Reflection: Marine Corps Marathon 2017

billy/ November 1, 2017/ Reflection

For half a decade, Jamie and I have made an annual commitment to train and to run the Marine Corps Marathon and coordinate a charity team for Nuru International. In 2013, it started with a group of my friend Jake’s classmates from the United States Naval Academy expressing a desire to participate in an effort to raise funds and awareness for Nuru. At that time, I don’t think I had ever run more than six or seven miles at one time in my entire life, and the last time I had run that far was in the summer of 2006.

Jamie and I took the opportunity to run for Nuru International as an opportunity to not only push ourselves out of our comfort zones, but also as an opportunity to invite friends and family to join our efforts to fight extreme poverty. On the day I signed up in April, I went out and ran about five miles very slowly around my neighborhood. I knew I had six months to build up capacity to be able to complete a marathon, but I wanted to get a gauge of my starting point. As the weeks rolled up, so did the miles, and by May, every long run was comprised of more miles than I had ever run in my life. And by October of that year, Jamie and I had both completed our first marathon.

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Each year, as I run, I learn something different about myself, my training, my mental toughness, and my resilience. This year was no different. This year was one of my slowest times running the distance, and in that there were a number of learnings. It was unseasonably warm on race day, and we received notifications to stay hydrated throughout the run, and I took this to heart…a little too much. My training this year was focused more on strength training than on miles of running, and I think I only had three or four runs during the entirety of 2017 that were ten miles or greater. I spent a large part of the two days prior to the event on my feet representing Nuru to the more than 100,000 visitors to the Marine Corps Marathon Expo. Any one of these factors could hurt performance, but my wife and I had also committed that we would not hold ourselves to a time goal, but would hold ourselves to the goal of completing the run.

So what did I learn this year? Well, I learned that it is of critical importance to stay focused on the larger goal. At around mile 20, I started to get nauseous and light-headed, but I knew that if I paced myself, and kept moving forward, I could finish. Sometimes in running and in life, we need to adjust our pace, and acknowledge there are often factors beyond our control that should be taken into account, and should lead us to adjust our pace. But what they should not do is disrupt us from accomplishing our larger goals, just our timelines. I believe we need to have goals in front of us to keep us moving forward. If I didn’t have a goal in front of me, it would have been easy to just stop and give up. Keep moving forward, no matter what.

I also learned that there are limits to what I can do. Over the past several months, this lesson has come up in various shapes in different parts of my life, but on marathon day, this lesson came about in an unexpected way in the form of water. I was sooooo diligent about drinking water that I overdid it. I drank more water than my body could handle. That, was what led to my nausea (and eventual vomiting after the race). There’s a condition called Hyponatremia that results when a person takes on more water than they can handle. It typically affects endurance athletes, or individuals who are just drinking too much water while exercising, and it has affected me three separate years—but this year was the worst. I was so concerned with getting dehydrated, that I drank WAY too much. I was typically drinking 5-6 cups of water/Gatorade at each of the 12 water stations along the route. The first couple of stops this wasn’t so bad, but as the race progressed I found myself forcing the water down. Big lesson for me to apply is to not only ratchet back my water consumption in future long runs, but also to look for other areas in my life where I may be overdoing it and causing more harm than good for my health and well-being.

My third lesson learned was this; my daily routine matters. I spent most of 2017 doing some type of bodyweight based strength training and mobility work. Having a daughter, I have shifted my vision toward a longer view of health, wellness, and fitness. When she is eighteen, I want to be able to walk, run, and play with her. I want to put practices in place now that will help me get to that goal. And, after running this marathon, I realized the positive impact of the daily routine of fitness pursuits. I may have been weak on training by running, but I was stronger than I have ever been physically for this race. And as a result, once I recovered from hyponatremia, I felt GREAT!!! The day after the race, I was not sore and achy because I moved with good form for the entirety of the marathon. By getting stronger and being disciplined about a daily exercise routine, I could do more and do it better than I could without it.

I’m sure more lessons will come to mind in the weeks ahead, but for now, these three are burned into my forefront. 1) Keep the larger goal in mind, and adjust pace if needed, but not the goal. 2) Don’t overdo it. Too much of a good thing (like water) can be a bad thing. 3) Maintain a daily routine, and it will make a huge difference.  May we each make room in our lives for keeping goals in front of us, adjusting our pace when needed, and reaping the benefit of establishing routines. And the more I think about these three lessons, they are really one—stay focused on the goal, and adjust and develop routines that will help you move toward it steadily!