How I Feel About Marathons Now

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Six months ago almost to the day, I ran my 50th and maybe/probably final marathon. I say “maybe” because nothing in my life has gone as I planned, so I don’t want to discount the (remote) possibility that I could run another one again under certain circumstances. Since that time, I’ve participated in four events that had a marathon or longer as an option: the Reggae Half Marathon, Fowlmead 12-hour Challenge, Brighton 10k, and Flying Pig Half Marathon.

At each of those starting lines, and even in the days and hours leading up to the race, I’ve felt a slew of very mixed and conflicting emotions. In every single case, I’ve debated whether I have it in me to run the full marathon or not. I mean, part of me really misses the full marathon. I say that the half marathon is the superior distance, and for the most part, I mean it – but the full is something special. The sense of accomplishment I have felt when I cross the finish line is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Even when I cross in pain, angry, and frustrated, which has happened on more than one occasion, I’ve always been proud. 26.2 freaking miles is nothing to sneeze at.

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You may have seen this meme on Facebook. That’s me at the 2012 Baton Rouge Beach Marathon, where I started projectile vomiting at mile 8. In the picture, I’m trying to force fluids down and Amanda is not actually in the porta potty, so I think this meme is hilarious. Also, a great example of a race where I should have done the half instead of the full. Still my Personal Worst.

And so I hem and haw about how maybe, just maybe I can do it. Maybe I could run the full. Realistically, I could finish a full marathon right now. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would be possible, and the problem is that deep down, I know that. Old habits die hard and it’s been challenging to let this one go – especially when I’m standing at the starting line.

Then the race starts and the crowd gets into my blood. Those moments are tough, too. Especially when I’m running with friends. At mile 4, I’m thinking “I could do this all day. Why aren’t I doing the full again? Maybe I’ll just do the full.” Depending on when the half marathon split is, I’m either feeling a little sad as I turn off or really happy. If it’s at mile 12, my back is probably already starting to ache just slightly, and I start to remember how much farther another 14.2 miles would be. “YES, I get to turn here!” I think as I wave goodbye to my friends. If it’s at mile 3, I’m more likely to be thinking about all the fun I’m going to miss along the rest of the course.

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One of my favorite running pictures of all time – me and Amanda at the 2012 Route 66 Marathon. With ridiculously photogenic running guy in the background. This is going to be the hardest race for me to let go of.

As I cross the finish line, though, the feeling is always the same – happy, proud, and relieved. I’m proud of myself not only for finishing the race, but also for making what I know unequivocally is the best for the long term health of my back. Yes, I could probably run one more marathon, or five. But honestly, given the inevitable results, that would be an exercise in vanity and, knowing how my back feels around mile 18, it wouldn’t be very much fun.

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I was extremely excited to be doing the half marathon in Jamaica instead of the full because it was 1000 degrees.

I guess this is one example of “listening to your body” and doing what it needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s one thing to tell yourself to take a rest day because your knee is achy, but it’s another thing entirely to change your goals and make the right decision for yourself every single day. At the start line, I can admittedly be pretty grumpy about that decision. I’m just glad I can run and race at all and find that same power and strength at the finish line. A medal is a medal, after all.

Have you ever had to make a difficult decision that you continued to have mixed feelings about?

28 thoughts on “How I Feel About Marathons Now

  1. Ahhh, love that feeling when you walk into the ocean at the end of the Jamaica Half, it’s such an awesome race and experience, especially starting in the dark with those candles lighting your path – would love to meet up at a race some day (maybe with Lisa J in tow too!). Wish I had known you were doing the Brighton 10K as I live down the road and do the half every year! We’re hoping to do the Barbados Half in December for Women’s Running and Men’s Running here in the UK, have you done this one? My last marathon was terrible, walked the last six miles, like you my body can’t cope (kidney disease) but I keep trying and hoping. What about triathlons, I taught myself to put my head in the water aged 42, just got first place in my age group and 9th woman at a local triathlon on Sunday, it can be done! All aged 45 (http://shewhodaresruns.com/why-you-should-try-a-tri/). New challenges, new adventures, new skills! I love the half too, both 10 miles and the half are so much easier to train for and get better times at, so much less to go wrong on the day. I hope there are many more happy halfs in you, it’s all about training our minds to accept our changing lives 🙂

    1. OMG~ I had no idea that a) you lived so close to Brighton and b) you know Lisa?! That is so cool! I wish we had been able to meet up! I have not done the Barbados Half yet but I will see if I can work something out for this year! I’m not sure if I will be going back to Jamaica for the race again (it is the same weekend) but if not – that would be awesome!

      I did a triathlon several years ago and was actually supposed to do a half ironman a couple of weeks after I ended up needing to get stomach surgery (obviously, I did not do the half iron!). I love cycling and running, but I positively loathe swimming and it is a hurdle I have not been able to get over when it comes to prepping for another triathlon. It’s not even that I’m not good at swimming – I mean, I’m slow, but capable – I just really hate the workout itself. There’s so many other things that I enjoy doing that I just can’t bring myself to spend time in the pool. Now, duathlons on the other hand…that I should probably look into!

  2. Listening to your body is the best thing you can ever do for yourself. I think you are being smart Danielle and as much as it’s not optimal you are making smart choices. I do think one day, you’ll be able to return to marathons or a marathon again. I’m so glad you are able to run though.

    You still have NJ on your bucket list right? There are dozens of good halves (all of the fulls stink though TBH…)

    1. You’ve been an inspiration in this area, Hollie! You do a really great job of listening to your body and I respect that so much. I know that I am doing the right thing, but it is hard sometimes because I really do miss it.

      Yes, NJ is still on my bucket list! We are hoping for next year!

  3. It can be so hard to listen to your body, especially for you because your body is kind of forcing the decision. I feel for you because runners struggle with wanting to do more or, at least, what they have been doing and for you that has been the marathon. However, as you said in the beginning, you never know what life will bring and it rarely goes as planned. That said – can I interest you in a triathlon? 🙂

    1. As much as I love running and cycling, swimming is just…the worst. I hate it so, so much. I just can’t convince myself to spend precious time in the pool when I could be doing something else that I actually enjoy! Now, a duathlon…that is a possibility!

  4. I think this is how I felt for a long time about my architecture career. I loved it, but I never felt totally at ease with parts of it. But it kept calling me back. I think that getting rid of my notes but keeping reminders of it was my sign that I moved on. I think I will feel the same way about the marathon as you, likely sooner than later. I want to give it one more try (particularly at a little race called Boston) but I don’t think that it will ever not call my name (you little minx).

    1. Yes, you’re probably right! It will probably always call my name because honestly, they were fun for a long time and something I enjoyed. But it’s easy to romanticize the past and what might have been, when the reality is far different. It’s hard to remember that, though!

  5. I definitely think you’re being smart by not running marathons. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If it would set you back and keep you from running at all, then it really wouldn’t be smart or bring you joy. Regardless of time, if you can’t finish a race uninjured and smiling, it’s really not a good idea for your body or soul. You are still an amazing person and runner. No race distance or time defines any runner.

    As far as the miles go… as someone who has run many half marathons, one marathon, and tons and tons of 5Ks… I don’t think any distance is really easier so much. The last 1/3 of a race hurts no matter what the distance is and you’re just ready for it to be over with. I experienced that in my last 5K, and honestly i was more ready to be done than when I ran my last half.

    1. This is what I was going to write. I completely agree with you, Amy.

      But I also understand that bit of sadness when people are lining up for a distance that you love. I look forward to reading even more about this journey, Danielle.

      1. Thanks, Rebekah! I am not sure where it will take me just yet, but I know I’m where I should be for now. Only time will tell!

    2. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” <---- Truth! And that's exactly what I keep trying to tell myself. I know that it would be a terrible thing for my body and honestly, probably for my mind. I suffered so much through the last few marathons that it took the joy from running away. And when I'm being honest with myself, I remember that and I know it. I just wish I was back to my "old" self when it wasn't quite so painful - that is what I reminisce about!

  6. You have done 50 marathons. My brain cannot process that. That is incredible. And, you have done them in a relatively short amount of time. That’s really really amazing!

    1. Yes, Jen! Sometimes FOMO takes over. I have one friend in particular (Patty) who I really loved running marathons with, and I hate not being able to do the whole thing with her anymore. Still, it’s for the best!

  7. I really understand how you go back and forth with your decision. But in the end, you must think why do I run? It’s for you and it’s for the love of running. Stick to the lower distances where that love can still be felt and pure enjoyment throughout the run.

    1. You’re 100% right, Anne! And that’s why, as much as I might think and hem and haw about going back to longer distances, I know I’m romanticizing it and it would not be nearly as enjoyable as half marathons are for me. Running is supposed to be fun, and for my last few marathons, it was not really fun. It’s nice to have the love of it back again!

  8. I’m certainly not done with the marathon, but I know I need to give my body some time to heal. While I’d LOVE to run a marathon this year, pending a miracle, I know I need to wait until next year. It’s not an easy choice, but it is the best choice.

    1. Yes! I definitely relate. Here’s hoping you get that “dead butt” firing again soon and can sort out your injuries sooner rather than later! I know you’ve had such a rough go of it for a while now.

  9. Jeezus, get off your lazy ass and run a freakin’ marathon! 😉 In the long run, as much as it sucks now, you really are making the best decision for you. Now, did I include half marathons in East Africa in my email? 😉

    I mucked up my shoulder and had to stop kickboxing. I’ve been working with a personal trainer and my physio gave me the all clear to return to kickboxing, but it seems like every time I start thinking about starting up again I’ll have a random day where my shoulder hurts for no reason. I miss kickboxing so much but I just don’t want to risk two weeks (at best) of not being able to use my arm.

    (Seventeen years ago, I made the rational decision to date a respectable, well-employed Swiss boy over a long-distance friend I had always had chemistry with [and had drunkenly made out with… multiple times]. I went to Germany for university to be closer to the Swiss boy, instead of Ireland where both my dad’s family and the long-distance friend lived. And when the relationship ended, as it was destined to do because I was never as attracted to him as I was to my friend, I returned to Canada. Had I been in Ireland and the relationship ended, I might have stayed because I had all my family there anyway. I started typing something that is way to personal to share in the comment section of someone else’s blog, but suffice to say that when I mopey about how my life turned out I wonder if I made the right decision all those years ago.)

    1. You’re right, I’m being SO lazy! I should just get back out there 🙂 Ah, I wish! A half-marathon in East Africa will have to suffice. Let me see if I can work that into the schedule for next year!

      I so relate to what you wrote. I think a lot of people have those “what if?” moments in their lives. I am so happy with how my life is now, but there’s definitely a couple of forks in the road that I wonder about. I’ll never know, though, so instead it’s just nice to imagine.

  10. This post hits me a bit. I remember in Maine when mid-race I dropped to the half because of a rapidly worsening knee situation. It was one thing to run a successful half marathon, but something else to see people venturing off into longer distances. It brought me all the way back to my first race ever, a 5k in 2006, where the 10k runners split off halfway — I remember thinking “DAMN, 10k … that’s so far,” subconsciously wishing I were capable of it.

    Given your thoughts on the topic, there’s a clear indication that you won’t ever be done with the marathon. You have so much life to live, that there will surely come a time where you’ll be able to master the marathon while conquering the roadblocks that keep you from it. You love the distance too much to let it go forever. I look forward to reading about that big comeback too.

    1. I do really love the distance, but my body really doesn’t. Maybe when I get my next back surgery it will be a little more comfortable (depending on what technology they end up using) but as of now, running long distances is only speeding up the degeneration. I hope I get back to it one day, but I know that’s not what is best right now. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though!

  11. After following your journey, I have been wondering how you were feeling about marathons these days. I have only done a handful to your 50, and continue to struggle with whether or not to be done. I’ve asked myself on multiple occasions if the itch will just go away at some point, or if I will have to make the hard choice. I have stayed relatively healthy, but it’s taking more and more time/energy/intentionality to recover with every race I train for. I have to wonder if it’s the best thing for me, even though it makes my heart so happy! I am so, so glad you wrote this honest post. I really appreciate your insight.

    1. Unfortunately, I had to make the hard choice, but I expect the itch will eventually go away. At least, I hope it does! This decision has been the best thing for my body and it has probably been helpful for the rest of my life as well, but like you said, marathons really did make my heart happy. And I miss running them with my friends! But I think my back made this choice for me and it is the right one. I knew when I was ready to be done, and I think you will, too. I hope you find peace with whatever decision you make!

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