“I think we lose sight of the beauty. The most beautiful things I look back on in my life are coming out from underneath things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath. You know, the moments I look back in my life, and think, those were the moments that made me — were moments of struggle.” – Opening audio clip from Brené Brown’s interview with Krista Tippett on On Being
Before I heard this sound clip, I had never heard of Brené Brown, but I knew we had a shared experience. My mind immediately returned to the day before my 23rd birthday – severely dehydrated, sitting on the side of the Hauptallee just after the 30k mark of the 2009 Vienna City Marathon.
In my last blog Stronger Together, I laid out all of the marathons I’ve run, and one in particular really stands out. It was by far my worst marathon experience ever, but in a way, it completely made me who I am today.
Yes, I’m talking about that 3:09 I ran in Vienna in 2009. As I mentioned, I was terribly out of shape. Since my debut 6 months earlier, I had learned how to love life and just enjoy running without any real objectives or sense of purpose.
I was still running 60-80 miles per week every week, but I did no speed work, and instead I focused more on bonding with my good friend Nick Baer, who was also a Fulbrighter and sub-3 hour marathoner, and happened to live just down the street.
While he was running longer and faster than ever, I was not. He was gaining fitness and I was just enjoying the concept of enjoying life with a side of running instead of letting running run my life.
Come race day, he was ready to PR and I was not. I put Nick’s pace agenda ahead of mine, and as we passed by the finishing shoot for the half marathon, I knew I had to do it all over again and I was in trouble. I let my training partner go ahead without me. (… and on to break 2:55 with a PR of over 3 minutes!)
At 15k I had already known I was in too deep, and from that point on, I started passing every liquid that I drank. (Aside from that day, I have still never peed my pants on any other run.) I started to feel really hot even though it barely got over 60 degrees during the race.
I negotiated with myself to continue on for at least 5 more kilometers at the 20k mark, and then again at the 25k mark, but by 30k, everything went south. I decided to call it. I had calculated that my finishing time was going to be over 3:00 at best, and my pride got the best of me.
As soon as I crossed that 30k mats, I pulled off the course in the Prater, just off the Hauptallee. I sat down on a piece of ground I had run by over 100 times with my friend Nick. Not really knowing what to do next, I caught my breath, and then started walking back towards the finish.
It was then that the voice of God came to me. Maybe it wasn’t God, but honestly, I have no idea where it came from. There must have been a PA system somewhere in the Prater, and I swear I heard a man come on and say in German “Come on, ladies! 4 of the top 16 women have already given up! Why not just have fun like the rest of us?”
I knew he was right. I knew that more than my dehydration, it was my pride that was keeping me from finishing the race. Plus… it was going to take me almost just as long to walk back to the finish area as it would to walk/jog the course.
So I decided I would “have fun like the rest of us” and finish. I walked/jogged the rest of the course. That last 12.2k took me 67min, but I got there. And I did it with a smile on my face.
Ever since then, I have kept that mental approach with me. I have vowed to have fun no matter what. But recently I’ve been a little conflicted because I don’t want anybody to get the wrong impression.
When I take in the sights, talk to my competition, or smile, wave, and give thumbs up to the spectators, I am not showboating. I have simply chosen to exercise my right to “have fun like the rest of us” regardless of how lofty my goals are, or how fast I’m trying to run.
So when you see me out there on the streets of New York, just understand that if my smile and waves may seem out of place, it’s just because I might happen to be the fastest recreational runner on the course.