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Post-marathon running, to put it bluntly, sucks.

When you have completed a marathon, you are on a high that lasts for so many weeks, you can easily forget to work out, in which case, your body slowly begins to take on the form of the retired Mr. Incredible.

But the increased size and odd shape of body parts is not the only downfall: you also realize that your once-a-week long run is the exact same mileage as your previous daily runs.

Lately I’ve noticed the first four miles of my runs are hard.

Really hard.

I feel so completely out of shape and uncoordinated I seriously doubt I was the woman who ran 26.2 miles last July.

But once I get past the four-mile barrier, something amazing happens: I feel strong.

I can pick up the pace and really focus on what my body is doing. I can challenge myself in ways that, at the outset, seemed quite ridiculous. It’s at this point I begin to realize daily effort pays off big-time.

In life, working towards a specific goal is hard work. And hard work automatically implies a process that is uncomfortable and quite possibly smells bad.

Often as you approach your barrier, you feel like you should just give up and slink back to wherever it is you came from.

Why work so hard when the goal isn’t even in sight?

But if you press through it, you will find that the sweaty, smelly, difficult exercise has made you stronger.

Soon, you are flying along, not even thinking about what you can’t do, because your head is filled with what you are actually doing.

I once heard a pastor who kept talking about the Iditarod he ran once without freezing to death, which is all well and good, but he ran it in 1973.

What had he done lately?

If 1973 was your last great achievement, then you might want to consider that opportunities may be mushing past you. 

I don’t want to be one of those people who talks about the marathon she ran once, a long time ago. I want to be doing amazing things right up until the day I die.

Amazing goals don’t have to be grandiose: you could strive to be a healthy person when you’re in your 80s (like my Grandma), to have a good relationship with your kids (also like my Grandma), or to be the most awesome teacher, friend, architect, parent, or spouse ever—amazing goals are not necessarily the most public ones.

In fact, the most difficult goals to achieve are the ones that come without recognition.

I don’t know when I will run another marathon, but I do have dreams I’m moving towards. And while many of them seemed utterly out of reach six months ago, now, they’re starting to sound reasonable, achievable.

And that is exciting.

But it’s hard.

Really hard.

Sometimes the struggle doesn’t seem worth it. And at those times, the muscle memory of my highs will have to carry me through the lows.

But once I’ve made it past that four-mile barrier, I’ll be flying.

Then I can say:

Sure, the marathon was great, but look at what I’m doing now!

Whatever your goal may be (some of us would like to lose 20 pounds before the high school reunion in August:), keep working at it.

I guarantee once you’re past your own personal four-mile barrier, you’ll be flying too.

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The things we love most are most often taken for granted: I hate when that happens.

When urgent matters, such as deadlines, jobs, or housework press in on us, something gets pushed aside. Our children learn to wait until mommy isn’t busy, which seems to be never. Our husbands walk the dog by themselves. Our dreams sit on the shelf collecting dust. The treadmill sprouts laundry in the basement.

We think, “Once I have time, I’ll deal with that, but not now. Not now.”

I have been neglecting just about everything I love lately, this blog, for example. I should know better than to write a post, such as the last one, where I am gung-ho about changing my life, because usually after such a high, I do a face-plant in the dirt.

It’s a pattern in my life I’d like to change.

I’ve come to realize, now that the marathon is over, this blog is becoming something more: it is a glimpse into the real life of a real person who strives to do better. And I screw up a lot.

My physical therapy has fallen by the wayside, which makes my knees hurt more, which makes me less inclined to do my exercises…

I have run exactly twice since my last blog—and each time was awesome. It was a thrill to wear my stained, smelly marathon shoes. I love those things, but I don’t get them dirty often enough these days.

I’d like to be the kind of person who ticks away steadily throughout life, but my life seems to go in jumps and spurts.

I need another marathon.

Marathon training gave me the daily self-discipline I needed—and I had no idea at the time how that translated into all areas of my life. The training made me more patient, kind, and loving. It increased my creativity, my energy, my closeness to God. I was a better mother, friend, writer and wife.

And now, I’ve fallen down again.

The good news is that I’m getting back up–I’m washing the dirt from my face and soaking my faults in stain-remover. I’m not the woman I want to be; and the only thing stopping me are the choices I make and the opportunities I overlook.

You don’t begin marathon training by running 26.2 miles. You start off almost ridiculously small, 2 or 3 miles, and increase until soon, you are running distances most people drive. But without faithfulness on the short runs, you’ll never make it through an entire race without an ambulance.

The smallest, most seemingly insignificant things matter most in the long run.