The Road to My First Marathon

It’s been a long time coming. I ran my first marathon (the North Face Endurance Challenge WI) this weekend. Squeeeeeeeal!

I’ve been a runner for most of my life, but not competitively (after high school) because being a cheap bastard, I always wondered why someone would pay to run when it’s free to run alone.

Sure, you get an ugly shirt and a cheap medal, but I never wore the former, and always threw away the latter.

And, competition is hard on perfectionists. Especially when you’re a middle of the pack runner.

But, the year after college, around 2001, I decided I’d do a marathon.  And hurt my knee, badly, two weeks before the race. I couldn’t do the race, I couldn’t run for another year, and I let everyone down who had donated to the fundraising cause I was supporting.

Epic fail. I decided that marathons were not worth it.

I spent my 20’s biking, lifting, and running casually. I did a few triathlons during the height of that craze, but never fully embraced it. (I shudder just thinking about that damn road bike and the open water swims! EFFFFF!)

And then, after I had my first baby at 30, life changed.

I could never get to the gym, lifting was a luxury, I had no time for 2-hour bike rides, and I needed the most efficient way to exercise possible.

Running. My old friend.

Life was so busy with a new baby, that I longed to identify with the parts of myself that I had given up.

Some women plan a ladies’ night—I signed up for a half marathon.

It worked; race day was MINE, and the accomplishment was MINE, and I could still be Tara, and not just mom on that day, for a few hours, and everyone was happy.

I did well my first race (it still remains my PR), and signed up for another not paying any attention to the course description.

It turned out to be a trail run. At Devil’s Lake. Up hills, and down cliffs, and over every root, boulder, rock, and rut possible. I had no idea what I had signed up for.

A grueling, torturous 13.1 grind, complete with scrapes, bee stings (my sister-in-law), and near-vertical climbs. Absolutely nothing like a road race, and not even possible to compare.

I loved it.

The silence of being in the woods, the changing terrain, the distraction of the beauty, the lack of pressure to run a certain pace (because you can’t!!!), the smaller field of runners, the absence of hype, the need for a big butt to power up hills (holla!)… it all just clicked on so many levels for me.

This was my niche. Half marathons, on the trails. Long enough to remove the speed variable of a shorter race, because I’m not built to sprint, short enough to require athleticism and explosiveness, and manageable enough to train for without giving up your entire life. It was my wheelhouse, and I knew it.

Until a voice whispered to me, “You should try a full trail marathon, Tara. Try something different.”

Groan.

Once the voice starts… it’s over.

I looked up training plans a few times, and tried to put that idea to rest. I’d have to run HOW MANY miles during the week and on weekends? How?? With two kids and two jobs and the desire for a social life? Nope, gonna stick to half marathons.

The voice kept whispering.

One day, I pulled up a training plan, opened my personal calendar, and consulting the two, created a spreadsheet titled, “How_the_hell_I_will_do_a_marathon.xlsx.” Still not really thinking I could. Not without getting injured or going crazy.

I hung the spreadsheet on my fridge and in my office and quietly began training.

I planned runs around everything. Every moment I was not with my kids or working, I was running.

I woke up at 5 a.m., worked 2 jobs, and woke up the next day at 5 a.m. to run again.

I knew I was nuts, and one-track-minded, but I suddenly wanted to check this off my bucket list. Very badly.

I don’t often let myself want things that much, for fear of failure.

Before I knew it, 4 months were gone, I had run 520 miles, it was race day, and I was healthy, rested, and ready to run. My first marathon!!

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