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When people ask me how my last half marathon went, I usually say “Oh– that’s a complicated question”. It’s complicated, in short, because it was painful and probably the toughest race I’ve ever run. I trained for a better race, but it just wasn’t my day. But I say that despite the pain, I think I’ll look back on the race and feel very thankful that I had it because I learned so many great lessons. I’m sure there are lessons in this race that I have yet to learn, but being a two and a half weeks out I’ve spent a good amount of time processing these lessons.

I learned that strength training has a lot of value in running. I lifted 1-2 times a week (I joined Best Body Bootcamp half way through training) and did Pilates 1-2 times a week too. A few days before my half marathon I was watching Spirit of the Marathon, and towards the end Denna Kastor (medalist at the 2004 Olympic Marathon) is pushing to the end. The commentators tell the viewer to look at her upper body; her legs are shot and she’s using her core and arms to finish (she eventually won that marathon). Around mile 9 of my half marathon I remembered that part of the documentary, and I thought “well- my legs might be shot and cramping, but I’ve been lifting and doing pilates for a reason, and I can use my arms and core to finish this race”. For four miles I had my core engaged pilates-style and was using all the muscles I’ve developed the last few months to push myself along through my leg cramps. I’m fairly certain that if my leg cramps had occurred the way they did during my first two half marathons (when I wasn’t lifting or doing pilates regularly) I wouldn’t have been able to finish. I’m thankful that I had developed other muscles I could recruit to get me through.

I learned that I am capable of more physically than I thought I was. If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know that I get injured really easily running. I have gone into every half marathon wondering if I’ll be able to finish because of some nagging pain. I learned that, even in the face of pain, I can push through and keep going. Yes, it’s really not comfortable (I wanted to cry for over an hour but refused to even sit down or allow myself that break), but I can survive it. It was a great lesson to learn.

I learned that I am much stronger than I was even a few months ago. I alluded to this above, but I don’t think I would’ve been able to finish this same race last May or even during my second half in November. The strength and perseverance over these last months of training have been critical, and it took almost all of what I had to finish this race. It’s good to see progress even in a race that wasn’t my best.

I learned that doing physical therapy can be an important part of training. After my IT band flare up less than a month before my half marathon in November, I vowed to focus on physical therapy exercises in my off months. Even once I started to train I continued to do these exercises once or twice a week. While my IT band still flares from time to time, this was not a pain that I really felt in this half marathon. It was great to see that my PT has paid off! And yes- I am planning to continue to do these exercises weekly.

I learned that our success cannot be determined simply by the time we cross the finish line. Ok, I did know this before, but this race was a good reminder of this fact. I think it was successful that I kept running over over an hour with my legs really cramping. I think it was successful that I managed to cut 12 minutes off my course time (even though it wasn’t a PR). I think it’s successful in that I had the chance to push myself in ways that I’ve never been able to before.

I learned that what makes a race great is different for every person. This very much goes along with the point I made above about success. Partly because I have POTS and partly because I’m a counselor, I’ve wanted to keep a healthy mental view of my running. This means that while I definitely look at numbers and pour over them at times, I don’t define the greatness of a race by these things. Great comes in all sorts of forms, not just numbers.

I learned that lessons learned from running can be applied to most areas of life. Delayed gratification, endurance and perseverance, putting away the need for comfort in order to succeed in a goal, and learning to deal with pain are all lessons that are critical for being healthy and balanced in life. Running, and especially this race, is a great reminder of these things.

So, I’ll end in the way that I started. When we think of a successful race, we tend to only think about our finish time, if we met our goals, and if we’ve PR’d. This race showed me that a race is so much more than the clock time at the end, and there are a lot of components that go into making a race successful. Yes, I’m still disappointed that my legs cramped up and that I didn’t run my best on the 4th. But I’m thankful for this race because of the lessons I learned and the strength I saw in myself.

Now it’s your turn to share: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from racing?