Step 1: My Friends Sign Up for a Half Marathon
I began running in the spring of 2012 when my friends decided to sign us up for a half marathon (I had suggested just a 10K!) – the St. Jude Country Music Rock ‘n’ Roll in Nashville on April 28. I was VERY nervous about running such a long race since I hadn’t run anything longer than 3 miles before! I also didn’t think that I enjoyed running very much…
Step 2: I Start a Running Plan
But I’m not one to turn down a challenge without at least trying, so I looked up half marathon training plans and picked the Novice 1 Plan by Hal Higdon. In true Dawn+Mike fashion, the first thing I did was to set up a Google Doc to record my training runs and progress (we use Google Docs for everything!). This is why I can tell you that my first training run was on February 7, 2012 and I did 3 miles in 30:06. I can also tell you that those three miles were HARD.
Going into the plan, my mindset was to just grit my teeth and endure the runs – kind of like visiting the dentist. But to my surprise, within a few weeks I found myself enjoying the discipline of following a training plan (read: crossing off the days!) and began looking forward to the cathartic release that running provided. I also surprised myself each weekend as I ran longer and farther than I had ever before; I wasn’t fast by any measure, but I COULD DO IT!
Step 3: Running Becomes My Therapy
On April 16, my formerly extremely healthy dad had an aneurysm out of the blue and fell a coma. I can’t begin to tell you what a shock this was; that phone call from my mom at 6 AM telling me to come home because Dad had collapsed felt like a nightmare, and it took me weeks to process what happened. Mike and I went home for two weeks to sit at his bedside at the hospital and be with my mom and siblings. I continued to go home nearly every weekend and of course cancelled my half marathon (a huge thanks to Rock ‘n’ Roll for being understanding and immediately refunding the fee).
But I had been bitten by the running bug and with all the stress and emotion building up in me, I found myself BURSTING to run again. So I laced up my sneakers, cried, and ran. I found release and peace in those miles, and often poured out my frustrations and fears to God on those runs. Guys, He listens and answers – if you’ve never experienced it, leave your headphones at home and try talking to God instead (that’s what prayer is!).
Step 4: I Sign Up for My First Marathon
After a few months, I decided to sign up for another race because my dad had been SO proud that his daughter was going to run a half marathon; we have no runners in our family! But rather than sign up for another half, I decided to see if I could tackle a full marathon; after all, I had gotten up to 12 miles in my previous training plan so I knew I could run the half already. I may be a little bit of a masochist – but what long distance runner isn’t? I decided I could be ready by October and chose the Towpath Marathon in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio known for its small size and beautiful scenery.
Summer running in DC was described to me as hellish by other runners in my office, and 2012 was a particularly hot year, so I made sure to wake up early for my runs outside. I found that I enjoyed running at 5:30 AM and having the trails around VA almost to myself (anyone else running at that time was sure to be a marathoner too!).
I thought a lot about the relationship between running marathons and staying true to the faith. The Bible relates running to spiritual perseverance as well: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us runwith perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2a). I found that running strengthened my faith, because in moments of doubt or anger or frustration, I would remember those tough miles on the road and what perseverence felt like, and remind myself that faith required the same, with help from God.
Step 5: I Cross the Finish Line
On October 7, 2012, I ran my first marathon. The first 22 miles were a breeze, and the course was so beautiful and peaceful – it wound through the woods and boardwalks near the falls. I’m not going to lie; the last four miles were painful (I later found out that I had tendonitis); I’m lucky that my good friend Nasly jumped in and basically pulled me to the finish! But crossing that finish line? Knowing that I FINISHED what I set out to do a few months ago? Completing something I never thought I could do? A feeling like no other – complete joy.
So of course I decided I had to do it again, and I signed up for two half-marathons and a full for the following year.
My beloved dad passed away in January 2013. We miss him, and it was hard letting him go. Running and training continued to be a way for me to process my thoughts and emotions and cry out to God. It kind of doubled as therapy and exercise, as it continues to do today.
I’m a Christian, and I’m a runner. I press on for the prize at the end.