Guest post by julibean14
This weekend I ran my first full marathon. It was awful, and I loved it. I’ve never considered myself to be a runner. There are rules to being a “real” runner. You have to run long distances. You have to love running and “go crazy” without it. You have to be healthy, thin, and fit. You have to poop in weird places. You have to be fast, or at least not slow (jogger). You have to have mangled your feet and/or lost toenails, you have to have a strict training plan and never stray from it. You have to have an even stricter diet and never falter. You have to…You need to… You must…
I was asked to write a race report about the “my first marathon experience”, but I don’t actually know what goes in a race report. Last year I ran some 5Ks, a couple of 10Ks, and finished 2 half-marathons, but I still didn’t feel like a “real” runner. I was (am) fat. I’ve never pooped myself while running or stopped to poop in the woods. I’ve never lost a toenail, and, with the exception of some laziness regarding cuticle care, my feet are in pretty good shape. I love food and don’t restrict what I eat. I often hate running, and I have skipped many training days due to real or made up excuses. Running is NOT my coping mechanism. I wish it was. I’d probably like it a lot better and be better at it. I still get winded climbing a flight of stairs or walking quickly. Two years ago, I could barely run two miles without thinking I was dying. During Air Force basic training, when I should have been in peak fitness, I barely passed my run, and I continued to struggle with running throughout the rest of my military training, but this weekend, I ran a marathon.
When I talked to people about my longer races, I referred to each of them as “just a 10K” or “just a half-marathon”, because, as a fake runner, I knew that those distances weren’t really anything to be proud of (see “real” runner rules above). I belittled my own achievements because I couldn’t fathom that this fat, slow, hungry, cranky chick could fit into the any of the same groups as the bubbly runners that woke up ready to sprint across the world.
These are some of the things that drove me to register for my first full marathon. I wanted to be a “real” runner. I didn’t want to fake it anymore. I figured that, even if I was lacking in some of the other areas, if I could run a full marathon, I would be a “real” runner.
So I signed up for a full marathon to try to fit in, to try to become that person that I so wanted to be. I didn’t tell many people because I couldn’t let everyone know I was a failure when I either a). freaked out & didn’t show up to the start line, or b). couldn’t do it & didn’t finish. I knew one of those things was the only option since only “real” runner run marathons.
But guess what? I did show up, and I did finish. And I was (am) still fat and was (am) still slow. And the people that I did tell actually really believed I could do it, even when I didn’t. The boyfriend, maddeningly supportive, showed up to all of my longest races (even getting up at 4:30 am with me) and reminded me to run (harassed me) when I didn’t want to. The coach schooled me on all of the technical aspects (stride, shoes, form, stretching, planning, etc.), but also encouraged me in a way that was honest, realistic, and ridiculously motivational. And the BAWGs. Their stories of triumph and defeat, advice, encouragement, and general badassery. These ladies carried me across the finish line. I could not have made it across the finish line without the BAWGs because I would have never laced up my first pair of running shoes if it weren’t for you. You are all real badasses who have driven me, if unknowingly, to pursue fitness goals I would have never in my life even considered. This hodgepodge of badass misfits has given me the strength and encouragement to set and achieve goals far outside of my comfort zone.
How did the race go? It was really fucking hard. It was hot and humid (I left Florida for those reasons as soon as I was old enough to vote), and it opened up some things that I thought had been buried long ago. The course was absolutely beautiful, though I now understand that “hills” are based on perception (race said 1 hill, 2nd half of race would make me disagree).
I thought I had outrun my demons years ago. Turns out, they were waiting at mile 15. Being one of the slowest runners there means that many of the spectators and volunteers were gone by the time I reached those checkpoints. During one of the longer stretches without seeing people, I literally thought, “They’ve all abandoned me, just like everyone else in my life.” The only reason I wasn’t ugly crying through most of the 2nd half of the race was because I knew the salt and water lost in tears were too precious to waste during such exertion. I met/ran into some amazing people, though, including a BAWG I’d like to elect as a cheerleader for being so encouraging, and another I’d like to elect as honorary unicorn for magically showing up when most needed and giving me the power to finish.
Because I did finish. And at the end, I shed those ugly tears in snot-snorting sobs that I hadn’t experienced since completing basic training so many years ago. Totally freaked the boyfriend out, who had only seen me sort of cry once before (I’m much more into bottling feelings up and crushing them with whiskey/wine bottles than having them snot all over my face), but he gave me bacon and a hug, and that seemed to help immensely.
Now that I’m a marathoner, I get to offer unsolicited race advice, right? Here’s mine: cooling towels are the shit, especially if you’re heat sensitive like me. The hype on the box was legit. Learn your body. The only reason I was able to finish was because I could tell by my mood/feeling/mild hallucinations that I was low on salt (happy fun hallucinations) or sugar (cranky hallucinations). Your mood/feeling/mild hallucinations may be different than mine, though, so pay attention to what your body needs. Be prepared for shit to get weird. That thing from 3rd grade you thought you forgot about? It’s waiting for you just beyond the aide station at mile 15. 6th grade insecurities? They’re just going to pop on by at mile 17. Hello, mile 21, where you face issues you didn’t even know you had. Based on the amount of shit I worked through in this race, I’m debating submitting it to my flex spending plan in the mental health category. Also, stretch! Stretch all the things. Because stairs are the enemy if you don’t.
So, I’m a real runner now, right? Because I still don’t feel like one. Because a “real” runner would have finished much more quickly. A real runner would have had a rock-solid recovery plan. A real runner would…
Guess what? Right now, I don’t give a fuck what a real runner would do. I put one foot in front of the other one, and I crossed that fucking finish line. And then I signed up for another race.