How Running A Marathon Brought Me To Both My Weakest And Strongest Moments In Life

by Kelly Christensen

At mile 23, I thought I was going to die.

There were a lot of things I was considering at that point. I’m not built like a runner; I’ve got thick legs and a squishy stomach and I don’t eat enough vegetables. My inner voice was screaming at me, four hours into the race, WHY in the world did you decide to do this?

I guess it started seven months before, when I got my heart stepped on by someone I really cared about. Looking back on it, I’m glad that it happened. After a couple weeks of moping and writing half-finished songs about the breakup, I wanted to channel that nasty, unfortunate heartache into something good, so I started running.

I was raised as an athlete and played sports my entire life, but I wouldn’t ever call myself a natural. My hips turn in; I walk with a pigeon toe on my right foot and I’ve got orangutan arms that are way too long for my body.

I most definitely was never, ever a runner. What drew me to running is the fact that is doesn’t discriminate. Those ultra-runners, sure, they’re built to win marathons and run sub-five-minute miles the whole time, but the majority of us will never be that fast. The great thing about running, however, is that you don't have to be fast; anyone can do it.

My training began as a distraction from sadness, something to complete on a daily basis. It made me confident; I started to drop those couple extra pounds here and there and it made me happy. I finally felt strong.

When I signed up for the marathon, I’ll admit, I felt pretty badass. I don’t think I realized what I was getting into at the time. Training definitely sucks: being a student, having a job and trying to keep a social life all while running over 50 miles a week really, really sucks. Some days you just don’t want to run 12 miles, but you have to. So I started small, worked my way up the mileage and kept my nose to the grindstone.

As the weeks wore on, I realized it wasn’t my legs that were too tired or my lungs clawing at me for air when I was running that was making it difficult. Yes, my body was tired, but it wasn’t giving out on me. It was those little voices in my head, saying, “That’s enough for today,” or “You ran yesterday, you can stop now.”

I was allowing myself to settle. I made excuses for myself when I felt too tired, not because my body was going to give out, but because my will just wasn’t there.

There is a turning point in our lives, an apex that makes us realize what it is we really want. About two months into my training, I was diagnosed with mono and unable to run for eight weeks.

Over the course of those eight weeks, I was hospitalized three times, underwent an emergency surgery, lost over 17 pounds (not even the good kind; it was all muscle) and was so weak I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was forbidden to have any physical activity. It was the worst experience of my life, and it happened at the worst possible time.

However, it is in those moments of weakness that we can make the choice to give up or to survive. The only thing that got me through the hospital stays was the thought that if I got through this, I would run the marathon.

So, I changed my game. When my ability to run was taken from me, it was all I wanted back. It is in these moments that we must decide to be strong enough, mentally tough enough and to overcome these obstacles.

I changed my verbiage; "I can, I will, I must" became my mantra. The switch to positive thinking changed my life.

Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must -- just never give up.

Once I finally recovered, I had a clean slate and two and a half months to train. My friends and family called me crazy, shook their heads and asked me why I still wanted to race. But mentality is more than half the battle. It is more than likely that you are physically able to run a marathon, but if you do not believe you can, tell yourself you cannot or if you allow yourself to give up, you will never make it.

That’s what I love about these races: The only person who has the power to carry you to the finish line, or keep you from it, is yourself.

The race was fun at the start; the city was beautiful and the atmosphere so energizing. My mom, brother and uncle met me at mile 11 to hand off some apple slices, and I felt fine at the time; I even smiled for pictures. At the halfway point, 13.1 miles in, I slowly began to realize what I had gotten into.

It was hot in Los Angeles that day; temperatures crept up towards 90 degrees. As the miles ticked by, I saw more and more people laying on the sides of the road, massaging their legs and wiping tears from their eyes, with a blank expression on their face. I had never seen so much exhaustion. It was terrifying to see people pushed to their limits like that, but it was also beautiful.

What gets me about the whole thing is that people of all shapes, ages and backgrounds came together one Sunday morning to complete this goal. Over 24,000 people dedicated themselves to finishing, despite how athletic they were or how much time they had. They all were brave enough to just go for it.

To be honest, I couldn’t feel my legs after mile 19. It’s lonely out there; those last six or seven miles make you look at the parts of yourself you don’t really like. I’m not talking about the way my elbows kind of stick out when I run -- even though I don’t really like that. I’m talking about those little voices in your head that tell you that you can’t and won’t.

Those voices that eat away at your confidence like acid don’t just go away, and you have to face those ugly thoughts when you’re out there alone on the course. In those last kilometers, it came down to sheer force of will, not physical ability. How far are you willing to push yourself just to prove you can?

What the marathon taught me is that it doesn’t matter what you’ve been through or where you come from; strength doesn’t come from physical ability. Strength comes from willpower and drive. The moment you can tell those voices in your head that you will never give up is the moment you have won.

Mental health is crucial to a balanced self. Running a marathon was the best decision I ever made; it was the hardest thing I ever did, but it was also the most rewarding. The basic principles of positivity apply to every aspect of our lives: Resilience and mental strength can make or break you.

If ever in your life you want to see raw, pure joy, wait at the finish line of a marathon. The last half a mile is the most honest you will get with people: They are exhausted, bleeding, drenched in sweat, some with vomit on their shirts and tears on their cheeks, but they are smiling because they made it. It doesn’t matter what kind of body they have or how fast they ran; they got to the finish line because they believed they could.

I couldn’t walk for two days after I ran the marathon. I ran it in an entirely average time, with completely normal people and I was exhausted afterwards. The race broke my body down, but taught me more about myself than I could’ve imagined. There is nothing you cannot achieve if you are willing to work hard for it.

At first you may feel like giving up, but if you can push yourself over the obstacles, tell yourself you can do it and muster the will to keep moving forward, you’ll make it. If you tell yourself you can, you’ve already won half the battle.

These principles don’t only apply to running. Bettering oneself through athletics isn’t just a way to improve your body physically, but also to heal parts of yourself that might have been broken. It teaches you discipline, commitment and most importantly for me, what it means to be strong.

I started running as an outlet, and when it was taken from me, I ran to prove I still could. It’s more than just a race; it is a personal triumph. For me, changing my attitude and outlook on difficult things in my life always came back to running the marathon and knowing that I could overcome anything if I tried.

At first, you feel like dying, but then you feel reborn.

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