"My First Full Marathon"- Maybe You're Not A Long Distance Runner Edition
My name is Allison Shepka, I’m 24 years old and I’m addicted to running. I started running in college desperate not to gain the freshman fifteen. I was stressed out from my competitive program in school, I was drinking Starbucks like it was my major, and we made Chipotle runs at least twice a week. I wanted to do something productive to get rid of my stress in college so a friend turned me onto running. It wasn’t easy. I dreaded running as a kid. I skipped dry land workouts in swim team since it meant running three miles and I failed my gym class final because we had to run a mile and couldn’t do it. Failed a GYM CLASS FINAL! It wasn’t easy. I started out with one mile, then three, then five, then eight, and that spring I ran my first half marathon. Once I crossed that very first finish line I was hooked.
My journey to the full was one that I never expected. I decided to run a full marathon last summer. I had done 8 half marathons and had achieved some really great times so I asked myself what next? Why not 26.2 miles of course? I began my training that summer and soon became obsessed with my times. I over trained and was soon doing 70-80 mile weeks and running seven days a week. At work several of my co-workers noticed a limp I developed in my left leg. I was sore from training; I was running a marathon after all. But while visiting my fiancé at school I went on a trail run for four miles and I couldn’t get through it! That Monday I went to the doctor. I heard those words that every runner dreads, “stress fracture”. Not only one, but TWO! One in my hip and one in my femur! Those are two of the strongest and densest bones in our bodies! The doctor told me that the marathon was out of the question unless I wanted a total hip replacement in two years. I was on crutches and out of work for a month. I was crushed. A very experienced runner told me after my injury, “Maybe you’re just not meant to be a long distance runner.” My blood boiled when I heard that and I immediately wanted to smack him with one of my crutches. I knew I had to run 26.2, which brought me to this year.
I trained all summer but I trained smart. I had to train around my crazy night shift schedule (#NightShiftWoes), but I did it. I took rest days, I did fewer miles per week, I iced everything that hurt, and my foam roller became my best friend. I felt confident on all my long runs, I had fun and I enjoyed training. I kept what that “experienced runner” said in the back of my head the whole time. “I am a long distance runner,” I told myself. I keep thinking about that feeling when I would cross that finish line. All of my friends and family encouraged me the whole way and were very supportive.
Weeks before the race I was freaking out! Every time I had a twitch in my leg I thought I got a stress fracture. If I tripped down the stairs it had to be another stress fracture. I wanted to be put in a bubble before the marathon, I was terrified I would get an injury and not even make it to the start line just like last year. The marathon I chose was by no means flat and fast. It was hilly, very hilly. The dreaded “back half” was all rolling hills. During tapering I replayed all my long runs, hill training, and speed workouts. The hardest part of training was tapering, knowing I would have no more long runs before the big day.
The race was nothing like I expected. I ran with a pacer group which was so much fun. Our pacer told us stories and kept us laughing throughout the first 20 miles. My favorite part of every race are the spectators. I laughed at all the signs. Strangers were yelling my name and cheering me on. I felt amazing! Our pacer was struggling around mile 13 but kept us going. Then at mile 20 she snapped her sign in half and started walking. All of us looked at each other like, “What now?” We kept going. I did not expect what the last six miles had in store for me. By this time it was 75 degrees, in Ohio in September! What is up with that?! Where is the 50 degrees we started out with?! Not fair. We were totally exposed the last six miles with sun beating down on us. My legs felt numb at this point and my whole body felt like it was over heating. I felt like one of those cartoons who has steam coming out of their ears. Those were the toughest 6.2 miles of my life, but I got through them knowing that quitting was not an option. With 0.2 miles to go I heard someone from above shouting my name. “God?’ I thought, “Did I die of heat exhaustion?!” But on a bridge above the finish line was my fiancé taking some awesome aerial shots of me finishing! I waved and sprinted to the finish.
The best part of that race was crossing that finish line. I started crying right away overcome with all the emotions of running a marathon. All the training, all the hard work, and how far I’ve come. And I finished in 4:06! 4:06!! I was going to be happy with 4:30 or 5:00! But 4:06!!
The best advice I can give someone who wants to run one is yes you can be a long distance runner. I don’t hold what that runner told me during my injury against him. I think it’s a shame that said it because all runners belong to the same running community. We should be supporting each other and cheering one another on. I am grateful for what he said because it pushed me on all those long runs. I knew that, “Yes I am a long distance runner.” Even if you don’t run a full marathon, just run. It has helped me in so many ways, from getting over being bullied as a kid to getting over self-esteem issues as an adult. It puts you in control of your own life, makes you confident, and challenges you.
There is always going to be that voice in the back of your head that fills you with doubt. And god help you if someone speaks that text to you! But that doubt is totally and completely bogus. That doubt is nothing more than hesitation. A tiny part of you saying is this really a good idea? There's nothing wrong with taking a step back to evaluate.
When I ran my first marathon I really didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what to anticipate, all I knew was that I was terrified. I set a goal time and quickly abandoned it half way through the race. My goal became to finish, to make it to the finish line. I wanted only to be able to say I ran a marathon. This time around, that is still my exact same goal. I want to run the entire thing without stopping. I just want to finish with a smile on my face.