Less than two years ago I wrote Why I Ran a Marathon, Qualified For Boston, and May Never Run Again. I detailed the 16 weeks I trained for my second marathon, where it looked like I was having a blast—but secretly every step was a struggle.
I wanted to run fast. I pushed my body past its limits and wouldn’t admit that it made me hate the sport. When race day finally came, I ended up toeing the line already exhausted. My body led me to the finish line with a Boston qualifying time, but I only felt defeated.
So when I signed up for the New York City marathon a year later, I was met with raised eyebrows. “I thought you were done with marathons?” people would ask.
It’s a hard question to answer. As awful and tiring as marathons can be, there is something addictive and wildly beautiful about them. New York City holds the largest marathon in the world, and it’s hard to gain entry. When the registration email came, I felt like this could be my last chance to run the city, and I was hopeful (yet secretly hesitant).
Part of me said I would approach training differently: I wouldn’t care so much about time and I would listen to my body. Of course, there was still that nagging voice in the back of my head that was hoping for a PR (personal record), another Boston qualifying time, and maybe even six-pack abs.
My default answer became: “Not many people get the chance to run the largest marathon in the world! Plus, I’m doing it just for fun.” Then I had to promise myself I was being sincere.
The First Four Weeks of Training
I stared at a blank Excel sheet with the cursor softly blinking, coercing me to fill in its spaces with long runs, workouts, and rest days.
I ended up leaving the spaces blank. I wrote that I wasn’t really following a training plan at all, and instead was going to listen to my body while making sure I was getting in enough mileage. (Editor’s Note: For both new and seasoned marathoners, it’s a good idea to consult an expert and plan accordingly.)
Instead of being a slave to a training plan, I was more in tune with my body.
Instead of being a slave to a training plan, I was more in tune with my body. Of course, I still worked hard—I spent many Friday nights going on long runs through Manhattan, waking up with the sun to get fartleks in before work, and doing strength training too. But the small shift in mental attitude made all the difference. I was running for me, so I had to listen to what I needed.
An Injury and a Trip
Then one morning—roughly five weeks into my training—I stepped out of bed, and a searing pain shot through my foot. I was diagnosed with a ruptured tendon and Morton’s neuroma. My doctor told me not to run for a month and to reconsider the marathon.
I wasn’t ready to give up. I cross-trained religiously, finding myself in the pool, on the bike, and in the weight room most evenings. At this point, I had made up my mind: I was going to cross that finish line.
Then I had to travel to rural Nepal for three weeks for work. With no swimming pools or cardio machines, I stuck to hiking the three miles up to our office most mornings. I definitely didn’t train as much as I had hoped, but I also tried not to blame myself. I was injured and thousands of miles from my gym. What could I do?
To Run or Not to Run
I returned home three weeks before the race. I was cleared to run by my doctor, but afraid to see if I was in good enough shape to run 26.2 miles. To make matters worse, I went through an unexpected breakup, so instead of lacing up my sneakers, I could barely get myself out the door.
Maybe this marathon wasn’t for me. I was tired of fighting through injury, travel, and heartbreak. I considered signing up for a different race in the winter or just retiring from distance running altogether.
I ended up giving myself an ultimatum: If I could finish an 18-mile training run, I could probably finish the marathon.
Two weeks before the marathon, my 18 miles were a success and helped me realize how grateful I was for a body that allowed me to (safely) clock in that distance. I decided I would go for the marathon, and whether I finished or not didn’t matter. I just wanted to try.
The cannons roared, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” started blasting, and all 50,000-plus runners began their journey over the Verrazano Bridge, the start of the New York City marathon. Despite my shift in attitude (just have fun! Be safe!), I was petrified of not finishing and scared of the pain I was about to endure.
I told myself to go slowly, but the adrenaline and crowds pushed me. My first two miles were under eight minutes, and then I locked into a rhythm, running about 8:15 per mile.
I found my family and friends at mile 12. I shot them a huge smile before crossing the halfway point in 1:48 and making my way toward the infamous Queensborough Bridge. The bridge is known for being long, quiet, and dark. It was an uphill battle—and by the time I reached mile 15, my body really started to hurt. But this is also when I made the most important mental shift of the entire journey. I told myself it was okay to slow down.
I dropped my pace to nine-minute miles, and eventually 10. Before I knew it, we reached the 20-mile mark, and I was shocked. The race had gone by so quickly, and I still hadn’t hit “the wall.” In fact, I felt pretty great.
Instead of speeding back up and entering that dark place most marathoners do, I decided to relax and see if I could enjoy the end of the race. I was definitely tired and in a good deal of pain, but I wasn’t in agony. In fact, I was still smiling.
I crossed the line at 3:48. It was my slowest marathon to date, but it was also my proudest. Instead of obsessing over numbers, I made sure I never lost sight of why I run in the first place: because it’s empowering, freeing, and a ton of fun.