“You should never run.”
I can’t even remember the first time I heard those words from a concerned health professional, and I know I haven’t heard them for the last time. Despite this, I am still basking in the post-race glory, having just completed my second full marathon, the 2016 NYC Marathon.
When people get to know me, they are surprised to learn that I live with a chronic illness. In many ways, I consider myself lucky because there are no visible signs; I can choose if and when I want to reveal this information. I’m generally very open about my experience and am grateful for the opportunity to raise awareness about living with chronic illness. My body produces abnormal collagen, a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which can affect my health in many different ways. Mainly, it causes extreme joint instability, leading to frequent dislocations and chronic pain. It is something I was born with, and it will continue to impact my life every day. And it means that I was definitely never “meant” to run a marathon.
How did I do it, not once, but twice? Here are a few of the key ingredients to my marathon success.
1. Careful and deliberate training.
I am so lucky to have a team of trainers who have taken the time to get to know me and understand my physical limitations. I actually hardly ran leading up to the NYC Marathon, focusing instead on strengthening the muscles around unstable joints. I got my cardio in primarily through cycling and swimming, low-impact activities that have a low risk of exacerbating my chronic dislocations.
2. Making a plan and sticking with it.
This applies to my mentality in training and on race day. I had a limited amount of time to train for New York due to an injury this summer, so I knew I had to be regimented and disciplined. I signed up for shorter races every weekend prior to the marathon, knowing that I would lose my registration fee if I didn’t show up. The post-race snacks and medals were an added incentive too! Between long runs on the weekends, I filled my weekdays with classes at my gym, where fellow members ask where you’ve been if you don’t show up for a day or two. I made my upcoming marathon known to my gym friends, and they continued to make sure I showed up to my planned training sessions. For race itself, I knew I wanted to employ a walk/run strategy. I studied the course beforehand and planned where I would take my walk breaks. This helped me mentally and physically break up 26.2 miles, making the whole thing feel slightly less daunting.
3. Pure stubbornness and mental determination.
My parents used to lament that I hated hearing the word “no.” Apparently this is still true because once I was told that I couldn’t or shouldn’t run, I felt the need to prove my doctors wrong. I didn’t just want to let them know that I could go for a casual jog once in a while, but rather, I wanted to shatter their expectations and run further than 99% of the population ever will. This became my “why.” Every time I picked up a barbell, clipped in my cycling shoes, or laced up my sneakers to run, I pictured myself crossing the marathon finish line. I imagined how proud of me my friends and family would be for doing something that no one ever thought possible. More importantly, I thought about how proud I would be of myself for exceeding even my own expectations.
Standing on the other side of my second marathon finish line, I’m still in disbelief at what this body was able to do. I’m filled with gratitude that I get the platform to share my story, and I hope that it can inspire others to do what they never thought possible!
Have you ever run a marathon or another race? What helped you get to the finish line?