Running Down a Dream: Overcoming Obstacles

By , SparkPeople Blogger
"There will be days when I don't know if I can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime knowing that I have." Unknown

It was only 8 short months ago when Coach Jen sent me an email asking if I would consider running the Chicago Marathon with her. I must say the mere thought scared me to death, not only running a race of that distance but putting in the hours and hours training for it as well seemed even more daunting. But that feeling would only last a short while as I quickly took the liberty to sign up less than a few hours later. That was the easy part--I had no idea the challenges and obstacles that would lie ahead of me in the days, weeks and months ahead, even up to the very last hour of my life changing event.

I had kept a solid running base after running my last 1/2 marathon in November 2008 so I was confident that in the time I had to train I could be ready by October. However, in March I developed a piriformis issue which would not allow me to run more than 5 miles without a major pain in the bum, literally. I could not imagine running another 21.2 miles in that much pain. I went in for an Active Release Technique which released adhesions in the muscle allowing me to run yet again. This would only be the first of many obstacles I would face in my quest to conquer the marathon.

I did well with my training until I reached my long run of 16 miles in August. Those LONG 16 miles could have easily been a marathon by the way I felt after that grueling run. It was truly one of the most, if not the most, difficult training runs I had ever done. I felt as though I would never make it to the start line, much less cross the finish line. Tears were a plenty, however the SparkPeople running community came to my rescue and I overcame that hurdle.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion."– Muhammad Ali

The morning of the marathon was VERY cold for an early October morning, even by Chicago's standards. The meteorologist kept referring to these temps as unseasonably cold. To say I was a little taken aback by the temperature at race time was an understatement. Standing with other runners and sharing our stories on how we all got to this point in our lives helped to keep the teeth chattering to a minimum. All the runners in my area were running their first marathon as well, so I felt quite comfortable taking in all I could. I was going to remember as many details of this day as this ol' brain could, after all this may be the one and only time I would ever run a marathon.

Before the race started, "The Star Spangled Banner" was sung as three helicopters flew overhead. I can only imagine what a sea of 45,000 runners looked like from above, but it was something I will never forget standing in silence listening to our country's anthem. The gun went off promptly at 7:30 and the race was on. It took our group 18 minutes to cross the starting line and we were off. I wished my fellow runners luck as these legs began the race of a lifetime. A race I was running to prove to my sixth grade PE teacher that Nancy Howard IS A RUNNER!

The crowds were phenomenal from the start. To be participating in one of the five most prestigious marathons in the world was truly mind-boggling. Because I spent my time training in the heat, running in the cold was, as I expected, much easier than running in the sweltering summer temperatures of Texas.Within the first mile it hit me that my bladder was feeling a tad full. I had not changed my hydration plan to compensate for the colder temps and because my high blood pressure med has a diuretic component, I was beginning to feel the first hint that I needed to find a porta-let soon. I decided to see how long I could go before I needed to stop.

My first mile was great. I was running at a 9:40 minute per mile pace, way too fast for me to maintain, so I forced myself to slow down knowing that I had a long, long way to go. In mile two I finally found my groove and kept to my run/walk plan I had been training with for the past 17 weeks. My legs felt great but unfortunately not so with the ol' bladder. I stopped at the first aid station at mile 3, but the lines to the porta-lets were so LONG that the volunteer suggested I go next station 2 miles up the road. I arrived at the mile five aid station within 52 minutes from the start and to my disappointment, the lines were even longer. I had no choice but to wait it out. I lost a good 20 minutes waiting and of course I was beginning to develop great anxiety because of this lost time.

After my detour, I started up running again and totally enjoyed the next 17 miles high-fiving the Elvi (is that the plural for multiple Elvis? LOL) along the way and chatting with others who were running for various charities. I even ran with runners from France, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Great Britain, and Canada--all sporting their shirts with the flags of their native country plastered on the sleeves and front. And of course no race would be complete if I did not find some money along the way. I am proud to say I found 57 cents on the streets of Chicago to add to my ever growing coffers at home.

"If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon"- Emil Zatopek

But my great race all changed when I reached the 21 mile distance marker. Because I tried to make up for the lost time from my bathroom break, my pace was too fast. Couple that with running too long on the camber of the street, my right knee started giving me huge issues. It was more painful to continue with my run/walk method than it was to just keep running. I was having to stop every quarter mile or so to stretch my IT band. This only offered temporary relief. Now it was becoming too painful to even continue running. Having never had IT band issues I was totally overcome with emotions. I did not know what to do and there was still so much of the race to be completed. Tears were flowing like the rivers I had just run across. As I ran past one of the aid stations, the medic was working on another runner's knee which was wrapped in ice as well as a thick ACE bandage. The emotions this young lady was going through was heart-wrenching, she kept repeating in sobs, "I want to finish."

"If you can't fly then run. If you can't run then walk. If you can't walk then crawl. But whatever you do, keep moving." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

That was when I had to have a stern talk with myself. I had two choices--I could push through the pain, continue running and risk doing major damage to my knee which could keep me from running for a very long time or possibly forever and keep me from finishing OR I could chock it up for lack of experience for pushing myself too hard to make up for the lost 20 minutes and do my best to finish still moving. That's when I decided to do what I knew in my heart I needed to do, I was going to fight to the finish even if that meant walking. I walked the last 4 miles which took me a tad less than an hour until I was within 2/10ths of a mile from the finish line. To say it wasn't hard to see so many many people pass me by still running was an understatement, but I had to do what I had to do and what was best for me. I may not have been able to run those last 4 miles, but nothing was going to stop me from RUNNING ACROSS THE FINISH LINE, which I DID in 5 hours 13 minutes and 10 seconds.

A Spark member who ran Chicago a few years ago recently told me, "The Chicago Marathon is basically a 26.2 mile long parade, in which the runners are the participants." She was not kidding. I could not have asked for a greater experience, even though things didn't go as planned. I still finished as a MARATHONER no matter how I got there. I remember passing a young Army Captain dressed in full fatigues carrying a heavy backpack which made me realize we ARE ALL WINNERS no matter how long it took or how we got across the finish line.

"Losers visualize the penalties of failure. Winners visualize the rewards of success." Dr. Rob Gilbert

So how does my marathon parallel my own healthy living journey?

I believe many of us have preconceived expectations when we start this journey as to how long it will take. We think that by doing everything to a T, which I did, everything will go as planned. But many times that is not the case, as my own marathon experience taught me on that cold October morn. I may have had to change my strategy and it may have taken me a little longer than I thought, but I crossed the finish line just like all those ahead of me.

We must learn to accept the obstacles that are inevitable in this journey, knowing that the end is not what made us who we are or who we were meant to be. It was, and is, the journey of overcoming obstacles that define who we are and who we are meant to be. Giving up was not an option at mile 22! I finished. I got my medal and I LIVED MY DREAM!

Oh and for those of you who may be wondering, will I do it again? You betcha! It was well worth every step I ran, every tear I cried, and the pain of a wonky knee only 4 short miles from the finish line. The love and support of the running community who welcomed me, a middle-aged, overweight woman into their world with open arms just 43 short months ago has given me hope that this sport has no limitations unless we put them up ourselves.



What obstacles have you overcome on your own personal journey? Have overcoming them made you more resilient on your quest to embracing healthy living?

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KHALIA2 2/15/2020
I love to walk more than run!!!!! Thanks for sharing this one!!!!! Report
MUSICNUT 8/17/2019
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Good information Report
Way to go, it is awesome to accomplish your dream. Report
Nothing is better than a finishers shirt and nothing worse than an in training shirt Report
Way to go!! Report
Awesome job... Report
Excellent Report
congratulations, you are an inspiration to us all Report
Wow! I am saving this story as a favourite. Nancy, I love the way you worked through your options so wisely under the pressure to peform the marathon the way you had planned. Your flexibility under duress is a sign of mastery. Thanks for an awesome insight into marathons. Report
I wish you really know how much your story inspired me today to keep going on my own journey to better health. Thank you for writing. Congratulations! Report
What a wonderful and inspiring blog. Congratulations on a great accomplishment!! Report
Thanks for the blog and helping us experience your marathon, too. The fact you kept going will be the motivation for a lot of us to keep going on our own fitness journeys. Keep running, Nancy! Report
I completed my 1st Marathon in Portland, OR on October 4th...we had VERY similar races as I too ended up walking towards the end. My time was 5:01:45 and I couldn't have been more pleased. My next marathon is December 5th and I'm soo tired of running at the moment. I caught your blog and now am inspired to keep going! Report
Yippee! Congratulations SO MUCH for finishing that marathon! Thank you for the quotes you've put in your blog, how fitting. Report
What an accomplishment Nancy! Thank you so much for sharing your story. As you can see, you are an inspiration to every person who has had the pleasure of hearing your story. You are a perfect example of someone who knows not only how to deal with adversity, but overcome it with flying colors. Thank you again. Report
I thought it was sad that 3 runners dropped dead at the Detroit 1/2 marathon the other day. Something should tell a person that QUITTING is alright, but I guess when you "hit the wall" you don't KNOW how you really are other than exhausted completely. Report
I'm not a runner, but thank you so much for helping me see that my journey isn't over just because I have a bunch of obstacles in my path! I am not a quitter! I will keep going! Report
Loved the detail you put into your blog! (and the quotes!)

You are an inspiration to me..... Congratulations on your accomplishment! Report
Congraualations! You are an inperation. I know you put alot of work in to it. You set a goal and you achived it. I am very proud of you. Report
Your sixth grade teacher was wrong. You are a runner! Being a walker and having done many 1/2 marathons, it doesn't matter how you crossed the finish line. The important thing is you did. I hope I can do as well in my first marathon in Jan. Congratulations. Report
Congratulations!! Report
Awesome! Report
What an accomplishment! Congratulations! You are such an inspiration. Keep running! Report
I'm so happy for you Nancy! Great job completing the marathon. It's an amazing accomplishment. Thank you for being an inspiration to us all! Report
Good for you! Glad you finished!
Jane Report
Wished I could of been there at the front row of the finish line cheering you on like I was at the Convention, in the front row cheering you on! Reading your blog, I felt like I was there! What a true winner you are, in so many aspects. What an amazing success story! You are indeed a marathoner! HOW COOL!!! YOU GO GIRL! You will never know how much you have inspired me! Okay friend, if you read my blog, sorry for sort of calling you a crybaby!! HA!! I feel so blessed to have met you!! 4-ever Sparked! Becky Report
Thanks so much for sharing your incredible story Nancy. I'm so thrilled for you! You are always an inspiration, but this is an especially great message. Thank you! Report
Thank you for the wonderful story. You inspire me to continue in my journey no matter what the comes my way. Report
Wow! Thanks so much for sharing your story Nancy. I'm experiencing a few obstacles myself in my "getting fit" journey, but the thought of quitting is just not an option for me. Your story is just the boost I need to pick up where I left off and keep moving forward. Report
Congratulations. What an accomplishment! Meantime, here's another story from the Chicago marathon.Thought you all might be interested in having a peak at this inspirational story Chicago, and perhaps commenting on it!

Ok, now I need a tissue. I don't even know you and I have tears coming down my face. You are amazing....Congratulations!!
Susan Report
Beautiful! I feel like I was there with you! What a beautiful story Nany. Once more... CONGRATULATIONS! You're a MARATHONER!!!!! Report
Way to go! Thanks so much for sharing. Report
Congratulations! What a wonderful accomplishment! Report
I'm so proud of you Nancy - not just for your accomplishment, which can never be taken away or diminished - but because you learned the lessons that make marathoning the ultimate human challenge. I often think that the elite runners, who get up and zip through those 26.2 miles in just over 2 hours, have no idea what it is like for the masses who follow them. While they no doubt deal with their own injuries and obstacles, how would they handle them if they had to persevere for 4, 5, 6 hours or more? We are the heroes in my mind. Us middle aged, overweight, wide-hipped, orthopedically challenged runners who do just what you did - face our fears, deal with our pain, cry, laugh and resolve to finish anyway - we are the winners! We can only ever run the race that is in us on any particular day and I don't think that time is always the best measure of our training or our efforts. I could say "been there, done that" to your blog, but the truth is that while we have shared a similar experience, we each had our own unique race and what we really share is our membership in the marathoners club. We know what it takes and we have done it!! Many many HUGS to you!! Report
Nancy this was a very inspirational story. It is not easy to push forward when there are so many obstacles in the way. At times we think it is easier to quit and gives reasons why rather than sticking to plan and going all the way to the finish line. I am so proud that dispite all the pain you were feeling you decied to finish the race. Report
Awww, Nancy... that was a great report and wonderful life conclusions to draw even if it did make me cry. (Everything makes me cry right now, it seems! LOL) I'm really glad I read it just now rather than Saturday or yesterday because I just got a huge disappointment myself about running RVM (I won't be able to) but I won't let it slow me down. I'll just have to find another race to do, and get to meet you some other way/time. Great going, Nancy - you are SUCH a winner in my book! Report
I loved reading your story of running the Chicago Marathon because I WAS THERE - literally. I was one of the thousands on the sidelines at the 10, 20 and 23 mile markers. I flew in from UT to support a friend in the race and I was totally inspired by the entire event. Describing the race as a parade is so perfect. It is exactly that but so much more. I was so inspired by everyone cheering for thousands of runners they didn't know. It was so different from the cheering at a Cubs game because the crowd is cheering for EVERYONE. There are no opponents. The crowd supports EVERY runner. "Keep Moving! Good Job! You can do it! You are awesome! Wahoo!" It really was an amazing experience.

I have never been to a marathon before despite the fact that the SLC marathon runs one block from my house and so I was a bit worried that I would feel out of place as I am currently 100lbs overweight. (Because when it comes down to it it is always about ME - lol) But I easily lost myself in the supportive crowd and quickly became one of them. I was so happy to be at a spot where I was able to stand right on the edge of the marathon and put out my hand to offer high fives to anyone who needed one. I felt as if each high five was lifting me as much as the runners. At the 23 mile marker a runner stepped over to a tree I was standing by to stretch her muscles. It could have been you for all I know as she had a blue shirt like yours. As I watched her stretch out of the corner of my eye I could see that she was experiencing pain and I silently cheered her on. "You can do it! You are almost there! Stretch it out and finish the race." When she finished and started back on the race I patted her shoulder and offered some words of encouragement hoping that a strangers words could help lift her up for the last few miles.

I am a long way from running a marathon and currently have no desire to run at all but yet I am moving along my own marathon as I have recently committed to moving more and becoming a healthier person. I'm hoping that the sparkpeople will my group of crowd of anonymous supporters along the "parade route."

Congratulations Nancy! Good job! I am so proud of you!!! Report
So beautiful Nancy. You absolutely are an inspiration to all of us. And I love your lesson learned. Thank you so much for sharing!

I'm hoping that this exact marathon is in my future!! Report
Inspiring! It's great to hear the stories of other runners. It leaves me wondering if maybe someday I can do that too. Report
Great job, Nancy! You're awesome!!! Report
What an inspiring story thank you for sharing and CONGRATULATIONS ON FINISHING Report
Congratulations!!! Report
Congratulations on completing the marathon! Your story was inspirational! Report
I cried along with you as I read your story, and I think you were so, so brave to keep going and finish. I think grace and strength in the face of disappointment are the true mark of a winner, but I also know that this is sometimes very hard indeed to accomplish when the disappointment is your own. I have a feeling I'll refer back to this post frequently in the course of my own journey, as I learn to make peace with my own setbacks. Thanks very much for sharing your experience with us. Report
i just did my first half marathon walk yesterday ( i ran a bit) and it felt great...definitely motivated me to train so i can run the whole thing! good on you for listening to your body. Report
i'm so happy for and proud of you, nancy! this will REALLY show your old teachers what you can do! not ONLY are you a runner, but you're a MARATHONER! you are a member of an elite group of distance athletes. ROCK ON! Report
Congratulations Nancy! This seems like my own feelings and thoughts when running. I am only planning my first Half Marathon for spring 2010 and I have the same thoughts about it as you.
Uhura Report