Marathon Miles: One Year Later
By Alexis Mercer
One year ago this weekend I was nervously crossing the start line at the Grand Rapids Marathon; my first attempt at the 26.2 distance. The race went well, my training carried me through and I could add the marathon to my list of completed distances.
In the weeks and months that followed I backed off on distance but continued to put in miles. I completed a run streak (running a minimum of 1 mile a day) from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Some coworkers then wanted to run the Kent City Ridge Run in March, so I built in enough training to compete that race. But in the last mile as I hauled myself down the final hill, my hip was stabbing with pain, radiating down my leg.
The time had come for a break.
I took 5 weeks off from running to heal. When I came back from the break, I only put a 5k on my calendar as a goal, not wanting to overdo it.
Mile by mile I built my base back up - often laughing at my weekly mileage compared to the previous spring and summer. But I was feeling great and happy to be pounding the pavement again.
Two of my friends, Allison and Candy, were interested in training over the summer for a 5k. They had both run in the past, but it had been a long time since it was anything consistent, or even had run a mile without stopping. I jumped at the chance to “coach” my friends. I was all in.
I set up their run schedules 3 weeks at a time, leaving room for changes and goal setting and reevaluation. We texted daily to report on their progress. The start was slow. The goal: to build a habit. Make running a lifestyle, not just a short term goal.
Every week they surprised themselves. A mile quickly became something they didn’t dread. Their confidence grew. Their families were joining in! All the while their success became my inspiration. I watched them push their limits and break barriers. I had been sending them my own run selfies and reports to encourage them, but it rapidly turned from me encouraging them to all of us as equals, pushing each other.
Then in August my friend Aaron came home to visit his family. We were in the weight room, just having completed a circuit that left me sore for a few days, when he mentioned that he wasn’t going to be able to compete in the Army 10 Miler in October because of a change in deployment. Would I be interested in taking his spot? The fact that it fell on the one Saturday I had free during my cross season seemed like a sign I needed to jump in and take advantage of the opportunity.
My own training schedule, I decided, would stay focused on the Oktoberfest 5k with my friends, but I would up my long runs to see if I could build enough for the 10 miler. I booked a flight to DC and it was a done deal.
My husband questioned my sanity in planning such a spur of the moment trip for 3 days. I couldn’t necessarily justify it completely - other than I had a deep desire for a grand adventure that this would satiate.
The buildup went well. I made time for myself again. I forced the time to work in my favor by prioritizing. I had started another run streak back on Memorial Day and found myself in August with no desire for it to stop. All the while my friends were running long runs of 6 miles - SIX WHOLE MILES WITHOUT STOPPING - from 0 just weeks before - providing me with joy, inspiration and daily doses of pride.
September 21 was the Oktoberfest in Spring Lake. I rode with Candy and Allison to the race. It was an emotional morning for all of us. My pride for their accomplishments to have trained the entire summer, to have altered their lifestyles in such a positive way, was overwhelming. The race was just icing on the cake. Their accomplishments propelled me to my best 5k time since high school followed by tears of joy as they sprinted across the finish line.
Homecoming was the next week at NHS. As in the busiest time for me as a teacher, yearbook adviser and coach. While I was able to maintain daily running, my mileage goal was hard to hit. Even 35 miles was rough to make happen with everything else going on.
The following week was supposed to be a 40 mile week but life was catching up to me quickly. Despite my best effort, I only halved that goal. The last week before the race was taper week, which was identical to the week before, hitting 20 miles. That left me nervous for the race in DC. I knew I could run 10 miles but would my fitness carry me through with a respectable pace?
Race weekend arrived. Trepidation about my pace turned into pure joy and gratefulness for being healthy enough to run and enjoy a weekend with my family in our nation’s capital. We spent all of Saturday walking around the city, enjoying the zoo and exploring.
Sunday morning my mom and I boarded the metro to the Pentagon where the race started and finished. The metro had a delay, so thousands of runners packed in the late cars for a very cozy ride to a rushed start. When I walked out of the metro to stand next to the Pentagon, I was all adrenaline and joy.
Most races contain an abnormal number of fit people in relation to the general population. The Army 10 Miler? ALL fit people. Race organizers cap entries at 35,000. The first two miles I felt all 35,000 of the fit people around me. Those were my slowest miles due to not being able to pass people.
The race course took us over the Potomac twice, right next to the Washington monument, and by countless historical locations. I smiled the entire race. I just kept thinking how ridiculously grateful I was for this opportunity and for the blessing of running in my life.
Everything came together on race day despite the first two slower miles. I was able to beat my goal time of 1:30, finishing in 1:27:22. Even better, I was left with enough in me to survive walking an additional 10 miles touring the monuments, war memorials and chowing down at Bobby Flay’s burger joint with my family.
Today, exactly one year from the marathon, I laced up my Mizunos and headed out solo on the North Country Trail. I didn’t have a planned distance ahead of time. I just wanted to run and enjoy the beauty of the day and my ability to run to think and calm my mind. I reflected on the past year and the growth that has come through my running adventures.
I have run more than a thousand miles this year. I have overcome an injury. I have crossed finish lines for a 5k, 15k, and 10 miler. I have run in snow, rain, sleet, humidity, and sunshine. I have run in Michigan, Florida, Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. I have been streaking for 146 days and counting.
I have continued to repeat my mantra #runwithvalor and I have had a smile on my face and true gratitude in my heart for each and every mile.
Photos below: I try to take a run selfie each day if I remember. Here is a collection from the past 365 days since last year's marathon. Snow, humidity and everything in between, but all smiles every time I lace up.
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