October 2010. Without realizing it, I planned a fall getaway to Chicago that would forever change my life. My sister in law’s sister, Kelly, was running the Chicago Marathon and I happened to be visiting that weekend. I’d never really witnessed anything of this caliber before. And I certainly had never imagined running a distance of that length. The whole process was so intriguing to me. From the way Kelly planned her “last” supper to the concern that she took in every activity that Saturday, hoping that none of them would fatigue her too much for the following day’s events. Even the poster prep that I took part in was intriguing. The early morning alarm clock and strategic mile marker planning we as spectators took part in. It ALL was electric. It all had such great meaning and purpose.
Fast forward a year later. My brother, Aaron, had decided it was finally his turn to run the marathon and I wanted to be there to cheer him on every step of the way. I booked my flight, helped make the posters, and scouted out the perfect places to scream for my big brother. My brother inspired me beyond belief that day. I don’t think he truly knows how much he inspired me and I certainly know that at the time I had no idea how it would change my life. I stood there that day and made the decision that in 2012, it would be my turn to take that course.
There’s a lot of preparation that goes into running a marathon. Anyone who has taken on this challenge knows this. You have to plan when you will run, where you will run, and ensure that you have enough goo, chews, and water to get you through some of the longest runs you will have ever faced. Many runners join training groups, but living down in Miami and having to train throughout the summer months for this fall race left me running solo most of the time. I read books, planned out my training schedule, and stuck with the plan. I never missed a single run and my only goal, well my only two goals, were to run under 5 hours and to not stop to walk.
I was fortunate enough to have Aaron alongside of me throughout all of this. He gave me tips like how many miles my shoes could hold before needing a new pair. He told me about http://www.runnerswarehouse.com where I could get some of my favorite gear for cheaper. He called me on Sundays and we would chat about our long runs and how our bodies were feeling. Marathon training is funny because your body hurts different each week. In the beginning it took my back a while to get used to the miles. Then it was my arches. Then my hip sockets. Every week, a different type of pain. But, having my brother along with me in this process helped ease my worries and kept me focused on the goals ahead of me.
Running that type of distance is not for the weak. You have to have a strong mindset. The reality is, you can be the strongest athlete, but if you don’t have control over your mind, then you will never be able to cross that finish line. The marathon is your classic angel/devil scenario. You will have to fight the demons in your head. The “I can’ts.” You have to be able to turn that into powerful statements and become your own biggest cheerleader. What goes on in my head during a long run will have to be saved for another blog post! I could talk your ear off on that one! 🙂
So how did this marathon change my life? How did it make me a better version of Brittany? Let me give you a story that is choking me up even as I begin to type it. So, here I am at mile 25. At this point in the marathon, the back of my right knee is absolutely killing me and I’m so close to my goals. I haven’t walked. I’m going to finish under 5 hours. Then I see them. I see my cheer section ready to give me the last charge of energy that I need to send me to the finish line. Except there’s a problem. My brother Collin isn’t cheering. He is helping my brother Aaron (who already finished the marathon ahead of his sister) take off his long pants. Neither of them are paying attention to me. Now at this point in the race- 4 and a half plus hours into the race- I hadn’t had one negative thought cross my mind. I filled my head and my heart with positive affirmations and gratitude. I smiled as I ran and I felt blessed to be there. Up until that moment I was a ball of running joy. And then it hit me. I passed my brothers who were ignoring me and the devil on my shoulder stood tall and said “I can’t believe it. All that work and nobody cares. They don’t even care about pushing you. You can’t do this. You are too tired to finish. Your body is hurting too much. Who do you think you are to be here today. Why did you think this was something you could do. You’re not an athlete. You’re not good enough for this race.” My heart was heavy, my mind was toxic.
And then a hand grabbed my shoulder. A figure appeared next to me. And that voice was silenced because I realized in that moment what was happening. Aaron wasn’t ignoring me. Neither was Collin. Collin was helping Aaron to take off his extra layers so that he could run the final mile with me. My heart has never been more full in my whole life. I can’t even type this without tears pouring down my cheeks. I’ll never forget that moment and how I felt as long as I live. Honest to goodness…it never fails that I cry out of pure joy when I remember this moment. But now for the real tear jerker…
As we approached the finish line, Aaron grabbed my hand and threw it up in the air with his and said “Smile at the camera!” There we were- hand in hand as we crossed the finish line. I’m pretty sure I came in 9,793rd place out of all the females and 25,492nd place out of all the runners but in that moment I was the champion.
I’ve never felt so empowered. I’ve never felt such love. I’ve never felt so accomplished. You see, there’s something bigger about running than just burning calories. There is a fire in your heart. An energy about you. Some sort of force that lets you know you are capable. You are truly capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for. Marathon running has taught me discipline. It has taught me how to focus and push away negativity and doubt. And it has taught me how to believe in myself. It has given me a fire in my heart that I never would have found if it wasn’t for this sport. Watching that marathon in October of 2010 began a journey for me. It inspired me to take up a new sport, but more importantly it inspired me to become a better person. It let me know that when life gets hard and times are tough, that I can always run to that happy place and come out stronger.