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.
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.
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.
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?