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Brittney Runs a Marathon | The journey, the experience, and the aftermath

“Believe you can and you're halfway there.”―Theodore Roosevelt
My dad and I at about mile 13 in the marathon.

I ran my first marathon almost one full year ago.


While I had set out to write a blog post immediately recapping my experience with the 26.2-mile run, I never got around to it. I'm still not quite sure as to why I waited. Being such a remarkable feat, wouldn't I want to urgently share my story?


Looking back, I think I understand.


Running a marathon is one of the hardest things I have ever done. After crossing the finish line, I just wanted to ruminate on the accomplishment for a little while and let it all settle.


As time passes, the urge to write about my marathon journey itches at my fingertips. There is so much about the experience that I want to share, that I've never discussed before. Whether you plan to run a marathon yourself, or not, I promise that there is a lesson for you intertwined somewhere in my words.


A marathon is just like any other journey; there is no uniform direction, only continuous ups and downs, highs and lows. It teaches you how to endure inevitable pain and persevere through it all regardless, surprising yourself along the way.


Before we begin, I must express this mere fact: Anyone can run a marathon.


Running a marathon may seem like this grand, remarkable achievement. And, humbly so, it most certainly is. It was far from easy.


But the good news is that it is entirely possible.


Yes, I'm serious.


All it takes is a relentless belief in yourself.


Don't believe me? No worries—I'm about to prove it to you.


Let's take it back a few years, and start from the beginning.


The Journey


2020 was a strange time for everyone. Personally, I spent most of those early, uncertain months lounging around in bed with little ambition and a swell of fear penetrating my gut. It wasn't until my mom signed my family and I for a 5k that July that I realized that it was about time I got up and did what I do best; set a goal for myself, and accomplish it.


In three months, I was going to run a 5k without stopping. I was determined. And I certainly wasn't going to give up.


That's just how I work.


One small problem: I couldn't even run a single mile. Not even a half mile. By the time my fitness watch read 0.25, I would stop abruptly, huffing and puffing and wheezing, sometimes even collapsing to the grass to take a break. I had gone on short runs here and there in the past, but I hadn't remembered running being so darn difficult.


Let's take it back just a smidge more.


I have always been physically active. In high school, I was on the swim team and played water polo for a few months in the springtime. Outside of school, I lifted weights and went on occasional one-mile runs to build strength and endurance. Before this, in middle school, I attended my mom's boot camp three times a week in the early mornings under the twilight and competed in school sports like volleyball, basketball, and cross-country. In elementary school, I played soccer and ran with my parents sometimes. My dad would make us run to chants he had learned while in the Army, and I'd feel inspired by these men who would run for hours and hours and hours, regardless of the weather, continuously.


Then college happened. No longer did I have any obligation to exercise. Of course, the occasional afternoon swim eased anxious thoughts, and I did lots of walking across campus. We certainly can't forget about my nighttime yoga routine.


Beyond this, I did nothing physically active.


And I used food to fill up the hollow voids within myself.


Over the course of my freshman and sophomore years, I gained 50 pounds. Now, this is no shame on anyone else who experienced this same dreaded Freshman 15 (Freshman 50, in my case). But for me, it was a complete lifestyle shock. It wasn't just about the weight, either; my anxiety had skyrocketed, I experienced weekly panic attacks, my relationships were struggling, and strangely enough, I experienced very little excitement and drive, which is extremely unlike me. I hadn't read a book in weeks. Looking back, I think I was actually depressed.


So that spring of 2020, I finally had a reason to get up and do something. For the first time in what seemed to be years, I had a clear and obtainable goal. I trained intensely, running every chance I got. My mental health improved significantly, my creativity bloomed, and I was losing weight quickly. At long last, I was feeling myself again, and it was an incredible relief.


But when July rolled around, I did not complete the 5k without stopping like I had planned. In fact, I took off too fast during the first mile and ended up walking the rest of the way with my brother. To say I was defeated was an understatement, but I refused to let that discourage me. Instead, I looked at the other runners in awed bewilderment.


"How and the world can people run three miles without stopping?" I had asked my brother in a breathless, hoarse voice.


"I have no clue," he said.


Well, I decided I was going to figure out how.


As I looked out at the lake that the race course wrapped around, I made a goal to myself that I would run a 5k without stopping.


Me racing across the finish line, fully completing my first 5k.


After training for another few months, miraculously surpassing my mile-and-a-half wall, I finally ran my first full 5k in November of that year. I was beyond proud of myself. You can read more about that full experience here.


When the excitement settled, my ambitious soul stirred and rattled and rose to the surface, pouring out all around me; I was ready for more.


My family and I had a trip planned for Disney World in January of 2022 with the expectation that my dad, a fellow runner and inspiration of mine, was going to be running the marathon. Excitedly, I told him I was going to aim for the 10k.


My dad took one glance at me and said, "No, you're going to run the half marathon." He's always been good at pushing me to my full capability. Seeing my potential long before I can.


I remember scoffing. "As if."


My dad ignored me. He signed me up for the half marathon right there on the spot. This meant I had one year to train.


And so, reluctantly, I got started.


For most of 2021, I struggled to run more than three miles. I even signed up for a 10k in August with a friend and during the race, barely reached three and a half miles before having to stop and walk. How was I possibly supposed to run 13.1 miles in just a few months if I could hardly manage three?


Still, I didn't let any of this get me down. If anything, it fueled my drive even more.


I'm not sure precisely what happened next, but one day, for the first time, I hit the runner's high around four miles. Once I broke past four, the rest of the miles packed on easily, and I was soaring. Soon enough, I was hitting seven miles, then eight, nine. I was feeling fantastic.


What this was, I realized, was a mindset shift. For most of my training at that point, I was convinced that running was difficult and challenging. I even believed that my body simply wasn't built for running.


Then, instead of "I can't", I told myself: I can.


(Yes, I know, it's cheesy. But it's true.)


I also then understood, as the miles packed on, that running never gets any easier. You're still pushing your body, physically exerting yourself, and, well, working out. For some reason, this helped me press on and learn to accept the challenge rather than hide from it.


Mindest, I believe, was the most important factor in my journey of running a marathon.


Sometime within those next few months, I had the opportunity to sign up for another half marathon, this one in December of 2021.

Me cheesin' after completing my first half marathon!

When the time for my first half marathon rolled up quickly, I ran the full 13.1 miles without stopping. Then I did it again, within a span of a few months. Both times, I stood shivering by the finish line, a wide smile plastered on my lips, waiting for my dad to cross alongside the other marathoners. I watched as these people bounded past us, making 26.2 miles seem easy. Just imagining doubling what I had just run made my gut twist, my sore hamstrings, and glutes screaming out with dread.


Despite being absolutely terrified, I knew what I wanted to do next.


I was going to run a marathon.


When we got back from Disney World, I signed up for my most ambitious goal yet, alongside my dad, who was going to run it with me. I had just under a year to train. Here goes nothing, I thought.


The hardest part, which I had already predicted, was the mental strength. Waking up early on a Sunday morning to run 10+ miles didn't always seem incredibly appealing. But I got up regardless, and I got it done; I was determined enough. Also, I had a lot of support from family and friends. Jared, my fiancé, rode his bike next to me on my extra long runs, accompanying me in the dark hours of the morning until the sun rose and the world was brilliant and bright.


Jared accompanying me on a 16-mile run.

The months went on, and my mileage climbed. The most miles I ran in a single week was 42. The longest run I went on was 18 miles. There was even a point in training when I ran two half marathons on back-to-back weekends and achieved personal records for each one.


Everything was looking great as I prepared for my first 20-miler. But, following a six-mile run a few days prior, I felt a dull ache on my right shin. I iced it, kept it elevated, and drank a ton of tart cherry juice.


But sometimes you have to face the fact that you just pushed your body too hard.


The next morning, I had excruciating shin splints in my right leg. A 20-mile run was practically impossible.


The marathon was less than one month away.


I did not run for that full month leading up to the race because I couldn't! Even walking was a struggle, and I gritted my teeth with every step. I couldn't even join friends in our neighborhood Turkey Trot.


Had all of my training been for nothing?

I was about to find out.


The Marathon


The marathon was in San Antonio, TX, so my family and friends packed up, piled in the car, and started our journey. Still in pain with no sign of steadfast healing, I shuddered at the thought of running with shin splints. I spent the entire five-hour-long car ride imagining everything that could possibly go wrong.


My dad and I posing at the race expo, the night before the marathon.

The night before the big race, I sat on the floor beside my hotel room bed, stretching. Still, my shin twinged with an ache, a splitting pierce to the knee if I moved it too quickly.


Losing hope, I decided to give in to the power of The Universe and lie down for some Reki hypnosis work. I was going to manifest healing by the next morning, I was sure of it.


The hypnosis had me ask the pain why it was holding on so profusely, and I explored potential emotional trauma that may have taken shape as physical pain, which can happen.


I'm not exaggerating when I say that it worked! By the next morning, I sprung out of bed, entirely free from pain and ready to run my first marathon. I taped up my leg regardless, just in case. But otherwise, I felt wonderful.


Just before the marathon.

When we got there, it officially felt real. Wow, did it feel incredible walking alongside the other marathoners. I surged with excitement.


But holy heck, I was absolutely terrified. I was trembling to the bone, chattering my teeth. My gut was a swirl of nausea and panic and dread. That nervous-tummy feeling everyone gets, but worse.


Before long, still encapsulated by the gray of the early morning, we made our way toward the starting line. It was cold, and there was a drizzling rain. I had brought a hydration vest, which I later learned was a stupid decision. My dad and I situated our Garmin watches (an upgrade since beginning my running journey), and queued our running playlists.


Then, we were off.


We were going to run 26.2 miles.


You can't tell, but I'm actually freaking out.

To be honest, the first 8 miles were fantastic, despite the rain that poured on occasion. My training definitely supported my endurance, and my shin pain had entirely diminished. I flew through the air alongside my father, exploring the varying waves of endorphins that flooded through me. Running within crowds of people, all there to accomplish the same goal as me, was truly remarkable. I played a fun guessing game, wondering where they were all from. How long did it take them to train?


What made them want to run a marathon?


What was their why?


Out of nowhere, at mile 9, a dull sting appeared at the bottom of my right foot.


A blister was forming. The rain had drenched my shoes, my socks, and created friction.


I was in serious trouble.


I tried to ignore it. Surely, that would work, make it go away.


But over the course of that next mile, it only worsened. And another blister had begun to form on my left foot. I hadn't brought any Band-Aids. Lesson one for future marathoners: Always bring Band-Aids.


At the mile 10 marker, I had to give in and stop at an aid station.


There are a few rules in running that I've had to learn the hard way, and one of them is: Once you hit mile seven, do not stop. If you do, your muscles will tense and tighten the longer you're not running, walking included. As I sat in the chair while they assessed my growing blisters (three at that point), I could feel my glutes and hips constricting.


Oh, no.


The aid stations didn't have Band-Aids, only blister covers and bandages that they wrapped my feet with. This only hurt more, causing even more blisters; within two miles, I had stripped these things off entirely, my blisters worsening as time went on.


"Come on," my dad encouraged me as I stood up, groaning from the increasing pain. "Be strong like David Goggins."


For encouragement during training, I read Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins. It was definitely inspiring, to say the least.


But I was no David Goggins.


And I had 16 miles left to go with three massive blisters on the bottom of my feet.


We are struggling, racing toward the end.

Somehow, I pressed on, ignoring the pain. Tuning into my music. That's all I could do. There were many points when I wasn't sure how I was going to keep running. I almost gave up, to be honest. As the miles went on, every footstep felt like I was stepping on needles, piercing the flesh of my feet. The pain worsened over time, the needles later feeling like sharp rocks and shards of gravel.


Why here, why now? I had never experienced blisters before while running. It was beyond frustrating.


Still, to my amazement, I ran on. I removed focus from my feet and tried everything in my power to think positive, optimistic thoughts. To lessen the pain, I had to plant my feet straight down in order to avoid excruciating blasts of pain. Eventually, my feet went entirely numb. Either that or my tactic of ignoring the blisters worked.


Around mile 18, my dad's hip started to act up, and we had to stop on occasion to walk. For the rest of the way to the finish line (eight miles), we ran-walked together, pushing through the pain side-by-side, tapping into our inner David Goggins.


It was quite a special moment, to be doing something so magnificent alongside one of my favorite people; my own dad. I feel really grateful that I got to do that.


Oh, yes. Did I mention the rain had worsened? It had turned to a freezing sleet, blowing sideways into our eyes. My dad and I had to power against the wind, gritting our teeth and gnawing our lips. We found ourselves laughing, it was so ridiculous.


And all the while, I had that stupid hydration vest weighing me down, and I didn't even drink from it.


The rain eventually calmed and I remember walking up this hill at mile 22 or 23, I can't really remember, my legs searing with a heat I had never felt before. My entire lower body was on fire, and I was sore in places I hadn't realized were possible.


Something strange had started to happen: my body was giving up. No longer were my legs moving subconsciously; it was like I had to mentally carry each leg forward, igniting life into my hip sockets and thighs.


Many people had warned me this would happen. They told me that the body starts falling apart at mile 20. You hit the dreaded wall, or so they say. I think they were onto something, those people. Maybe they were right.


Still, we kept going.


And I started to cry. A few times, actually. There were so many endorphins pumping into my brain and intermixing with the physical pain that it was quite an emotional time. I looked back at the years of effort I had put into this marathon, to make this possible. All of the struggles and hardships that had led me to that point.


I was running a marathon. I couldn't believe it.


I never, not once, thought I would ever run a marathon. Before 2020, it wasn't even on my bucket list. To be frank, it just seemed terrible, and painful. I thought marathoners were crazy, out of their minds.


But then, in that moment as I walked up that hill, I understood. It's difficult to explain, but I smiled, and I cried because it started to all make sense.


It's a sensation I hope everyone has a chance to experience. Realizing that you just did the impossible.


We did it!

My dad and I pushed on toward the finish line, me walking on swollen, puffy, oozing feet and hips tight beyond imagination, my dad with a straggled limp. I was almost nervous to tell this story because it was just so intense. And most people who know me don't see me as someone who could run a marathon on blisters. At least, that's what I assume.


But we did it. We didn't give up. We jogged across the finish line, father and daughter. Family and friends greeted us in an array of cheers and tears, draped us in coats, and passed beer after shot after beer. It was so cold outside, the skin of my arms flushed red and I hadn't even noticed.


I had done it.


I ran a marathon.


Afterward, at dinner, I was so sick that I sat there with my head pressed against the glossy, sticky table. I was so delirious that I left my phone in the restaurant bathroom and had to go back to get it that next morning.


I was asleep by 8 PM that night.


We had been running, at least moving forward, for five and a half hours.


The Aftermath


Quite frequently, throughout all of this, I was asked, "Why?"


"Why do this to yourself? Why run so many miles?"


"Why are you hurting yourself like this?"


And to be honest, I struggled to come up with an answer. Typically, I'd just smile and say, "Because I want to."


You're supposed to have a "why" when you do important things. While training, I shifted through the thoughts and feelings in my mind, trying to find mine.


But truthfully, I had no idea why I set out to achieve this incredible feat. Why I so desperately wanted to proclaim myself as a marathoner. I don't think I was trying to prove myself to anyone. And I also don't think I was trying to prove anything to myself.


I realized, shortly after the race, that I was trying to run away from myself. Or, in more optimistic terms, I was running toward the version of myself I wanted to be.


Running toward the finish line during my third ever half marathon.

Running saved me, in a way. It found me when I was low, lower than I had ever been, and it lifted me up and pushed me out of my shell. No longer did I need to lean on anyone else; I had myself. I had this sport. Whenever I was sad, or anxious, or angry, or scared, or just simply content, I'd run. And I ran hard, and long. While I ran, I was able to process my emotions and release them through physical exertion, puffing everything out through thick, quick pants. I'd finish the run, sweaty and flushed and dehydrated, but happy. Relieved. The endorphins swam in my mind like playful fish.


When I completed my marathon, I was forced to face those emotions, not just run through them. Using physical activity to release pain is one thing. But truly exploring it is an entirely different journey.


I'm known to be a dramatic person. But truthfully, running a marathon completely changed my life.


It showed me that anything is possible and that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to, as long as I believe in myself.


This is true for you, too.


The marathon also taught me the power of raw and honest emotions, and how oftentimes, they help fuel our inner fight toward our better selves. We don't have to be afraid of them; we can use them. Emotions make us powerful.


I don't want my story to scare you from ever running a marathon. Trust me, my story is very unlikely to happen to you.


I will most definitely be running another marathon, and soon. Taking what I've learned, I absolutely cannot wait to try again.


The journey will be different for everyone.


Still, I hope you learn from some of my mistakes!


A few lessons I learned:

  1. Train efficiently. There are many free training plans available online. Choose the one that works best for you!

  2. Don't overwork yourself. Listen to your body, and don't ignore pain. Don't worry about missing a scheduled run to rest; you'll be just fine. It's not worth a possible injury.

  3. I'd personally advise to not bring a hydration vest. There were so many water stations, I never even drank from it. (Also, this is embarrassing, but I didn't clean it out properly so the water that was inside tasted like warm plastic.) The vest was heavy and loud as it sloshed around. I immediately regretted bringing it.

  4. Always try out running gear before your race. This was one I had thought I learned but apparently did not. I bought myself running sleeves to wear instead of a jacket and instantly wished I hadn't made that decision. I had never worn running sleeves before then and found them quite annoying and ineffective, so I stripped them off my arms quickly. I would have known I didn't like them if only I had remembered this important lesson.

  5. Always bring Band-Aids. Do I need to explain this further? Just always be prepared, for anything.

  6. If you believe you can, anything is possible.


Maybe you're reading this thinking: I will never run a marathon. And hey, that's perfectly okay!

Like I said, I believe there is a lesson in my story for everyone. Whether that is to always be prepared, trust in yourself, or something else, I hope you leave feeling inspired.


If there is a goal you have, or maybe even a faraway dream, I dare you to go after it. Just get up, and make it happen. Create a plan, and execute. Because, from my own personal experience, I'm going to bet that the only thing stopping you from going after your dream is yourself.


I was lucky enough to have people in my life who pushed and encouraged me.


But most often, it's up to you to become who you want to be.


I believe in you. Now, will you choose to believe in yourself?


I know I did, and it turned out incredible.


Tell me, in the comments: Will you ever run a marathon? Or if you have, what is your experience? I'd love to hear from you.


Probably writing,

Brittney


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