TALES OF LONGER TRAILS (26.2 to be exact!)

My brother and I stretching before the race started.

I recently had my 26th birthday and also ran my first marathon (26.2 miles!) in Aspen, Colorado. I think it’s important to reflect each year to celebrate accomplishments, learn from failures and set goals for the year to come. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I learned during my 25th year and what I want to continue to learn going into my 26th year. During my marathon I think I solidified what a big focus for this year (and the rest of my life) would be and I’m calling it Mission Mental Grit.

I ran my first marathon three weeks ago wildly underprepared. I am used to getting miles in hiking on trails, going for shorter runs (6 miles and under) and getting my daily strength training workout in but I did not make time for or focus on a marathon specific training plan. When I showed up on race day I was determined to finish but I also knew that it may take me a while because I did not properly train. The determination was there though and I made little goal posts in my head to motivate me to the finish line. The first goal was to continuously run until mile 13. 13.1 miles is the most I’ve ever run but I’ve hiked much longer distances so I knew I’d have more in the tank to complete the race. At mile 13 I could take my first break to refuel and then I wanted to keep up my run with intermittent walking breaks til mile 26.2. That was my plan and it was time to execute.

Race day morning arrived and it was a brisk 20 degrees out. Even though it was cold I thought I’d warm up fast once I got going. The first 13.1 miles went by pretty smoothly besides my extremely numb hands that could not seem to warm up. I had some self doubt creep up at mile 7 when the half-marathoners joined us with fresh fast energy. I was starting to feel a bit tired and I still had a daunting 19 miles ahead of me. I tried to push the doubt away and keep up my pace focusing on getting to the 13.1 mile mark. Mile 14 to 18 consisted of running with short walking breaks and I was still feeling decent. At mile 17 the race course split from those running the half-marathon and I had frequent thoughts throughout the race about running in with the half-marathoners making my race 20 miles instead of 26.2. Wasn’t 20 miles enough? That’s still 7 miles longer than I’ve ever run I kept telling myself. The only person holding me accountable to running this marathon was myself and it feels a lot easier to quit on me than it does when someone else is counting on me. I’d only be letting myself down and I could always try again another time.

My brother and I after completing the race!

That’s when it dawned on me- How many times have I given myself an easy out to quit when things got uncomfortable? I was making a slew of excuses in my head as to why I did not have to finish what I set out to do and I felt absolutely fine justifying them to myself. When would this cycle stop? When would I make a goal, a plan and finally always hold myself accountable to it? I’ve quit on myself and given myself easy outs too many times in my life. Whether it be stopping in the middle of a hard workout, not finishing an educational book, cleaning my room, meal prepping or finishing a blog post when I said I was going to. These examples that may seem insignificant create a snowball effect over time and it gets easier and easier to give up when I simply don’t feel like it or things get harder than I want deal with. When I saw the split at mile 17 and huge arrows pointing to the marathon course I felt reenergized as I was not going to quit on myself. Not this time.

This new energy and determination only lasted so long. At mile 20 my hands finally de-thawed but unfortunately my headphones died and I could feel the blisters growing larger and larger on my toes. An energy gel I took made me feel very nauseous and my mind quickly spiraled into quitting mode. Again. I stopped running at mile 20 and continued to walk at a quick pace trying to get my nauseousness under control. I spent 3 miles trying to convince myself that I was in fact not nauseous at all. Those 3 miles were dreadful and filled with cheesy positive self talk to keep me going.

When I hit mile 23 my internal chant turned to “It’s a great day for a 5K”. I had 3.2 miles left and I knew I would complete the race.

I know our bodies can do a lot more than our minds allow us to do. For all challenges in my life, my mind is the weakest link as to why something doesn’t get accomplished. I proved to myself during the marathon that if I can conquer my mind, I can do a lot more in this life than if I let my doubts and comfort zone determine my future. Year 26 is going to be focused on controlling this powerful machine and my natural doubting tendencies. It’s going to be focused on finishing what I start and set out to do. It’s going to be focused on mental growth and I’m excited for the challenge.

I’ve had an incredible 25 years and looking back, my proudest moments and accomplishments happened when I kept pushing after my mind tells me to quit. So here’s to the next year and the many more mental marathons in life ahead. May we all learn to pause, refocus on our goals and finish the race when things inevitably get hard.

Until the next tale… Happy trails.

-Hannah

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