Lessons from a Past Life


The merciless sun was beating down and sweat was pouring down my face. My feet were blocks of cement strapped to the stumps of my legs, and I wanted nothing more than to lay down on my back, smack dab in the middle of Michigan Avenue, hoping that I wouldn’t get run over. Instead, I just kept muttering an insipid Nike slogan to myself, “Don’t suck. Just do it.”.

Of course, I assume that I wasn’t the only person out there feeling that way: after all, it was mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon. It was perfect spectating weather — mid 70’s and sunny — which meant that it was not exactly great marathon weather (the sunburn I’d have at day’s end would attest to that fact).

But, let me start at the beginning. It was October 2011 and this was my fourth marathon, my third Chicago Marathon. After each marathon, I always swore that this would be the last. Really, the last one! Honest! But then, as the agony of the last marathon faded, it would be replaced by the angst of the unsettled score I had with the distance: the completion of a sub-4 hour marathon. And that’s how I got to be in the middle of Michigan Avenue, ready to pass out, looking as if I were on a death march.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t go sub-4 hour. My finish time was 4:09:40, just a little bit over what I had wanted, but it didn’t matter — I was ecstatic. And the whole experience taught me lessons that I’d do well to keep in mind:

Training matters
Every day, there was something I had to do and I had to want it more than I wanted that cookie or to sleep in. And going against everything I thought I knew to be true about myself, I trained, trained hard and kept at it with a consistency that I didn’t think I had in me. No matter what anyone says, the hard goals in life require dogged preparation.  

If it were easy, everyone would do it
Sure, there were 45,000 other runners around me, but still over 2.6 million people just in the city of Chicago that weren’t doing it because they didn’t think they could. Hard goals separate you from the crowd.

When the going gets tough, the tough just keep plodding along
There were parts of the marathon that just flew by, like the early miles when my biggest worry was whether I was running too fast or if I should have Gatorade at this water stop or the next. And then there were the other 24 miles where just about every cell in my body wanted to quit, but even still there were those few rebel cells in my body that whispered, “Just a few more steps…” over and over. Just move forward — that’s all that counts.

The finish line is the shizz
I made the left turn onto Columbus Avenue and saw the finish line banner up ahead, waving in the breeze. I saw the time clock, sadly past 4 hours, but not yet hitting 4:10. I unearthed 45 seconds of what felt like sprinting (in reality, um, yea, not so much) and crossed the finish line, arms raised in triumph, hearing the announcer say my name. And with that, I fell to my knees, simultaneously laughing and sobbing, and was just so damn relieved that it was over (side note: there’s no better way to attract cute EMTs than to fall over after running a marathon).

There’s no better feeling than being proud of yourself and your effort
After assuring the EMTs that I really was okay, I could feel the sense of accomplishment and fierce pride spread through me. I did it. I really, truly did it. Perhaps I hadn’t hit my 4 hour goal, but I had trained as hard as I knew how and I didn’t quit out on the course, not once. I knew that I had pushed as hard as was possible and that feeling, well, there’s just nothing like it.


And that’s really the main takeaway from all this: I can do whatever I want and anything is possible. All it takes is commitment and consistency and the deep down desire to get it. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. Any goal is just a marathon in disguise.



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