As I stood at the starting line of my second marathon, I began to reflect back to how I got to this place. I remembered the critics, the friends I'd parted ways with, and even my own doubts about the time running would take away from my family. I remembered the embarrassment and all the fears I had to face to continue running following my collapse in a race six months earlier. And how hard I’ve had to work to get to this moment without giving up on myself or my dream.
So I stood there, calm and ready to run 42.2 kilometers for the second time. The story of how I arrived at this starting line is about how running has changed me. It has not, however, been a physical change. There is no before and after photo. My change was on the inside. It cannot be photographed or measured; it can only be told from my heart.
Five years ago I woke up having had a dream. In this dream I was running (an activity I had never done deliberately) and I felt happy, with an abounding joy and contentment – feelings so simple, and yet feelings I have struggled to actually feel without accompanying doubt, fear and sadness for most of my life. This dream was so strong that I decided to listen.
I’ve always been healthy, but I preferred swimming, yoga and walking/hiking rather than anything that pushed me too much physically. But I didn’t have a choice anymore. I knew something had to happen if I wanted to live a life that was positive for my children, without a shadow cast over it. So, in the dark and down lane-ways in inappropriate shoes, I started to walk/run/walk/run where no-one could see. I remember those first feelings of accomplishment, and tiny successes, like an extra block here and there, and then the day I ran my whole route without stopping (about 5km) I threw my hands in the air like I’d won a marathon. To start with I guess it was just endorphins, but eventually I found that place of quiet for my mind while I ran – the place where your mind stops its chatter. So this one dream led me to discover my way to peace (although obviously not all my runs are peaceful). Eventually I found that I love to run with all my heart, that I have found a passion that actually makes me love life more.
Over my running journey I’ve been injured several times, collapsed in two races and ended up in hospital (once in March 2012 due to inadequate preparation and dehydration, and once in March 2013 due to an unknown virus that I didn’t know I had – March is probably not the month for me!) But, through all this I’ve developed a deep love for running, a belief and a pride in being myself and also a determination I never knew I had – to keep believing when things get tough and you get knocked down (sometimes literally). I also found a stillness inside me that has helped me realize that it is ok to be me, not like everyone else, and if people don’t like it, it doesn’t have to affect me deeply. I’m not saying everything is easy now. Staying happy is a daily practice for me and I have to work at it every single day – but running has definitely helped me more than I ever imagined with that process.
I know that this is just one in a million stories of personal change through running, but I hope in some way I can help someone. Basically what I want to pass on from my experience is that: 1) finding a passion (not necessarily running but whatever it is that makes you feel passionate about life, and being proud of it no matter other peoples’ judgements are) is one of the keys to contentment 2) running ebbs and flows – there will be injuries and setbacks and failures but what you will learn from these will be so important and can help you in life, and will probably make you a stronger runner in the end. 3) you must listen to your dreams. They may not come to you while you sleep. It may be a quiet voice inside you, but once you listen, life can take you to incredible places, inside and out.
That second marathon was the culmination of five years of personal transformation. Five years of facing my doubts and fears one by one. Five years of pursuing this dream, one run at a time.
My finishing time was a full 38 minutes faster than my first marathon two years earlier. I cried when I crossed that finish line with sobs of relief and joy and everything you can feel in a moment when you do something no-one (including yourself) thought you could do. I felt achievement, and connection, and focus, and love, and a sense of something deeper that I will never be able to be explained in words. In that race – that 3hours, 9 minutes and 41 seconds – I finally, through all the work I’ve done to this day, both physically and mentally, found my own kind of strength and I felt what it really feels like to be myself and own that feeling with all my heart. I know this isn’t the end. I’ve got more to give and further to dig into this soul as a runner. But if it happens that I don’t, and that for some reason I cannot ever run again? Then at least I’ve felt what it is like to shut all my doubts out, give everything I have on the day and be proud of who I am right this moment. This is a feeling and deep sense of self-confidence I will hold on to forever, and hopefully pass on to my children.