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Out There: 26.2 Life Lessons From the Marathon

Every time I run a marathon, two things cross my mind:

1) Marathons are stupid. Why do I keep doing this to myself?

2) Marathons are amazing. Why don’t I do this more often?

I alternate between those two sentiments over the course of 26.2 miles, and one usually wins out by the finish line. Most of the time, I rejoice with my hands up in the air, wanting to know when I can do it all over again. Sometimes, it’s the “marathons are stupid” voice that propels from my mouth at the end, and I swear to never, ever, ever run 26.2 consecutive miles again.

So why, if marathons are so stupid, do I keep doing this to myself? Hell if I know. Madam Marathon has her claws in me, and try as I may to shake her off, I can’t.

And I’m okay with that. For as stupid as marathons are, they’ve actually made me smarter. Training for and racing a marathon is a fully transformative experience—mind, body, and spirit—and I find that when I move, my self-awareness needle moves. When I move a lot, as is required for 26.2 miles, my self-awareness needle moves a lot.

And as a result, the lessons from Madam Marathon make me a better person in all aspects of my life. And maybe that’s why I keep doing this to myself—because I’m not done learning yet. Or maybe I’m reading too much into things, and I’m just an idiot who doesn’t know when to say no. But I’m an idiot in progress, so that’s got to count for something, right?

At any rate, I’m learning, I’m growing, and by golly, I’m still running. What I’ve learned along the way:

  1. The first step is often the hardest. It’s one thing to say, “I want to run a marathon.” It’s an entirely different thing to follow through.
  1. If you want to do it, you have to do it. People can bullshit their way through a lot of things in life. The marathon is not one of those things.
  1. Fear takes you places. And I’m not just talking about the finish line.
  1. Your body is pretty damn impressive. It’s hard to bemoan your cellulite-ridden thighs when they just carried you for 26.2 freaking miles.
  1. You know less than you know. Just when you think you’ve gotten this running thing nailed, something comes along and makes you feel like a total moron. Who knew there were life lessons in skinned knees and low glycogen?
  1. Nobody really knows anything, anyway. It’s not just you. We’re all morons.
  1. Failure is a success. You screwed up? Good for you! That means you tried, you learned, and you grew.
  1. Bad weather is not a good excuse. Neither is laundry day, a poor night’s sleep, your dead iPod battery, a long day at work, a Disney movie marathon…
  1. Running is not the solution to all of life’s problems, despite what some people advertise. Running won’t get you a job, pay off your mortgage, or bring back your loved ones from the dead. It’s just one kind of pain to distract you from another kind of pain.
  1. Neither is your paleo/gluten-free/vegan diet, your minimalist/maximalist/bubblewrap shoes, or [fill in the blank]. So don’t get preachy. People tend to tune out preachy.
  1. Your strength is probably your weakness, too. You can climb any hill, power through any speed session, and suffer like a champ. You’re also too strong for rest days and too stubborn to admit when you’re injured.
  1. Joy is a rocket. Little boosts of speed come from the corners of your smile. So thank the volunteers, high-five that excited toddler, laugh at spectator signs, and in general try not to be an asshole.
  1. Someone always has it worse than you. Every time you think you’re suffering more than anyone in the history of suffering has ever suffered, the Endurance Gods will place someone in your path who’s been through more and are overcoming it.
  1. You can be a badass and a dumbass simultaneously. Case in point: at mile 22, you said, ���You go, girl!” to encourage a fellow runner. He had a mustache.
  1. Look at the path, not the obstacles. It’s all about perspective.
  1. Appearances can be deceiving. The person you least expect to see in a marathon is usually the most inspiring one.
  1. You do you. Don’t look to other people as a gauge for your success. The comparison trap is a nasty one.
  1. It’s good to disconnect. In today’s hyper-plugged society, few things compare to the feeling of telling someone, “Oh, you called? Sorry, I was out for a run.”
  1. Ask for help. You don’t have to go it alone.
  1. Be open. People who run to lose weight sometimes gain two pounds plus a sense of badassery. Those who run for personal accomplishment sometimes lose weight on their way to the finish line. The transformation you want isn’t always the transformation you need.
  1. 26.2 miles is a long way. For real.
  1. Just say it. At some point in every marathon, you’ll have to surrender to the fact that yes, 26.2 miles is a long way; yes, this is uncomfortable; yes, this kind of sucks, actually. It’s okay—even healthy—to admit that.
  1. “I can’t go on” is a lie. You can totally go on, you sissy.
  1. Simplify, simplify, simplify. This ain’t rocket science. Fancy whatsits and gizmos complicate something that doesn’t really need complication.
  1. Look up. While you were dejectedly shuffling your feet or cursing out your GPS watch, you missed the most spectacular view.
  1. You don’t have to wait until the finish line to celebrate. Sometimes, the little victories along the way mean more than the finisher’s medal.

.2 But damn, that finisher’s medal is pretty cool, too.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke.