Wait. How far is a marathon?

My youngest sister decided on a whim to sign up for the race Mark and I are running in her Wisconsin town next summer. She comes from a line of impulsive adventure seekers, the same line from which I descended, those who say yes first and ask questions later.

Which is why I got the follow up text, “wait, how far is a marathon?”

Inspirational speech and new running shoes later, she’s still in; it’ll be tough, but I know she’ll do the thing.

If I can do it, you can do it! Is what I tell her and most people who have something to say about our running adventures.

No doubt, you’ve heard the line before; in general it’s supposed to show you that if a terrible/horrible/no-gooder like me can do it, so can you! person who is obviously in a much better position physically/mentally/financially!

Does it ever really inspire confidence? The sayer is never actually terrible, horrible, or no-good, they’re usually pretty excellent, and the hearer already had a running list of their own detractions to talk themselves out of it.

Ok. But in this case you have to trust me:

If I can do it…

Growing up, I listened to the stories my dad would tell about his time in the Navy. He would talk about being on ships and in tents on top of mountains, about being pushed into pools with hands tied behind his back and treading water for hours with boots and uniform on and all the running. I thought “SURELY this is NOT for me!”

I had wanted a career in the military, to be just like my dad, but I knew I absolutely could not/would not force my body to do those things. I was pampered and pristine. And so I completely altered the course of my life and went the civilian way, the pampered civilian way, where I wasn’t asked to lift heavy things or run for no reason.

My dad, by-the-way, was part of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, a special unit based in Okinawa, Japan that crawled around in the mud and jumped out of planes; not exactly the most accurate, all encompassing representation of military life. A fact I only just recently learned.

This is the epitome of lazy, my friends, and I challenge you to find a lazier fellow than the one who could not be bothered to go down a path of service because running was just too sweaty and hard.

It is terrible, horrible and simply No. Good.

And yet!

I’ve since run a marathon.

In fact, I’ve run five.

I’ve climbed the highest peaks in New York State and started climbing the highest in New Hampshire.

I’m also in the process of joining the Navy Reserves.

So believe me when I say if I can pick myself up and off the couch where I thought I was perfectly content with my bag of Hostess Donettes and do it…

You really can do it!

I’m not telling you to go run a marathon (but hey, if I can do it….wink). I’m saying you really can do that hard thing you swore you absolutely could not/would not do.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

My sister is going to take her training one bite at a time; slowly and deliberately she’ll add to what she did the day before and by August that will have taken her over 26.2 miles. She’ll use a training plan that has laid out exactly what she will need to do in order to reach that goal.

I started out in much the same way and picked up a few lessons:

Have grace for yourself!

Recognize that you are starting something new and unfamiliar and will not be the best at it. I struggle to overcome this daily. You might think it the trait of a type A perfectionist and good on you! for demanding the very best of yourself, but you’d be wrong. It’s the act of the most lazy of all the lazies; of someone who paints themselves a failure after getting it wrong on the first try and can’t be bothered to put in the hard work to reach the finish line. Don’t be that guy, but until you’re not that guy, give yourself a little grace as often as you need it.

Be patient with yourself!

I see you. I know you. I am you. Your body does not respond well to changes. It is going to try to overthrow your ruthless regime and take away your ability to walk, bend, or sleep. If you take your time and keep at it, you will regain control over your body and you will reap those glorious rewards that come with doing the thing.

When I trained for my first long distance race, a half marathon, I had knee pain that radiated up and down my leg making it hard to even walk; it was discouraging and I didn’t know how I’d be able to finish my training. But I learned what strength training exercises would build up the muscles around my knee, muscles I literally never ever use, I did them, and I ran my race. It wasn’t pretty, I still had some pain in my knee, but by my third half marathon my legs were conditioned enough that I was able to run pain free.

There were side stitches and heart issues I had to overcome too—please don’t make me tell you to check with your doctor before taking any of my advice!

Sometimes you have to force yourself!

I have to tell myself daily to do the things that need to be done. I’d rather sleep. I’d rather snack. I’d rather clean the toilet some days than go out on a cold morning to run around my neighborhood for an hour. But I know that 1) I’m training for a goal and if I veer too far off course it’s only going to be that much harder to cross the literal finish line, and 2) I’m going to feel like I let myself down by not doing it. It’s a lose-lose situation; I’m miserable if I do and I’m miserable if I don’t, but read: Glorious Rewards above and you see there is a “win” at the end of one of those miserable tunnels.

Mark’s advice is to get up, get dressed, lace up the sneaks and head out for just a mile. If after that mile I’m still not feeling it, come home, put the comfies on and and get back in bed. Of course I never come back after that mile, that’s the whole point; by then the blood is pumping, the endorphins are pumping and I’m ready to finish my workout.

It’s ok to hate it!

Life is not sunshine and puppy kisses all the time, neither is pushing yourself toward your limit. But if you do, you’ll find that you have a much higher tolerance for the tough stuff. As a wise man once said said, “after the Olympics, everything looked so damned easy.”

I remind my teenage step-daughter that she’s allowed to be miserable as we’re climbing the worst-of-the-worst rock scramble to get to the top of our mountain; that she can stop and breathe and rest her legs and let out an age appropriate swear like “balderdash!” and “barnacles!” She usually skips the swearing but does haul her butt to the top and enjoys that glorious reward.

Don’t recreate the wheel!

Others have come before you, they did the thing and learned a lesson or two so listen! When climbing the mountains in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Park, Mark and I read blogs on what others did, we scoured Facebook posts, we found out which trails to avoid, where there might be broken bridges and mud pits. When we run we use Hal Higdon’s training plans that give us the workouts our legs need to be able to cover the distance and we cover the damn distance. Although we could figure all this out on our own, why waste the experiences of the ones who’ve done the work? Look to your adventure-elders, they might know a thing or two.

My sister is going to learn her own lessons along the way. When it comes to the nitty gritty of running before work vs. running after work, fueling with burritos vs. gel blocks, through trial and error she’ll figure out what works best for her; but she will have a foundation of advice to build a successful training plan on…in a really good pair of shoes.