We all know the Chicago Marathon was not my finest performance, but after several months to reflect on the race, I learned some important lessons. My friend, Melissa, an accomplished marathoner and ultrarunner, was especially influential in helping me realize the marathon can be a demanding, unforgiving beast, and sometimes your biggest failure teaches you more than your biggest success.
Here are some of the most valuable things I learned from Chicago:
1. You can do everything right and still have a bad race. I had trained hard. I had gutted out long runs in the heat and humidity. I had iced religiously. I had taken rest days seriously. And yet, on race day, there are so many variables–the weather, how you feel that morning, how you slept the night before, if an old injury flares up. You can do everything perfect up to the start of the race and still not perform well. It’s not what we want to happen. It’s 100 times better if a bad run happens during training. But it can (and, at some point, likely will) happen during a race, and that’s just how life unfolds at times.
2. Sometimes your best is all you can give–and that is enough. I certainly did not feel I gave my best during the marathon. It took me several weeks to realize I had, even if that meant only putting one foot in front of the other. During the race, my best felt like my worst. But I learned that your best is all you can give during any given moment–and that is enough, no matter how it compares to your best during a different moment.
3. A bad race hurts, but a DNF hurts more. There were many times I wanted to quit. I felt sick, I was in a lot of pain, and I was too hot. But since I didn’t have an acute injury or was dry heaving on the side of the course, I knew I had to keep going, or I would regret it later. I’m glad I didn’t quit, because a DNF would have hurt a hell of a lot more than finishing the race.
4. You have to let go. I have a really hard time letting things go. No wonder it took me three long months to get over Chicago. But to move on, to fall in love with running again, I knew I had to. The bitterness burned for so long that I lost the desire to do the one thing I loved most. I knew I could never fully heal until I let it go. There will always be another race, another opportunity, another chance.
5. When you have nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire. This is one of my favorite quotes. Chicago taught me that the human spirit is so much stronger than our physical body. It keeps fighting, even when everything else in you screams to stop. I dug deep that day, deeper than I ever have before, and somehow kept going.
So, to my dear friend, Melissa, thank you for helping me heal. Every runner should have a person like you in his or her life.