Many moons ago, in the summer of 2009, I was living with my dad in Boston. I’d had a particularly hard year, my college workload had nearly doubled in the second year of my degree, and I’d just recently ended a stressful three-year relationship with my boyfriend. The spring months were spent in a hazy daze of overwhelming anxiety and heartbreak. I knew something had to change. I turned to exercise to improve my mood, but being a broke college student in Boston meant I couldn’t afford to join the gym. So I turned to running.
When I was a child, my dad had always been an avid runner, which fascinated me. So off I went, armed with a few pro tips from the man himself, a good playlist, and a pair of shorts that said “Sexy Back” on them (2009 Ciara was big into Justin Timberlake). I lapped the neighborhood a few times and ran two awful miles. That’s right. Little old me ran two miles! The fun started when I ran down a hill a few days later. Running downhill with the breeze on my face, I remember thinking, This must be what flying feels like. Even though the task of running itself was physically hard, I kept going back to it that summer. It was amazing. It gave me an outlet for my anxieties and helped me heal my broken heart.
When I moved back to Dublin to finish college, I stopped running. The great thing about Boston was that no one knew me there. I could run to my heart’s content and not care what I looked like because I was practically anonymous. It was great. I somehow had it in my head that if I ran in Dublin, people would surely point and laugh. So I stopped running for a long time.
Post-Berlin Marathon, September 2017
Running became something I did when I tried to lose weight or enforce some semblance of health into my daily routine. I always came back to it, because it did actually make me feel good, but never purely for the joy of running. Eventually, in January 2014, I made a New Year’s resolution: get running and stay running. So on a chilly day at the end of January, I walked 5 minutes to a local park as a warm-up and ran a 5K in just about 40 minutes. It gave me an outlet, once again, for my fuzzy head. Except this time I was hooked.
I kept at it, and week after week I ran a little bit farther, a little bit faster. Initially, I only ran at night because I didn’t want anyone to see me. When I ran at night, alone in the dark, I felt free. Little did I know then that people commend you simply for trying, but that was a lesson to be learned at another time. Running became like a moving meditation, and it still is to this day. Some of my biggest stresses and problems have been either released or solved during runs. It’s like a magic wand for stress and anxiety. It’s mind-bogglingly amazing.
I remember tackling my first 10K run and lying on my kitchen floor afterward, scarfing oranges down my throat for energy. I thought, I will never run a marathon. To me, it seemed like hell. I compared it to the optional thesis in my college degree: Why torture yourself if you don’t have to? No siree, the marathon was not for me. Or so I thought. Ahem.
After several months of gaining confidence with every kilometer, every mile, I was inspired by some friends that ran hard and often to try a race. Yes, that’s right. I was going to pay someone to let me run 5 kilometers—for fun. I was terrified, and so many doubts crept through my mind: What if I come in last? What if people laugh at me? Who do I think I am signing up for a race? I’m not a real runner. I still take walk breaks! They’ll all know I’m a fraud! The list goes on. When I showed up at the start line, I was shaking—and not just from the freezing cold November morning.
Dublin Marathon, 2016
Since that race in 2014, I’ve done 35 races, including four marathons. If you had asked me in January 2014 where I would be with my running now, I never would have fathomed my current ability or the journey I’ve been on to get here. And I never would have dreamed that I’d have completed four marathons (two in Dublin, one in Paris, and one in Berlin) and countless other distances. I think I probably would have said that I’d like to be running 10K on the regular. I never would have said that I’d be a long-distance runner with the goal of running the Boston Marathon by 2020. I guess my point is to never say never.
Friends and colleagues often ask, “How do you do it?” This is often followed by a “I could never do that.” I’ve always been a plucky, resilient sort, and I’ve approached running in the same way. Try, try again. Keep on keeping on. Dogmatic determination with every stride, at every mile. The results have been incredibly rewarding. I often wonder how I do it, as I was never someone you would’ve exactly called “athletic” growing up. If I (the girl who had a permanent note for gym class as a teen) can do it, then anyone can.
To this day I still question whether I’m a “real runner,” even after all the miles and the literal blood, sweat, and tears that I’ve poured into my training. I guess this is something that every runner struggles with on some level. There’s always going to be someone who runs faster or trains harder. That shouldn’t be a reason to stop you from running, if you want to. Let that give you something to aspire you, to motivate you to go farther, faster, and longer than you ever thought you could. Training for races has given me a sense of purpose and dedication that I never even knew I possessed. It helps me surprise myself on a near daily basis. Running has turned me into a healthier, happier human being.
To sum this all up, I love to run, especially long distances. The distance is humbling and calls to a strength of spirit I never knew I possessed. Each mile makes me a better-rounded human, with less anxiety, less worries, less fears, and seriously killer calves.
Amen to that.
Post-Paris Marathon, April 2017
Tips for the novice marathon runner (should you wish to put yourself through hell like me):
1. Invest in a pair of good runners (sneakers to you Americans)
I cannot stress enough how important proper running shoes are. Go to a specialty running store, get your gait tested, and take them on a test run. A good store will let you return them in exchange for a better pair if they don’t work for you. Your feet, and your joints, will thank you 26.2 miles later.
2. Get a training buddy
Having a buddy to train with makes the process 100 times easier. You’ll have someone to bitch about the miles with and the time will fly by. It also makes you more accountable when you have to get up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday to get in 20 miles before lunchtime.
3. Make a killer playlist
For the times you won’t have someone to moan about the miles with, make a great playlist. Whether it’s AC/DC, Jay-Z, or a podcast about stamp collections, plug into something that will help you tune out and get the miles into your legs.
4. Don’t worry about your time
If it’s your first marathon, don’t put pressure on yourself to run a good time. Your goal should just be to finish. There’s magic in every mile, even if the magic is that you survived another mile. Keep your head up and drink in the sights and sounds, give little kids a high five, read all of the signs, and thank the supporters for cheering you on. Don’t ruin the experience by worrying about your pace.
5. Run your own race
How does the old saying go? Comparison is the death of joy? The same applies to running. Run your own race and don’t compare yourself to other runners. There will always be someone who is faster than you, and everyone is on their own journey. Enjoy yours.
Berlin Marathon, September 2017