Lizzy Chicago marathon essay

My Marathon Lesson: When Life Happens, Run At Your Own Pace

The Chicago Marathon was going to be my third marathon. I had enough experience in my legs to understand my capabilities, as well as what I needed to improve in hopes of setting my fastest time yet. But then life happened. Like it really happened.

About three months before the marathon, I received a “call home immediately” text from my mom out of the blue. She told me my grandma had passed away.

Training, Interrupted

I traveled home to Minnesota from Brooklyn to mourn with my family, but as you may know, grief is a strange creature. At first, I found myself so focused on showing face, being a good daughter, and helping my family. Her passing didn’t hit until weeks after, when I found myself struck with bouts of sadness. I decided to go lighter on my training in order to cope.

When I returned to Brooklyn, I had a week to ramp up my training before starting a new job. It was summer, I had something exciting on the horizon, and things were really happening! I was halfway through my training and ready to finish strong when life happened yet again.

While on an electric motorbike ride, I found myself sprawled on the pavement of a busy intersection. I had lost control of the bike, and the front wheel laid completely on top of my right foot.

I remember strangers rushing to my side, a street food vendor giving me packs of ice to apply, and crying, “No, no, this can’t happen; I’m running a marathon in a few weeks!” You could already see shades of black and blue forming on my foot.

Related: How To Tell If You Have A Strained Muscle—And What To Do About It

Recovery Period

I left the emergency room in crutches, ordered to keep weight off my precious right foot. Thankfully, though, nothing was broken.

In few days, I was walking on my own; then biking and running. I was 50 days out from the marathon, and while I wasn’t feeling any pain, I couldn’t ignore my inner voice commanding me to be gentle with myself.

I was beyond exhausted, both physically and emotionally. So I decided to listen to my gut, and prioritize rest, light exercise, and self-care over any additional physical or mental stressors. Friends on Instagram were posting their 18+ mile training runs, all which seemed to be effortless. Meanwhile, I felt like a fraud. The plan was to go all in and I simply couldn’t at this point. Was I just giving up? Making excuses?

In order to combat my self-doubt, I continued to listen to myself⁠—and only myself. I realized I didn’t owe anyone an explanation for why I wasn’t training as hard, and I began to trust my mind and body again. Evenings I put my phone on airplane mode to eliminate distractions. I visualized the race course, and made my playlist based on which songs would motivate me at each mile. I reduced my workouts to five days a week, including cross training, averaging no more than 20 miles a week.

Related: From 5ks To 50-Milers: How I Became An Ultra-Marathon Runner In Two Years

Showtime

Race day finally came. The weather was ideal, friends were placed strategically along the course, and I crossed the start line and settled into my pace. From there, though, many things seemed to go wrong; it certainly wasn’t my day. The flow-like state of mind I usually experience while running just wasn’t happening. Pain set in early, around mile 14. I became nauseous, my headphones died, and when I realized a PR was out of sight, I began to walk, unsure if I could speed up again. I texted my friends at mile 17 that I was having a bad race. They encouraged me to keep moving. They were waiting for me at mile 21 and I just had to get there.

When I saw my friends, I couldn’t fight back my tears. They began to jog alongside me in support, making me realize that finishing was simple—I just had to put one foot in front of the another.

Mile 22 was right up there, and soon after, the finish line. Suddenly, my “bad race” became fun. Boosts of energy and confidence filled my strides as I gave the final miles my all. (Later, my friends joked that I got a cab to the finish, because my time changed that drastically.)

My finish time was the slowest of all of my races, by far, but this race had something extra; courage.

Courage is what got me to sign up for The Chicago Marathon with the intent of challenging myself. It was courageous of me to listen to myself and not force 50+ mile training weeks when I needed to heal my body and allow myself to grieve my grandmother’s death. Courage is what got me to show up race day despite all my training setbacks and it got me past each mile marker when things got hard. I didn’t PR with time, but I set a PR for courage—something I’m even more proud of.

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