I’ve been running for ten years. It all started with a Thanksgiving 5k my sister wanted me to run with her. I remember hopping on the treadmill at the gym and barely being able to squeak out one minute without feeling my entire body was going to explode. “This was for the birds.”
However, something happened on the day of that Turkey Trot. I crossed the finish line in under 30 minutes, and felt exhilarated! I was hooked. From that moment on, it wasn’t a 5k, 10k, whatever. It was a “race”! I also realized why I always felt like I was going to die on the treadmill. I was racing myself on that conveyer belt. I had a lot to learn if I wanted to get faster, but I was game for the task. I’ve always been competitive against myself. Take note of that word… "against". I’d learn, later on, that it would hurt me.
I soon found myself registered for my first half marathon and then my first marathon. Coming in sub 2:00 and 4:00 respectively pushed my drive even further. By that time, I had made some pretty awesome friends in our county’s running community. This group was serious and quick! Boston Marathoners and all. I listened to them, took their advice, trained my heart rate, and soon I was keeping up with them for the entire long run on Sunday mornings.
By 2013 I was strong and confident. Brevard County has got a seriously competitive running community and I was running with the best of them for my age. Every 5k was a PR and I was always first or second in my age group with times in the very low 21’s. In October, I ran my marathon PR of 3:34 and qualified for the Boston Marathon by 11 minutes! Then my half marathon PR in November. It was an amazing year, and I was on top of the world! Little did I know it was all about to crumble.
My next marathon was a year later and I was on pace to run a 3:30 until my first bout with quad and calf cramps brought me to a screeching halt at mile 17. Finish time just over five hours. Then came Boston in 2015. I wasn’t trying to do anything special in this one, with the 40-degree temps, wind, and rain. I finished just under four hours and then took an ambulance ride to the hospital. Strike two.
Finally, attempt number three came at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, MN. I was so strong, running on pace to a sub 3:30 deep into mile 22 when both of my legs popped like rubber bands. Over the course of the next 3.5 miles, I watched my PR and BQ slip away yet again as I hobbled to the finish line. I cried from the pain, the anger, but mostly the disappointment in myself. Over the next two years, my training derailed. Just when I thought I was strong, something would happen and I’d let the mind game I played with myself get the best of me. I wound up bagging four marathons.
Tired of pitying myself, I decided it was time to take back control and I registered for the 2018 Miami Marathon. My training was on point and my mental game was strong. I was ready to run and I was ready to fall in love with the marathon again. Or at least I thought I was. Three weeks before my race, I found out that I had a very deep skin cancer on the tip of my nose, requiring extensive surgery and reconstruction of my nose. With almost 100 stitches in my face, Miami was off the table. I remember sobbing and becoming so angry. Not because I was disfigured, but because this time I was ready to race again and it was taken away from me.
Well, it served me well. What I learned in the months it took for my face to heal was that life is too precious to be hard on yourself…to be “against” yourself. Remember I said to remember that word? It’s ok to be competitive, but there is a healthy level of it. If we cross that threshold of competitiveness and turn it against ourselves, it can become damaging. It was for me.
The road to 2019 was long, but it was well worth it. I’m more resilient than I ever imagined and I take life as it happens. There is a higher purpose out there. What happens is just part of the plan. In October 2018, I walked the Cocoa Beach Half Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon, and in November, I ran my first endurance race in three years without any expectation. Somehow I ran just 15 seconds shy of my half marathon PR.
January of this year I made it to the Miami Marathon start line. This time, I did have expectations…to qualify for Boston. I was certainly strong enough. Mile 15 had a different plan for me though. It was the earliest I had ever had issues in a marathon, and the 11 miles to finish was long, but it was one of the best times I’ve had in a marathon. I didn’t care anymore about not meeting my goal. I walked, talked, and laughed with people who were feeling just like me…just happy to be there. Grateful to be alive. I did cry though. Actually, I sobbed down the entire finishers shoot, realizing I had finally beaten my worst enemy…myself.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m giving up on truly racing, but I have a whole new perspective. Life gives us little lessons along the way. It’s what we do with those lessons that matters. There are always two roads. Which one do we take? For this long lesson, I’m taking the one that treats me with kindness, and for some of us, that’s long overdue. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself, or you’ll lose your love for the game. I'm hanging up marathoning for a while now and I’m good with that. Learning the ropes of cycling and looking forward to my first duathlon this year! I’m sure there will be a long distance one in the foreseeable future!
Written by Karen Monda, Siren Luminary
Follow Karen on Instagram @karen_monda