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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You are a great inspiration. Report
Thank you Nancy, for your very inspirational article. It will be a constant reminder for me in these last days of trying to shed my last 20 lbs. to reach my goal. It may take 4 more months or longer, but I will remember your article, and not give up! Congratulations for reaching your goal and sharing your experience with us. Report
Way to go Nancy! Report
Congratulations!!! I am glad to know you have gotten where you are, it gives me incouragement to go on, because I am just getting started. Keep up the good work. Soon I hope to be able to say I have done the same. Thanks, Report
AMAZING!!! You actually brought me to tears! I'm so excited for you! Report
You are my inspiration and I love you LRB! Report
What a wonderful blog!!!! Way to go on finishing and taking care of you! Thank you for sharing! Report
You are so amazing and such a wonderful inspiration! What a great role model you are to me! Report
you are inspiring!! Report
what an inspiration and congrats on running your marathon your way even if it was not the way you wanted it to be keep on going one day at a time Report
I met you at the Cinncinnati Convention. You ran your race. Great job! Report
Wonderful you are an inspiration ,congrates Report
Way to go Nancy. What a motivator you are. Report
Great job Nancy! Some day your story will be me...hopefully without the difficulties. I enjoyed reading your experience and may have even found an answer to my pain in the butt! I also start hurting around mile I'll be looking into the piriformis thing. :) Thanks for sharing! You're def an aspiring long distance runner's inspiration! Report
Nancy, I am speechless and these days...that is really something! I knew you had mentioned that you had troubles with the poop-a-lot and long lines and plagued with your wonky knee, but NOTHING like the full story. The Nancy that I have grown to respect showed the true colors that make you well...Nancy. You are truly an amazing athlete with dreams that are meant to be fulfilled. You did it and you did it with a heart of a champion. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for being a special friend and mentor. THANK YOU for everything you have done for your fellow SparkRunners!!! Report
This gave me chills. What an extraordinary triumph!!!!!!! And I agree no matter what obstacles there are, there is ALWAYS a way through!! TERRIFIC JOB!!!!!!!!!! Report
Well done Nancy! I agree you are a runner that refuses to quit. Report
Nancy, thank you for taking us along with you on your race! You are a marathoner and will be one forever! How wonderful is that!! You are such an inspiration. I'll think of you when I sign up for my first 10K and I am starting to want to run longer distances. Perhaps there is a marathon in my future as well in a couple of years... Report
CONGRATS! I'd always heard that the last 6.2 miles of a marathon were equally as hard as the entire first 20, but I never really BELIEVED it until I hit about mile 22, hehe. But, when the going gets tough... Report
Kudos to you - thanks for sharing an inspiring story! Report
Congratulations!!!!! Report
Fabulous job Nancy,Congratulations! Report
WOW, Nancy! That is AMAZING! I'm so, so happy for you!!
Jocelyn Report
Oh my God!! I'm can't stop crying, I imagine all you went through and how you overcame all the obstacles. It's such an inspiration, I will definitely think of this blog when I reach the goal of running a complete marathon.

But don't you worry, these are tears of joy. I'm proud of you even if I don't know you. Report
Congrats to you. You did it and you inspire me to do more. THANKS! Report
You are a runner! How amazing. This is truly inspiring and what a lifetime achievement. Now you can always call yourself a "marathoner." =) Report
How great to know YOU DID IT!!! A wonderful job writing about it too. Report
Nancy, it's an honor just to know you. Report
Woo Hoo! I know I will never be able to run ( I have always gotten shin splints at even a slow jog, or even a treadmill when I was thin. Thank heavens for the elipse!) but it was amazing to be taken along for the run with you in your blog. You are my hero! Report
That beautiful Smile tells it all.

I'm so proud of are still my HERO.

(((HUGS))) Report
Wow! I was tearing up while reading about your marathon! I totally understand how you felt about having to walk the last 4 miles. I, too, had to walk the last 2.3 miles during my half marathon (now, granted, that's a major distance difference altogether) and at first it was hard to deal with but I knew it was what I had to do in order to FINISH. Good for you for having such a great experience and I hope to hear about your next marathon :). Report
This has got to be one of the most inspirational blogs I've ever read. Thank You! Report
Wow, Nancy. Was great to hear the details. Amazing all the shifts and twists and turns and how you dealt with them, not only in the race but during this whole journey. It's been wonderful keeping up with you along the "run"...sooooo proud of you and thanks for the awesome inspriration!! Report
Great job Nancy. Report
The tear are literally streaming down my face, Nancy! I am SOOOO very proud of you! Because of you and others that spoke of the convention, when I just made my new vision collage I added a picture of a person running. My goal is to be able to RUN the MS Walk in April! Report
Nancy, I think I am prouder of you for deciding to finish walking than if you had tried to finish running! It's terrific you found a way to keep on moving. It's even more terrific that you decided to finish in a *healthy way*. Great blog, and great marathon! Report
Thank you so much for sharing your experience! It was inspiring to say the least. Keep us updated on further marathon stories, this was well worth reading. Report
As usual, great blog Nancy.

Your Ali quote left me a bit misty eyed. If we don't challenge ourselves then what do we have to show? I doubt ANYONE argues that you're not a runner anymore.

It makes no difference HOW you made it to the finish line; you did it! Most people won't consider walking 2 block to get a haircut, let alone train the hours you've had to put in to make this dream a reality.

We don't have any emoticons, but I'm standing giving you a big round of applause and a hug.
Nancy, WOW what an inspiring story- I found myself rooting for you at mile 21! So glad you pushed on. And I love the quotes you chose to include. I hope I can dig deep and find some of the strength you have as I train to make my goals. Sincere congratulations to you, and thanks for sharing your story. Report
Hi Nancy. Excellent blog. I've done a series triathlon and the 5km series, as yet i'd like to do the half marathon. I'm also wondering about how much training to put in. scary.

Love to do the Chicargo Marathon, I hear the scenery is fantastic. I'm over here in New Zealand, so I'll start with one over here and then continue. Thanks again for the inspirational blog. :) Report
Thanks for sharing your experience! It is actually very similar to what I went through during the Portland, OR marathon of 2006. Unlike you, I don't see myself ever doing that again unless I had a friend to share the distance with. Nevertheless, I am very glad I attempted and completed the distance. (& yes, porta-pots were a big time loss factor as well! & knees that did not want to work, &pavement I hadn't planned on since I had trained mostly on a dirt/bark path) The longest part of the marathon for me was indeed the last hour and a half. (It took me 6 hrs. 25 min. to complete it.)
I think the very best part for me was showing my kids that when you set your mind to something, it is possible to make it happen. They saw the training involved and all the time I committed to this goal. One son was going through something in his life and asked if I thought he could do it. I related his question to my own situation, telling him I had never walked a marathon before, but I was going to do my best to put one foot in front of the other and make an honest attempt to do just that.
We never know what we can do unless we try! Something I need to keep remembering. Report
Great and inspirational article - thank you! Congrats on your race! Report
WOOHOO! I am so proud of you Nancy. Can't wait to meet you and run with you in Hood to Coast next sumemr! Report
Thanks so much for letting me see what you runners go through. I'm now able to walk without a cane and am thankful for that....but....I'll never run. I loved your artical and am now re-thinking. Maybe I can't run, but I could maybe one day do a 5K walk. Thanks for the inspiration. Report
Many Kudos to you. I can't run distance to save my life. Report
Very inspiring--you are an inspiration indeed! Report
I couldn't wait to read the second half. Your story is encouraging to one who wants to run and is having quite a slow start. Yeah and Hooray for you! What is next? What city, what marathon?

misspattym Report
"... 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." HOW POWERFUL IS THAT!

Nancy, let me tell you, you have me in tears and goosebumps...

First of all, your writing ability is spectacular; secondly, your positivity is so admirable; and, thirdly, your courage is heart-warming.

Thank you for sharing this terrific journey with us. Your blog took me on this ride with you and has left me in awe. I applaud you and I know that God is looking down at you and saying, "Well done, Nancy. Well, done."

Keep sparking brightly! Report
Great blog! The bathroom deal was the one bit of advice I got for my first mini-marathon. Go before the race and watch your hydration because the potty lines get longer the farther you go in the race. Report
It was great to relive the Chicago marathon through your eyes. I was right there with you. It was amazing to see all the people there working to accomplish there goals. I am trying to apply that same patience & planning that I used to train for Chicago. It was my first marathon too. I applaud you & thank you for the blog. Coach Nancy ...You rock,,,, Report