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From Zero to Marathon

When this year began, I had no idea I would run in the NYC marathon. I don’t even think I had ever run a half-mile without stopping.

Running is a peculiar sport. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen where everyone is rooting for everyone else to do well. I went to the NYC marathon as a spectator last year and it was the most positive sport environment I had ever seen. Tens of thousands of spectators lined the course route, some brought bananas from home to hand out, others gave out high-fives to anyone who passed and everyone yelled their support to the complete strangers running past. Some runners wrote their name on their shirt and the crowd yelled out to all of them by name. The energy was infectious and I didn’t want it to end. I stayed late, long after most runners had passed and most spectators had gone home. Sanitation workers came by and swept up the garbage. The police followed behind and opened up the roads to cars, diverting the remaining runners to the bike lane as the city buzzed back to life-as-usual. I picked up a sign that had been left next to an overflowing garbage can, walked to the top of a small hill and stood next to the bike path, the sign raised above my head. “You got this,” it said. Everyone still on the course was clearly struggling, but each of them exchanged a smile with me as they passed. That night, I signed up for a lottery to join the race the next year. And I mostly forgot about it. Then, in the spring, I got an email that I had been selected.

The first time I ran, while temporarily living in Ecuador, I stopped, learning forward with my hands braced by my knees, I was panting heavily. I didn’t even make a quarter-mile, and I was going downhill. I seriously questioned if I could possibly be ready for a marathon in half a year. I seriously questioned why I would even want to.

I wanted to be a part of that infectious positive energy I saw as a spectator. And I wanted a challenge. I knew it would be hard, and that was kind of the point.

I didn’t have any way to precisely measure distance but there was a path between two main roads near my house and I figured one loop was about one mile. It took me two weeks to run a full loop without stopping. Then I ran two loops, then three and four. I reached a high of six by the time I left Ecuador a couple of months after I began training.

In the heat of a New York summer I kept pushing myself to go farther but my body started to push back. I was now running seven or eight miles on my best days, but my feet became covered in blisters and my nipples and inner thighs were rubbed raw. I spent some money on a new pair of shoes and a lubricant that reduces friction on areas prone to chaffing. I also started taking energy gels. I ran farther but the harder I pushed, the harder my body pushed back. There was a constant inner-dialogue between my body and mind.

Stop now. Your knees are already sore and you can already feel new blisters forming. The longer you run, the more pain. Just quit.

No, I’m going to finish this.

You don’t even like running. Why put yourself through this? Just quit.

No, I’m going to finish this.

I’ve kept at it. I’ve run longer and longer distances but at each progression my body seems to find a way to make me question it all. This month was supposed to be my best yet. This was supposed to be the month I broke all my previous records and pushed my body to its limit before I began to slow down my training in October and let me body rest for the big race that first week of November. It did not go as planned.

I started a new job at the UN, and as a new General Assembly was starting, it was a busy time of year, but I woke before sunrise, drank some juice, stuffed bread in my mouth and set out. And I vomited.

I must have had too much juice. I’ll be fine.

More vomit.

Okay, now I’m fine. Time to run again.

More vomit.

No! I’m not going to quit. This is just emptying out my stomach. I need to keep going.

More vomit.


More vomit.

Okay fine. I quit.

I ran less than two miles, though I had set out for ten that day. The new job made me change my routine and I tried to readjust and eat less before I set out the next week. I vomited again, but just once. I still felt off though and only did five miles of the ten I had intended.

Then a friend of mine asked if I wanted to take his spot at a race the next week. He had signed up months ago but wouldn’t be able to make it. The race was 18 miles. I reluctantly agreed.

The marathon was a month and a half away and I felt woefully unprepared to run 18 miles, much less 26. At the time my distance record was 12. But I woke up early and gave it a shot.

By mile 13—a half marathon—my whole body ached. My knees didn’t seem able to bend. After 17 miles, as I pushed my body much much farther than it wanted to go, my face scrunched up into a determined frown. I felt like I might burst out laughing or crying at any moment. But I kept going. I made it. 18 miles.

Training for a marathon can be a poetic metaphor for life, and the most important lesson for both is to never give up. To keep going even when you think you can’t, even when you hurt.

You got this.

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