket list. I knew it was not going to be easy. I knew that I would have to dedicate countless hours of my life to training and sacrifice things like going out with my friends and sleeping in. But I also knew that finishing the race would be totally worth it. Training for a marathon gave me a better understanding of who I am and what I’m made of. I am a different person today than I was 5 months ago when I signed up for the Via Marathon and I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world.

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What I learned:

It takes a special breed of human to run a marathon. When I was 14 years old, I watched my dad finish his first Ironman triathlon. An ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run. Since then, I’ve been working my way towards these distances so that someday, I will be an Ironman too. Not everyone can be an Ironman, just like not everyone can run a marathon. Us marathon runners are a bad ass group of highly motivated and self-disciplined humans that can conquer anything. I learned to love endurance sports so much that “you’re crazy” has become one of my favorite compliments.

Even when you think you’ve given everything you’ve got, you still have more to give. Running has taught me to go beyond my bounds. When my legs are begging me to stop at mile 16 and my brain is telling me that I can’t keep going, there is something inside that keeps putting one foot in front of the other. My longest training run preceding the marathon was 18 miles and I was absolutely exhausted. I couldn’t wrap my head around how I would be able to do that, plus 8.2 more miles, but I did. And the best part about it? I finished my race with a smile on my face and didn’t even collapse at end!! I felt limitless.

Time doesn’t matter, a mile is still a mile no matter what pace. I held a 12 minute 35 second pace per mile for the duration of 26.2 miles. I realize that this is not fast. I was not in contention for a Boston Marathon qualifying time or an age group award. All I wanted to do was finish the race. I’ve always been hard on myself for not being able to keep up with other runners my age, but I am slowly starting to accept the fact that a 12:35 minute mile is still a mile. I completed a distance that most people will never even attempt and that in itself is a huge accomplishment. It’s been 3 weeks since my marathon and people are still congratulating me. If they are proud of me, I should be proud of myself too.

Having a support system makes all the difference. The entire Lehigh University Rowing Team participated in either the half or full marathon. Those who could not run completed the half distance on an erg (rowing machine). I was the slowest person on the team to attempt the full marathon so once everyone had finished their race, they hung around for about another 2 hours to see me finish. As I turned the corner at mile 26, teammates came running towards me from what seemed like every direction and ran with me across the line. Those who didn’t run me in were screaming from the sidelines. I had never felt so loved in my life. The announcer even said, “And here comes Laura Parks! She’s got a whole team finishing with her!” After receiving my medal, I was swarmed with hugs and high fives. I honestly believe the only reason I didn’t cry was because my body had run out of salt. Knowing I had a team of awesome people waiting for me at the end made all the pain worth it.

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Running a marathon is no easy task. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today had I not decided to take on the challenge that is running 26.2 miles. I definitely see more marathons in my future and I can’t wait to see how many more lessons running has in store for me.

 

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