I walked through the door of my third-floor apartment, exhausted as all hell in a sweat-soaked shirt and already sore legs. My boyfriend was playing video games on the couch and, without taking his eyes off the screen said, "How was your run?"
I collapsed in the entryway (literally crumpling to the ground in the least-cute way possible) and broke down in tears. Not happy tears, or proud tears, or even give-me-food-I'm-so-hungry tears. They were pain-induced tears, and instead of floating on cloud nine after conquering a distance that I never had before, all I could think about was the ice bath I so desperately wanted.
That was my first 20-mile training run for the New York City marathon.
I was so pumped to train when I was first offered a spot in the marathon. I had run 11 half marathons by then. I had even trained for another full marathon, but I got injured halfway through training. After a lot of physical therapy, I was ready to give it my all and finally cover 26.2 miles.
I was initially excited for race day, too. I loved every single step of half marathon training, every finish line, and every ounce of energy you get from racing a course lined with fans. Not to mention I was about to run through my city, which just so happens to host one of the greatest marathons in the world. I lived and breathed everything there was to know about proper nutrition plans, long runs, tempo runs, hill work, strength-training, stretching, foam rolling...the list goes on and on. Despite all the components that come with marathon training—which, I admit, can be pretty intimidating at first glance—I felt determined.
It wasn't until I started hitting the longer-distance training runs that my confidence started to falter. I knew pain was par for the course with these long runs—no matter how you slice it, 16, 18, and 20 miles is a lot of ground to cover. I read all about the importance of mental training and knew I needed to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That's what every marathon friend had told me, and I tried every trick to get there. I was even raising funds for a charity that was close to my heart—the National Blood Clot Alliance, which helps people with blood disorders—to inspire me whenever my perseverance started to waver. And most of the time it worked.
Back at my apartment after that first 20-mile run: Nothing major had gone awry. I clocked the miles at a good-for-me pace, fueled properly, and felt okay despite the pain. But I realized something then. Or rather, my boyfriend helped me realize it as I slowly peeled my compression socks off and he gathered all my ice bath essentials (bikini bottoms, warm layers for my top half, Gatorade, hot tea, and an episode of Friends on the iPad), all the while shaking his head.
"What's your problem? You didn't just run 20 miles," I snapped, thinking he had zero right to complain.
"I just don't understand why you're putting yourself through this," he said.
"Because I want to."
"Clearly, you don't. This isn't the same as all your other races."
I stopped to think about it. About how happy I was on all my long runs for half marathon training, how much I looked forward to my quiet Friday nights so I could pound the pavement in the morning. And then I compared it to this training cycle. I realized I dreaded almost every single run that was over 16 miles. I would sleep in later and later just to put off the feeling that I knew would come. The mental torture of staying on track when I didn't want to be running anymore. The constant mind games, telling myself I wasn't strong enough, fast enough, and that it shouldn't hurt this bad. I kept going because I craved that runner's high everyone bragged about on Instagram—a high I had once experienced and knew existed—and I wanted to show off that I, too, was about to be a marathoner. I wanted to prove that I was good enough when in my head, I was saying the opposite.
That exhilaration never came. Sure, I had happy moments on race day—nothing beats standing on top of the Verrazano Bridge listening to "New York, New York" and, as someone who lives in Astoria, dominating the dreaded Queensboro Bridge made me feel bad*ss. But as I crept closer to the finish line, I wasn't filled with determination to get there. In fact, I contemplated walking off the course as the 35-mph winds beat down on me and my upset stomach didn't agree with my fueling strategy. Entering Central Park wasn't fun, no matter how much happiness I tried to force myself to feel. I was angry that I wasn't feeling the way everyone said I should, and I was angry for doing this to myself when I didn't have to—let alone want to.
That's the exact moment I realized I would never run another marathon. Right as I saw the finish line, spotting my now-husband cheering his lungs out, I knew it would be the last time I raced for 26.2 miles. Because at the end of the day, running is supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be a stress-reliever, a happiness-builder, and a health-booster. No one cared if I ran marathons or not. I put that pressure on myself, and if I wasn't enjoying it, then what's the point?
Simply put, there wasn't one.
Did I regret running that marathon? No. If I hadn't, I would always wonder what would happen, and whether or not I could do it. Now it was a matter of deciding whether or not I wanted to do it. I thought about that as I stared at the registration screen for another marathon, tempted to see if I could better my time after less-than-ideal race conditions. After a beat of hesitation, I clicked out of that window. Instead, I registered for another half. And as soon as I laced up for my first training run, I felt that once-familiar feeling again: pure joy to be running.