I’ll never forget training for my first marathon. I checked off workouts day after day. I watched my mile totals climb and my pace per mile drop. I slogged through the humid Texas summer. I panicked when I got sick and missed three days of training.
Most importantly, every day, I visualized myself crossing the finish line, triumphant. By the time race day rolled around, I felt invincible. I was trained, healthy, and had a smart pacing plan. But on that cool, deceptively humid morning, it all fell apart. By mile 23, my calves and feet were cramping something fierce. I crossed the finish, collapsed into my husband, sniveling and sputtering between jagged breaths. How did this happen?
I spent the rest of the day agonizing over how it had all gone awry. I had to rewrite my Facebook post about it four times so I wouldn’t ruin everyone’s day with my gloom. But I was more determined than ever. My next two more marathons also ended in unexpected cramping and disappointing times. But I just kept vowing to get my vengeance. It was frustrating, but as my grit increased, so did my perspective. I noticed super-speedy runners burning out and getting injured. I noticed older runners, quietly racing strong, placing in their age groups, and having fun.
I ran a lot of shorter races. Sometimes strong, sometimes not. Yet even when I totally bombed a race, I was still glowing with runner’s high.
I finally started to appreciate that I’d gotten a PB in every marathon so far. More importantly, I found strength in all the things that got me hooked on running in the first place: it clears my mind, heals my soul, inspires ideas and fills me with inexplicable joy. This was something I wanted to do for as long as my body would let me. In 2016, I hired a coach to help me focus on strength before speed. I started savoring the smaller victories—a surprisingly fast 1600 or maintaining a lower heart rate.
In November of 2016, I crossed the Philadelphia Marathon finish, completely elated. I’d finally run a strong, cramp-free race, executing my pacing perfectly. And I had a new PB. I thanked my coach, the cold Philly temperatures, and all the wisdom I’d gained over the years.
By the time I reached the 2017 Edmonton Marathon, I trusted my training in a whole new way. I knew how to make the right decision at every curveball. I would accept what I couldn’t control. And at some point in the race, I’d get a runner’s high.
Around mile 16, I listened to my body and changed my goals. My first goal was not to cramp. My second, not to walk. My third was to beat the 4:15 pace bunny.
I achieved all three goals, and as I approached the finish, I saw my husband. I couldn’t wait to tell him what I’d learned about myself. That I’m always going to start a race with the same goal: to crush my last PB. But I also know that every race is its own adventure and sometimes that goal changes. No matter what, it’s a PB. I crossed the line at 4:13. I crossed with the knowledge that a PB is wonderful and I’ll always love getting one—but it’s only one of the millions of reasons why I love running.