You never grow without a challenge, right?
That’s what I told myself this summer when I was bored, unmotivated, and directionless. So I decided to take to my bucket list and knock a few items off. Among the top candidates: run a marathon before graduating college.
Well, I only had one year left to do it, so I thought, let’s go!
Six months, a few injuries, many miles, countless mishaps, and endless trials and tribulations later, I did it at the Philadelphia Marathon last Sunday. Somehow. I think I ended up with ligament damage and a stress fracture, but it was totally worth it.
I’ll leave the sappy thoughts and the personal reflections for late-night talks with friends and family. But here are three things I learned from training for a marathon that can help anyone in life:
The link between physical health and mental health is so real
It is no coincidence that some of the best moments of my semester came on the tail end of a great physical achievement. Whether it was climbing a mountain in August, or returning to the gym in October, or finishing this marathon in November, life was simply better after having earned it. Physically.
The unfortunate side to that same coin is that I never felt worse than when I didn’t take care of myself. After pushing myself hard mountain-climbing in August, my body was broken and I fell ill for two weeks. I lost my appetite and I grew weak. That fragility exacerbated my mental state, and it took me weeks to recover.
An injury hit me hard about a month before the marathon, and it was a huge blow to my psyche. Not being able to walk easily makes life just a little bit harder, to say the least. But the same applies to not having a full stomach or a full night’s sleep.
When Penn students are well-rested, well-fed, and in good health, there’s nothing we can’t do. But we really have to prioritize our physical health to get there.
Don’t be afraid to lean on others — they want to help!
Marathon training is a huge commitment — they probably should have had a doctor’s warning not only that it isn’t for the faint of heart, but also for busy college students. Squeezing in 25 miles a week on top of classes, a social life, and sleep is like trying to squeeze a pickup truck through a mousehole. It leads to a whole lot of stress, a whole lot of pain, and it absolutely destroys the mousehole. Suffice to say you shouldn’t do it, but if you do, don’t do it alone.
Hopefully, you have your group or community of people who would do anything for you. Forgoing my fear of asking for favors was one of the best decisions I made all semester. When I was too sore to walk, or if I was in too busy to run an errand and run a workout, then I either asked for help, or I accepted offers when they came. This was a major key.
Sometimes at Penn or in young adult life, there can be difficulties in trusting people too much. But I’ve found that with the right people, trust not only comes easily, but it also goes both ways as a result. Everyone’s life is better when we lean on each other.
It’s the sweet relief from pain thanks to a massage from a close one. It’s the extra thought to pick up someone’s groceries for them if they can’t balance all their commitments that week. It’s a whole host of ways to make life better and allow for higher levels of productivity and efficiency in training, without much more effort, if any.
I found that if you lean on others and you live deliberately, big challenges like marathon training suddenly become a lot easier.
Savor the view from the top of the mountain
A lot of people have invested heavily in our lives. You probably invest heavily in yourself. That can lead to a whole lot of pressure from all sorts of places. Success — however you may define it — is probably a bit elusive as a result.
But when you reach the mountaintop — or even a relative peak — stop for a moment to take it in. Not every run I’ve ever had was good, and not every mile of my marathon was fast. But all the hard work pays off at some point, and it’s important to appreciate the rewards as they come.
Just as many mountains have a rocky descent, injuries always wait around the corner in running, and setbacks are always ahead in life. That shouldn’t inspire fear or worry: it should inform those times at the top and make them even better.
I cried as I crossed the finish line of the marathon. It was totally from the pain, but the emotions were real, too. I looked up and gave thanks, thinking of everything and everyone that had helped me get there.
And though I couldn’t really stand after finishing, or walk right for the next few days, very little has ever felt greater. I’ll hold onto that moment, just as I will the other peaks. They’ll carry me through the valleys forever.