Every race teaches me something about myself. With each race I learn that I am stronger than I thought I was in new, often unexpected ways. I learn more about the power the mind holds to keep us moving forward during difficult times. I learn new coping strategies to push through challenging parts. Sometimes I consider what makes me love marathoning is not just exploring new places, but exploring more of myself.
The Brookings Marathon had a lot going for it. First of all, it was FREE! In honor of the Brookings Marathon’s 50th anniversary the first person from each state to register received a free entry. I found a surprise refund check in my bag when I explored my race expo bag at my hotel. Free marathon…yes, please!
The race was a small race which makes the expo, race day parking, navigation and finding where things are much simpler. The race expo and race were extremely well organized and staffed with volunteers and organizers. The event was clearly planned by runner(s) with runners in mind as it showed in so many of the details. You would think this would be obvious at most races, but it is not always the case. There was a stepped up bag, a quality shirt I actually liked and will wear (I’ve worn it three times already), and a map on the back of the bib. The race course had tons of volunteers, close water stops, lots of restrooms and awesome signs put out throughout the entire race by organizers. And did I mention this race was free for me.
Coming into this marathon I was more exhausted physically and emotionally than I can remember being before a race. I was still getting used to eating normal meals after the nasty bought of food poisoning I had less than two weeks before that caused me to barely eat for days, not drink my morning coffee for NINE days (no coffee at all for FIVE days) and lose five pounds in five days. Physically I did not feel I had full strength yet. Emotionally I was so exhausted due to the passing of my son’s friend that week and attending the visitation the night before I left. Consequently, I went into this race feeling pretty empty. I guess that put me in the perfect spot to do some struggling…er, learning.
The morning of the race, I woke up in good spirits framing my mind about what I knew would grow difficult at some point. The marathon, no matter how many you do, I feel always hits a point or points where things get hard. You just know it is going to happen. Mentally preparing for it helps me to stay calm when this hits and know that I can work through this because I have before.
This race definitely taught me about my own strength as is was not very scenic. Like at all. Small parts went through parks and areas I’m sure the organizers tried to highlight, but alas it just isn’t in that scenic of an area. Without the mental distraction of beautiful sites, this race was a bit of a slog fest for me. The course also had lots and lots of turns. Running tangents is something I think all marathon runners know about, but with some almost 100 turns I read someone say that brings it to a new level. It was very distracting in a not great way to turn so much.
Mile 8-11:01 (Bathroom stop)
The roads were also not closed to traffic as it was a small race. This was kind of new for me. Even in smaller races I’ve done before, roads were closed or partially blocked off to provide runners space and peace of mind that they could focus on their race and not worry about the person who is not paying attention or looks down at their phone and sideswipes a runner. This may seem like a small detail, but when my mind had been working on focusing on the task of running a marathon and working through those details, focusing on where I was in relation to traffic on some busy road stretches is NOT what I wanted to be doing. It was extra tiring.
Mile 14-10:06 (change shirt and moved race bib to tank)
Despite these challenges, each race reminds me of things I often forget about. In regular day to day it is easy to forget about the power of physically pushing your limits to exhaustion and the accomplishment this invites. The power of people to encourage, uplift and inspire. The power of a comment or phrase at just the right time. The power of positivity in changing mindset.
The friendly people I chatted with on the course saved me. Two in particular were both working on their 50 state goals also. I got to meet and run with a woman who quit teaching after ~ten years to open a running store. She is working on her second round of running 50 marathons in 50 states. Her first round she completed by age 40. She also told me about her recent running adventure of running a marathon in Antarctica followed by a week of exploring. Later in the race when I swore I just didn’t want to talk to anyone came along a friendly mom of teens working on her 50 states goal. This was state number 30 for her. She was from Ohio, recommended the Flying Pig Marathon and invited me to stay with her when I run Ohio. She was exactly what I needed to see and talk to at that exact moment in the race. I was uplifted, encouraged and inspired by these people so much.
Mile 23-10:24 (Bathroom stop)
Since I ran a marathon six weeks prior without maintaining the training I’d hoped to (I know we’ve all heard that story before from me :), I did not have a set time goal in mind. I needed to simply run and not have any extra pressures that day. This was a slow marathon for me. Even though I knew I didn’t have the training or the mental/physical state to push it, it is hard for me to know times I have ran in the past compared to what I’m running during this busy season of life. I try no to dwell on that too much though. I also like to remind people we all have our fast, slow and in between paces. We all know what it feels like to run each of them. The numbers really don’t matter so much as the sense it brings us in knowing what we are capable of running versus what we actually run.
During the last mile and a half of the race I was just so ready to be done. At the halfway point of mile 25 I passed a sign that said I can and I will. This became my motto for the rest of the race. Every ten steps or so I would say out loud to myself, “I can and I will.” Over and over again. It got me to the finish. It kept my mind on the task at hand. It kept the negative out. It kept me running when I wanted to stop. And in the end, even though I was talking to myself and probably looked slightly crazy, I did it. I can and I did.
The Brookings Marathon was mentally challenging to my already taxed brain with its extra challenges, focus zappers and negative distractions. Had my headspace been better prior or had I had some companions, I might have viewed this a bit differently; take my description with a grain of salt. I was so proud to have finished this race with only half my head and body in the game. Not easy for me for sure.
No matter how a race goes running wise, I never forget that part of my goal is also to experience a state or city when crossing a state off of my list. I did know going in that this wouldn’t be possible with every state to the extent I wanted it to be. South Dakota was one of those states. Since I had already taken a trip to South Dakota a few years ago to visit the Badlands (see below), Custer, Mt. Rushmore, etc. I was okay with this being a quick trip. Let me be honest though it was not easy. A six hour drive Friday, running a marathon, driving home six hours and getting home to put my kids to bed while the husband was gone all in the same day was very tiring.
I did squeeze in some quick hiking in Garretson to visit Devil’s Gulch on Friday, a post-race celebratory brew at Eponymous Brewing Co. and stretched my legs in Sioux Falls at Falls Park on Saturday. The drive home took an extra shot of espresso in my coconut milk latte from Starbucks AND a stop at Caribou along with lots of singing to the radio. Whatever it takes to accomplish this goal of mine.
As I finish this post two weeks post-marathon I still don’t know what my next running goal is exactly. I’ve got some ideas, but no plans for sure. It is both lovely and terrible to not have committed to what’s next, but it is also fitting for life right now.