I’m running the NY Marathon in November. As a first time marathon runner, I have to admit I’m nervous. I’ve never been much of a runner, in fact, up until recently I would have been willing to do hours and hours of strength training rather than run a single mile. The only reason I ended up in this marathon was because one of my friends and I decided to enter the lottery. He’s a legit runner, I’m not and as it turns out, I got in and he didn’t…oh well.
So I decided to treat this just as I would any other important goal in my life, especially one that seems overwhelming. I built a strategy. Since I didn’t know much about running or training for a marathon, the plan was to do my research and figure out who would be a good resource. Sure, I had friends who had run marathons, but they were all suggesting things that seemed a bit impossible for someone who wasn’t a runner – speed runs, intervals, uphill runs, 10-mile runs in the first week. Instead, I went with a professional in the field of running. Hal Higdon has run countless marathons and has also trained numerous other people from beginners to athletes. Plus one of his programs was actually targeted for first time marathon runners. The training schedule was 18 weeks, but there was no way I was going to wait until 18 weeks before the marathon to start training. So I started about 8 months before, basically about a month after I found out I got a spot in the marathon. My plan was to do the 18 weeks and then decide if maybe I would follow another training or do the same one again, focusing more on improving my pace and endurance. Turns out starting way early was a good thing since I ended up having to take 3 weeks off for a really bad sprain.
I would wake up at the crack of dawn 4 days a week and go on my crazy run. Some days I was even running 16 miles before 7am, which meant I would start running while it was still dark outside and continued to do so while the rest of the city was waking up and having coffee. I would see the city in its dark quietness, hear the hum of the early morning risers, see the dogs on their first walk of the day, the golfers getting warmed up for their tee times, the sprinklers misting the lawns and keeping them green.
However something happened a few weeks ago. It was a Saturday morning and I was planning a 20-mile run, the longest one to date. I decided to run it by the beach so I wouldn’t have to deal with the cars, the stoplights and everything else that could prevent me from running continuously. It was still dark outside when I parked my car at the beach. Everything was quiet, even the seagulls were asleep. I was so used to running before the sun was out, that I didn’t even give it a second thought. I actually love the quiet early mornings on the beach, the light sound of the waves crashing, the sky starting to turn just a little pink.
A couple of hours later, while the rest of the city was buzzing and everyone was getting ready for breakfast, I finished the 20 miles. I was tired, but at the same time, happy and content. Not to mention ready to get out of my sweaty clothes.
Within a few days of my achievement, I read about the Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year old runner from Iowa who was attacked and killed during a solo run. We lived a world apart, several states away, in different cities, we are of different ages and really, apart from the fact that we are both runners, we had nothing in common. Yet as female solo runners, we had one huge thing in common – our vulnerability.
All of the sudden, the idea of running before the sun was out became something I wasn’t willing to do anymore. Furthermore, all the love and passion I had built for running over the past few months had somehow dimmed. I even considering bringing my pepper spray on runs – a safety device that a friend had given me a while back and I hadn’t even taken it out of the box. Running at 5am was still out of the question, pepper spray or not. Something had significantly changed in my perception of running. It used to be this freeing experience, my moment of solitude when I would either listen to podcasts and music or leave my phone at home altogether and focus on my running meditation. It had become this thing i somehow dreaded. As I was building back up my love and passion for running, there was this one thought that kept popping into my head: I have to run, even if it’s just because she can’t run anymore. I never knew Mollie, I have no connection to anything or anyone in her life, yet her story was a wake-up call. Yes, it would have been easy to just completely stop running, scrape the marathon altogether and just focus on my other workouts. But it would have been a cop out.
There would be no more running before sunrise, but the marathon training would continue and nothing would stand in my way. So today, I woke up, put on my running gear and went out. I may not be the fastest, I may not go out before the city opens its eyes anymore, but I’m still a runner.