It's supposed to feel like that

I have a confession.

After I finished the marathon last fall, it took me almost a day and a half to appreciate my accomplishment. The first and strongest emotion I felt after I finished? Disappointment.

I was disappointed in myself. 

After finishing my first marathon.

Not the usual reaction people have, but I couldn't get that lingering disappointment out of my mind. For weeks afterward, when people congratulated me, I always felt a bit bashful, not quite sure why they thought what I had done was a big deal. I didn't feel like I lived up to my expectations for myself, and didn't feel like I had done a good enough job.


Because I had taken walk breaks (although I always reminded myself that they were really fast walk breaks, and my walking was, at most points, faster than my actual running.) And because I had hit a wall. Around mile 16 or 17...or 18.... it got really unpleasant. And I just assumed that meant I hadn't trained hard enough, that I hadn't done enough to prepare myself. And maybe it was, to a degree. I had been beating myself up for hitting the ubiquitous wall. In my first marathon. After about five months of training. I didn't realize how ridiculous I was being until after the NYC Half in March. For the half, I stepped up my training, and absolutely would not let myself take any walk breaks. And yet, around mile 10, things got pretty difficult and I felt like I was falling apart mentally for the last few miles. 

Again, for a couple of weeks afterward, I had this nagging little inner voice that kept going over what it could have been that had gone wrong, when I thought that I had done so much of my training right. How had I managed to hit the wall yet again?

And then it dawned on me. It's supposed to feel like that. 

The wall is not the barrier to what you want. The wall is what you want - to find it, to push yourself up against it, and to overcome it. I had come from a place of such self doubt last spring, and I thought that all of a sudden, now that I had finished, and accomplished my goals, that doubt would dissipate. But it doesn't work that way, and that's the beauty of the marathon. That wall is always going to be there, and odds are pretty good that physically, you'll hit it more often than not. But knowing how to expect it, understand it, and embrace it, it seems, is the real challenge. It's not really something you can train for, or even prepare for - you just have to experience it, let it happen, and use those experiences to build your own corporeal weapon of destruction. 

I imagine it's the closest possible experience to being a Transformer. 

And as I realized this, it dawned on me how much more I could really push myself. Yes, I had taken on some decent challenges last year. Yeah, I did a pretty good job. But that nagging feeling of disappointment made me realize that I had so much more. Not just in races, but in my training - every day - that I had been okay with mediocrity in whatever capacities in which I defined it. 

I'm not sure how I feel about that. It's disquieting, realizing just how much I let excuses dictate the choices I make. And it's remarkably uncomfortable sitting in a constant state of choice - conscious knowledge of the easier route suddenly makes it less appealing, but fear and uncertainty hold me back from the challenge. 

And it's not a choice you make that's one and done. Those choices present themselves every day, all the time. And the only way to break through that wall is to hit it, over and over, and know exactly how strong you must be to get through it.

I'd hit that.


  1. Awesome post, you really put it into perspective. Thank you.

    1. That's weird, don't know why my name isn't there.


  2. My philosophy (if you're not an elite runner) is the only person you can beat is yourself.

    First of all - you're amazing and doing something most people will NEVER try and do.

    Second of all - get that wall to hit further out in your mileage - what an improvement that would be. If that happens - maybe the realization of your improvement will be enough PMA to get you to the end.

    Work on beating the own records you've set for yourself!

  3. That's a great perspective Emily!

  4. I took walk breaks during my first marathon...like a boss. See, that's your problem. You need to add "like a boss" to more of your statements.

  5. Phenomenal post, wonderfully written, and so, SO true! It's easy to think that in order to be a good runner, you have to be fast or not take walk breaks or qualify for Boston. NOT TRUE. What makes a good runner is perseverance, determination, and the tenacity to get through a difficult marathon like you did and NOT give up.

    From the sounds of it, you'd make a great ultramarathon runner! Have you given it any thought? =)

    1. I have! I'm playing with the idea of the NJ 50K next March, and/or a half ironman - eventually =)

  6. Yes, this is so true! If it were easy it wouldn't be much of an accomplishment; its pushing yourself beyond what you think you're capable of that makes it so worthwhile.

  7. YES, thank you, I am so sick of hearing about OMG the wall. It's called running a marathon. AKA 26.2 miles. If it's easy, you're doing it wrong. You should totally do a HIM or ultra!

  8. This is an awesome post. I was trying to explain this to a beginner runner not long ago and I couldn't seem to get it so they'd understand.

    But it's SUPPOSED TO HURT. People aren't comfortable with pain. They think pain means back off. They think it means they've done something wrong...but really, it means they're doing it right! This is a HUGE realization for runners. Once you get there, comfortable with pain, you are capable of so much more!

  9. This is great. I'm really glad that you've been able to come to terms with the experience and how you felt about it.

    Holy am I serious shit or what?

    I promise I'm more fun than this comment may indicate. I'm a new reader of yours, I'll try to have my next comment sound a little more sunny, promise.