Disclaimer: I do not encourage anyone to run with an injury- this experience is my own with the help of a real, legit doctor.
Two years ago, I decided it was time to get in shape. Through a strength training program, I started running and completed my first 5k, and then asked myself "Why not a half?" Over the next six months, I completed four half marathons but was ready for the next challenge. I was inspired to run 26.2 miles after seeing other runners and thinking "I can do that too!" So I set out to run a full marathon by my birthday. 26 miles for 26 years. I didn't tell anyone, because I wanted an out in case I couldn't finish the training. It was a surefire way to quit. When my running app started acting weird, it was so easy to give up. "Well, I can't keep up with my training if my app is always breaking!" I stopped running for a few months, started a pie business, gained 15 lbs during the Christmas season, and regretted giving up on myself.
When January 1st showed up, I was ready to prove myself wrong. I wasn't a quitter and I would commit to completing a full in 2017. I scheduled my race so that the easier training months were in the Winter, and I could finish strong in a cool Seattle June. I was dedicated to training properly and ran about 3 - 4 times a week for 3 months straight, running through snow flurries, flash flooding, 5 AM alarms, and late night sessions after a long day of work.
About a month before my race date, I had an easy 13 mile training run. No big deal- I was actually pumped to do it! Around mile 8 I had a sudden and severe foot cramp that benched me. Disappointed that I wasn't able to finish the 13, anxiety crept into my other runs and I began to doubt my ability to finish the training. I also started to feel a dull ache in my left calve, something I chalked up to inefficient stretching.
Two weeks after the cramping episode, I had a 20 miler scheduled, and serious reservations. After major encouragement from my A team, I knew I had to change my mindset. If I believed in myself, there was nothing to stop me from succeeding. I sent up a prayer to keep off the cramps and aches, and chanted self love for the next four hours. I ran the greatest run of my life. I wasn't fast, it wasn't painless. But my body didn't give out and I loved myself through the doubt.
It was easily one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
Immediately after finishing, my foot began cramping and my left calve became incredibly tense. Walking was insanely difficult, so I took a week off from running and committed to limping instead. I was referred to a specialist and they ran a couple of x-rays. Goodness grief. Not only did I have a stress fracture in my left tibia bone, but the additional pressure from hobbling around put a stress fracture in the right tibia bone as well. I was honest with the doc and told him I would still be going to Seattle, which at that point, was only five days away. Seeing my determination to finish what I had started, and that the fractures were not as serious as they could be, he gave me the go ahead to run but ONLY on the condition that I listen to my body at every step.
On a solo weekend trip to Seattle, I tried to avoid thoughts of the race, except to remind myself that I WOULD finish, and that I had already accomplished so much. I geared up race morning believing in myself, while still knowing my body could quit at any mile. I wouldn't know until I tried. 10 miles went without a hitch; I was on pace to compete at my typical speed. Miles 10 - 15 were a little tiring, but not the end of the world. And then somewhere around mile 16, something changed. I was building a wall inside my head that I wasn't even aware of. I got tired. For the first time in the race, I started walking. Every runner was passing me. My foot started cramping. My joints were suddenly worn out, and it felt like I was carrying 100 lbs on my back. I started crying. And crying. And the tears turned into sobs. Uncontrollable weeping for two solid miles.
I was ready to quit.
Earlier I mentioned my A Team- these were friends, family, Instagram connections- anyone that not only put up with my incessant training highs and lows, but uplifted me to be the best runner I could be. At the head of this pack was my #1- Mike. Mike has supported me like no other, pushing me, cheering me on, not letting me skip runs, and checking in on me during those late night killers. After I lost faith in myself during another run, he changed my course by reminding me: "Your legs can handle it. Your head is slowing you down."
I called Mike and told him what was going on. I told him I couldn't go on, that my whole body was quitting on me, that I couldn't stop crying. But instead of giving me the pep talk I expected, he responded simply with "It sounds like you're done, then." And with those 6 little words, I have never felt more resolve to finish something. Mike made me realize that quitting was a very real option, and one I knew I could not take. I was indulging in my own pity, but pity wasn't going to get me across the finish line- changing my attitude was.
After that phone call, I ran into a new friend I had met in Seattle, Thomas, an 18 year old first time marathoner like myself. We resolved to get through the last 8 miles together, whether we walked, hobbled, or crawled. I still had the very real fear that my body could shut down at any minute, that my fractured bones could snap into two pieces.
But we didn't stop, we didn't quit, and we didn't leave the other behind.
Seeing the 26th mile marker was a sight like no other. It had been a painful morning of running, walking, and shuffling, but my achy body had finally made it. And for .2 miles I "ran" faster than I had in the previous 10 miles, to cross that finish line and receive my full marathon medal. Had I hoped to have finished sooner? Absolutely. Did I wish to be in less pain? Of course. But with Thomas by my side, I realized how lucky I was to have such an incredible team of people, always ready to lift me up to the runner they knew I was, no matter what the outcome.
Thank you Michael. Thank you Thomas. Thank you to Ashley and Haley, Mom & Dad. Thank you to each and every one of you that believed in me from the beginning, that responded to my Instastories with words of encouragement or stories of your own running journey. It took 6 hours and 41 minutes, but my fractured bones made it across that finish line. And there's no telling what's next.