Before I started running, I was one of those people who might have asked, “So how long is that marathon?” And the idea of covering that distance on foot was unfathomable. Then I started running, and ran a 5-mile race and some 5Ks, and before I knew it, the marathon was beckoning. It still seemed unfathomable, but having experienced the exhilaration of crossing the finish line of shorter races, I could only imagine what a marathon finish line would feel like. I wanted to stop imagining and experience it.
Fast forward several years, and I had five marathons under my belt, including two Bostons. I was no longer a runner—I was a marathoner, and proud of it. I loved how people shook their heads in disbelief when I talked about my 20-mile training runs, and a 13-miler seemed like an easy day. I earned my sixth marathon medal in Philly in 2014, missing a PR by three minutes, but vowing to forge ahead and keep chasing the elusive sub-3:30 I was aiming for.
Then, through a combination of a series of injuries and the inevitable aging of my limbs, joints, and muscles, my enthusiasm for PR-chasing began to wane.
I had qualified for Boston 2016, but suffered a debilitating injury three weeks before race day, and Boston 2016 was a DNS. I hoped to redeem myself at a 2017 marathon, which I ran in a Nor’Easter and during which I completely fell apart, mentally and physically.
I hated the idea of my last marathon being such a debacle and tried to rally three more times to run a redemption race, but each time I found myself bailing several weeks into the training. One issue is my feet, which are plagued by bunions that are cooperative if I stick to running 10 miles or less, but complain loudly at distances longer than that.
But truthfully, the bigger issue is that marathons just aren’t that enticing to me anymore. I love the idea of them in theory, but the reality—months of grueling long runs, extra attention to recovery, fueling and hydrating, the constant presence of race day looming large in the future—is decidedly unappealing. As that 2017 debacle gets farther away in the rearview mirror, I feel less compelled to try again and rewrite the ending.
What it really comes down to is that I’ve lost my why. I’ve proven my fortitude, seven times over. And at almost 51 years old, I feel like I no longer have to prove anything to anyone, including myself. While a little part of me still wants to take that right on Hereford and left on Boylston one more time, I don’t want it enough to put my body (and my heart and soul) through the training required to get there. One of the most important things I learned from running seven marathons is that if you can’t figure out why you’re taking on the challenge, it’s exponentially more difficult to complete it.
So, after this on-and-off dance we’ve been doing the past few years, I am now 99.99% certain that the marathon and I are breaking up for good.
My body, head, and heart are so much happier running shorter distances. Last year I ran 5Ks, 10Ks, a 10-miler, and a half, and walked away with age group wins at almost every race. Walked away is the key word. I did not shuffle, or limp, and I most definitely did not have trouble walking down stairs because my quads were destroyed. Even my aging joints bounce right back from these shorter races. It’s a whole different world.
I will be the first to tell you there’s nothing quite like crossing a marathon finish line. I remember every one of mine in vivid detail, and they all make me smile—even the ugly ones. But I’ll also be the first to tell you that crossing any finish line is spectacular, and the finish lines that feel the best are the ones that are meaningful to you.