Stripped: The Experience and Exposure of Running My First Marathon

Nearly a month has passed since I completed my first marathon.  Since then, I have sat down many times with the intention of writing a post about what I learned through the process of training for and completing the 26.2.  My plan was to make a list and offer up my mistakes and successes as tools for others starting their own marathon quest, but every time I’ve started to do this I’ve gotten stuck.

I’ve gotten stuck because while I did learn many things worth sharing, I keep coming back to one key, core lesson.  So that’s what I’ve decided to share with you today.

Me nearing finish 4 - edited

I learned, more than any other thing, what it feels like to be stripped down to the very core of my being.  To be raw, exposed, and so completely of my self.

Here is my journey to that place.

At the start of my race, I imagine I was like many other first-time marathoners.  I had about a million and a half thoughts and feelings running through me, many of them contradictory, all of them clamoring for attention.

There was both excitement and anticipation (obviously). There was fear and apprehension (seems typical).  There was tiredness (who sleeps well the night before a big race?!), but there was also exuberant energy (thank you, adrenaline).

There were the voices of logic and reason (“Remember your training.  Don’t start out too fast.”), of pride (“I am so impressed with myself for getting here.  I am a badass.”), and of skepticism (“Who am I kidding?  I didn’t nearly train enough!”).

There was gratitude (seriously, I’m lucky to have two people here today to support me, cheer me on, and believe in my success), as well as anger (also seriously, certain other people didn’t even bother to text me good luck?!).

And more.

Runners along cars and mile 11 sign post - edited

Then the ‘gun’ went off and over the course of 26.2 miles, it all got stripped away.

First went the adrenaline-fueled, childlike excitement.  After the first 3-4 miles, I had to let it go.  The realization sets in of what I’m doing and I know I need to be focused on the present moment, the lifting and planting of my Mizuno-clad feet.  There is no room for exuberance that hasn’t yet achieved its goal.

Next the apprehension is shaken off.  I’m here.  I’m doing it.  It’s happening.  There is no sound reason to believe I can’t finish, so get your head in the game, Rose (my last name).  You’ve started this; you’re finishing it.

Another few miles down the road and I could feel the anger slipping away.  It ate up too much energy.  It didn’t make people’s actions (or lack thereof) okay, but I needed my energy for the race.  They didn’t get to have any of it right now.

Further on goes the vanity.  Sweaty, knowing as you pass by those clicking cameras that the look on your face will be anything but attractive, but who cares?  A few bad pictures are absolutely worth the end result.

Further still, deep into the race, when inklings of pain and discomfort begin to manifest, all bravado and lingering facades are dropped.  It doesn’t matter anymore if I’m smiling at bystanders, if I’m exuding confidence, or making it ‘look easy.’  All of that has to go because all that matters is what I’m doing – one foot in front of the other, with as much speed and precision as I’m capable of.  Period.

All of this stuff, these extraneous feelings and thoughts that seem so important on so many days and in so many moments suddenly just.  don’t.  matter.

What’s left then without them?

Finish Sign 2 - edited

Well, the simple, honest, and most accurate answer is just Me.

What I learned, you see, is that there is a point in a marathon when all of the expectations, the pressures, the images we create, and the faces we wear, are all gone.

All I was left with – all that I had in those moments – was the truest part of my own self.  Stripped of ego and artifice, I have never been so raw and essentially in tune with my self than I was during those last few miles.

There’s something about that – something incredible about that – testing your limits and pouring the sum of your physical and mental energy into a singular activity, for a sustained amount of time, that strips you of pretty much everything else.

And I can unequivocally say that (despite being pretty generally terrified of being exposed and vulnerable) that state of self-clarity and awareness is amazing. Completely amazing.

It teaches you; at least it taught me.

It taught me about who I am, what matters to me, and what I’m capable of (and I don’t just mean physically).  The wisdom and strength I gained from that experience is unmatched.

And while I may find another time to share what I learned about fueling and training and race day preparation, this lesson is the most valuable one I could have ever hoped to have gotten.

42 comments on “Stripped: The Experience and Exposure of Running My First Marathon

  1. This was a great post. As someone struggling with whether or not I will run my first marathon this fall, this was really good to read.

  2. Britta says:

    This post is spectacular. All of it is so true! I have never run a full marathon, but those are the exact thoughts and feeling that I have when I am running a half. I’m definitely going to remember this post during my next half especially that so many moments that we over think in a race really don’t matter! – I think it will help a lot, nothing better than being able to calm the mind on such a big day. Congrats on your marathon!!

  3. figandbasil says:

    Thank you for such a raw and real perspective! I loved the read…even though I am not a runner 🙂 I feel like you could apply this train of thought to almost any challenging situation in life. Our thoughts are just are thoughts, right? After they are recognized for what they really are, then we are always left with just our “self”.

  4. Beautiful post!!!! You put all my feelings and put them into words. Thank you for sharing!

  5. locutus08 says:

    You totally hit the nail on the head…you reach a certain point and there is nothing left but who you are, and it is such a pure feeling…thanks for sharing!!

  6. Isn’t it amazing how challenging ourselves physically can reveal so much about our mental and emotional selves? Congrats again on the marathon. You’ve completed quite a journey.

  7. Red Hen says:

    Oh well done you. Great run. Great post. I suspect running a marathon changes us forever.

  8. Jim Brennan says:

    Well said! Laying exposed and raw is a good teacher, and enlightening. That’s why the call the marathon twenty miles of hope, and six miles of truth. Those last six miles you learn who you are at the core. As far as not writing about your first marathon for a month, I don’t find that unusual. Many times I have to let big events settle in and take hold before I write about them. I think it paid off for you. Congrats on number one, and hopefully there are many more in your future.

  9. Reblogged this on nzmultisports and commented:
    I can relate to this!

  10. Beautiful post and so inspiring. Congratulations on finishing!

    The place where your picture was taken was the same place I was standing waiting for my husband to come around the corner and finish his marathon (2012). Even as a bystander I remember all the emotions of wanting it so badly for him and almost crying when I saw him turn that corner. To know that all his hard work was coming to fruition was so powerful.

    Way to go! You did it!

  11. This really encapsulates the feeling of being “in flow,” whether it is running or painting or writing or playing a piece of music. And it also speaks of mastery, because it takes so much conditioning, both physical and mental, to be able to just put one foot in front of another, much like putting one word after another in a document and knowing it will express something in the end.

    • Thank you for this – it makes perfect sense. I think you’re absolutely right about flow and mastery and definitely could see how it could relate to those other activities, too!

  12. richhell says:

    Congratulations on running your marathon!

    Stripped of ego and artifice, I have never been so raw and essentially in tune with my self than I was during those last few miles.

    I don’t know if you can run a marathon, or do some other thing that tests the limits of what we can do physically and mentally, without being that in-tune with yourself. It requires so much work, planning, and training just to get to the starting line. It seems that as you try to execute your plan for the big run you find that you simply have to trust yourself and your body.

    • Thank you for that! And, yes, that trust in yourself is key – and something I don’t always have. 🙂 It was nice to experience it and I think it’s laid some groundwork for me to trust in myself more often.

  13. runnerbean31 says:

    Congratulations on your first marathon. That was a truly lovely post to read about the experience you had and really inspiring, so thanks so much for sharing it 🙂

  14. Joanne says:

    LOVE IT and I totally agree. When you are left alone with yourself and your thoughts for such a long amount of time, and are pushing yourself to the max, you really get to see who you are and how strong you are. ANd it’s a great thing.

  15. briapittman says:

    This is simply inspiring. I teared up a bit thinking about my own training and the difficulties. I can definitely relate to the comment about pushing your body to it’s limits. You put this so beautifully. Thank you. It definitely gives me motivation to keep training for my half marathon. Great post!

  16. JennaRuns says:

    What a powerful post. At the end of the race, all the external factors we worry about don’t matter as much as what we feel inside, about who we are. I am contemplating my first marathon for 2014 and I will definitely revisit this post as I train. I look forward to reading more about your marathon experience!

  17. plainmama says:

    First off, Congrats! A marathon is an amazing feat. I am training for my first and could relate to so many of the beforehand thoughts and feelings! Secondly, this is so beautifully written, raw, and honest. I hope I walk away from my first marathon with this gift of knowing ME even better and deeper than I do already.

  18. love this. my husband and i are training for a triathlon coming up in a few months, and i’m really trying to focus on the “focus.” besides running more for the marathon, what other changes did you make?

    • Thank you! In addition to running more, I focused on targeted strength training for muscles that would support my running (core and upper body for stability). I also practiced with different food/hydration plans, of course. And, as simple as it sounds, also really tried to focus on getting enough rest and sleep (this is really hard for me!). Good luck to you and your husband! A triathlon sounds like a whole other kind of mountain to climb!

  19. I just now saw this. You’ve taken my thinking about what I’m doing now (starting to seriously train for MY first marathon) to a whole new place. An even scarier and more exciting (and potentially more rewarding) place than I imagined. Thank you.

  20. What a great first marathon re-cap. We learn so much about ourselves and prove so much to ourselves during a marathon. When it gets down to just you taking one step after another to get to that finish line it changes you.
    It is as much a spiritual journey as it is a 26.2 mile journey.

  21. […] Stripped:  The Experience and Exposure of Running My First Marathon :  There is simply no other feeling like it. […]

  22. […] miles = Done! – The experience of running my first marathon have been shared in depth here and here, so I won’t say much more other than that it stands as one of the single best days of my […]

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