Ok, maybe not everything. But I certainly learned quite a few lessons over the past 4 months that apply to many aspects of life. There was humor, pain, and joy throughout this process. I am stronger, healthier, and happier. But it didn't always come easy...
1. Set goals. This one seems obvious. But deeper than just setting goals, set meaningful goals that challenge you. Two years ago when asked if I would ever run a marathon, I hesitated to answer affirmatively because I truly did not think it would be possible. I was setting comfortable goals, ones that did not challenge me. I knew that a marathon would be challenging, that I may struggle. So I hesitated. And then I went for it. And I accomplished it. And it meant a lot more to me because it was huge, and I didn't know if I could do it... but I did. Set goals that will break you down, build you up, and make you grow. If it's too easy, the payoffs won't be nearly as beneficial.
2. Step outside of your comfort zone. Take chances. Along with setting meaningful goals, do things that will make you uncomfortable. Take risks. It's easy to be comfortable, to keep doing the same thing. But trying new things and stepping outside of your comfort zone will help you grow.
3. Have a plan. I researched marathon plans extensively. I found beginner plans, intermediate plans, advanced plans, and every other kind of plan. Find one that works for you. I created a calendar of my runs, with the miles marked on each day accordingly -- for 4 months. I cross trained one day per week. I did long runs on the weekends. I had a plan, and it helped keep me on track. Have a plan for your life.
4. ... But know when to deviate from your plan. It's good to have a plan, but it's better to know when to stray from it. At first I was meticulous about following my plan. But then I got sick. And went on vacation. And my shins hurt. It's good to have a framework for the goal you're working towards, but it's also good to know when it's better for you to step away from the plan.
5. Listen to your body. If it hurts, give it a break. If you're tired, rest. If you're thirsty, drink. Hungry, eat. Sick, all of the above. Listen to what your body is telling you. Your body knows when you're pushing too far, when you need a day (or two) off, when it needs a break from pounding the pavement (or working too much, sleeping too little, overloading your schedule, etc...). Listen to it.
6. Learn balance. When I signed up for my marathon, I quit soccer. This may not sound like a monumental decision, but I was playing on about 6 teams per week. It was what I did, who I was. But frankly, I was tired of it. I didn't want to play until 10pm three nights per week, to eat dinner at 11pm and shower closer to midnight. I wanted to have more time to myself, to go for runs and make dinner and be in bed by 10pm. To watch some of my favorite shows. To not be tied down. So I quit soccer and focused on my marathon. A little too much. I substituted one commitment for another. About halfway through training I realized this, and backed off of training a little. Find balance. With whatever you're doing, learn to balance your commitments.
7. Accountability. Tell others about your goals. Tell them when it is, how your progress is going, and how you're feeling. Friends and family will hold you accountable and encourage you, and tell you when you're pushing too hard. They'll take you out for happy hours when your body hurts and you need a break. They'll support you and remind you what you're capable of. They'll cheer you on, and be there for you. They'll celebrate your progress through the process, and celebrate your accomplishments afterward.
8. Remember the reasons why you're doing something. I'm not going to lie, 2-3 months into my training I got burnt out. I was pounding away on the pavement 5 days a week, piling on the mileage, and losing steam. My mind was cluttered with what pace I was doing, how many miles I had to do, whether or not I was behind schedule, whether or not I could actually do this. I forgot about all of the reasons that I love to run... escaping from the world, freeing my thoughts, working out the day's stresses, feeling the fresh air, stretching my legs, enjoying the beauty around me, getting lost in my music, etc... I had to do a mental check, and remind myself why I was doing this. I had to remind myself that it wasn't about my pace, it was about me accomplishing a goal and growing along the way. About running for the love of running. Enjoy the activities in life - remember why you enjoy them, what aspects you love. Don't get bogged down by outside influences.
9. Moderation. Drink too much = feel bad. Run too much = feel bad. Drink too much before night of long run = bad, bad run. Do things in moderation.
10. Reward yourself. Whether it's a pizza after a long run, or a new shirt after the final 20-miler (or a trip after a promotion, night out with the girls after graduating, etc..)... reward yourself along the way. It will keep you going, keep you motivated. Mini-goals along the road to a larger goal make the path easier to travel on.
11. Sleep is good. I run much better when I sleep. I'm also a much more pleasant person to be around. I also tend not to overeat, or crave a drink to ease the headache. I'm less irritable and cranky. The bags aren't as noticeable under my eyes. Sleep is good. For everyone.
12. Share. Share your story and listen to others. Get tips, give tips. I got a lot of great advice from others, via the internet and in person. Sharing stories helps. The aches and pains and mental tribulations aren't new, and it helps to hear about others going through similar experiences. Whatever you're going through, you're not alone.
13. Be yourself. Loosen up. I decided to make a shirt for my run. They say if you put your name on the front, people will cheer you on personally. I'm sure if I would have put "Erica" on my shirt I would have gotten quite a few more cheers. Instead, I went with a lifelong nickname, from my dear brothers: Ferd. Yes, Ferd... like Ferdinand the Bull. I got a few people to yell "Go Ferd!" while looking at me quizzically. But it fit. I also put "Will Run for Beer" on the back... people commented on it and I met others while hacking out those 26 miles. Don't be afraid to be silly, to brand yourself, to be yourself.
14. Cheer for others who are working towards a goal. As a runner struggling through my first marathon, I appreciated every person on the road cheering us on. Especially children with handmade signs for their parents who wanted to high-five everyone along the way. Each time I got a high five from a beaming child I could feel my pace pick up, my spirit was rejuvenated. Cheer others on, literally and figuratively.
15. Listen, look, and enjoy the scenery. There were thousands of people along the route, cheering runners on. There were bands every mile or so. Signs everywhere. Lots of clapping, yelling, cheering, and words of encouragement. Tons of smiles. Hugs. Listen and look around, wherever you are. Enjoy what's around you. We live in a beautiful world. Don't miss it.
16. Don't give up. You will hit the wall, and it will challenge you. You will encounter hard times in life, trying times, painful times. My first marathon was rough. My legs starting hurting around mile 6 - not a good sign when there's 20 more miles to run. But you just have to push through. Don't give up.
17. Nourish yourself! Our bodies need food to fuel us through life. Along my run there was water and cytomax and bananas and Gu and all kinds of energy enhancers. Our bodies need water and food, don't deprive them of these nutrients. Know where your food comes from, know what's in it, and nourish yourself.
18. Take it one step at a time. When I was at mile 20 and struggling to understand how I could make another 6 miles, I literally took it one step at a time. Step by step, mile by mile, I got there. Take life one step at a time.
19. No pain no gain! Man my legs hurt, at mile 6 and 18 and 22 and 26.2! But I gained so much from pushing through the pain. Pain can be physical, emotional, mental... pain is pain. We learn and grow from our experiences. The most painful experiences in my past have taught me the most, I have learned invaluable lessons from my most tearful moments. Gain from the pain.
20. The longest distance in the race is between your ears. I saw this somewhere else, and it couldn't be more true. Running is both physically and mentally challenging. My legs hurt, but my mind was the real challenge. My legs could keep moving, but would my mind convince them not to? Mental battles can be tough - often we are capable of so much more than our minds will allow us to believe. Believe in yourself, challenge your mind to go after what seems impossible.
"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
"I always loved running...it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs."
"Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it's all about."
-PattiSue Plumer, U.S. Olympian