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.

Why Wednesdays? – Why Creativity Counts #1: Because It’s So Much More Than You May Think

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on creating and creativity.

I’m not sure if others can relate to this, but for the longest time I was really confused about creativity.  I didn’t actually know that I was confused at the time.  In fact, I thought I had it all figured out.  I’ll take you through it.

When I was young, I learned that there were essentially two types of people.  Left-brained versus right-brained.  A-type versus B-type.  Creative versus not-so-creative.  I easily classified myself as a left-brained, type A, not-so-creative person.  I was analytical, for sure.  I was no doubt a rationale person.  A planner.  I still am.  That piece of my identity, I was not confused about.  The problem was that I had essentially learned that being such a person was mutually exclusive from being a creative person.

And learning this ‘truth’, I short-changed myself.

In elementary school, creativity occurred in art class.  Those that excelled could sketch with talent and paint with beauty.  Those that didn’t (i.e. me) slapped stuff on a paper and waited out the tortuous period, anticipating the bell to ring.

In high school, creativity occurred in electives.  There was art again.  But there was also photography, drama, and music.  My vision of what it meant to be creative expanded – but just ever so slightly.  I tried these things.  I really did.  And, I generally failed miserably.  I still couldn’t create anything beautiful from chalk or pencils or paint.  I was way too insecure and shy to get on a stage, and musical instruments were like foreign objects to me.  If it wasn’t a triangle with a little wand to hit it with, I wasn’t going near it.

By the time I reached early adulthood, I was entrenched in the mindset that I was simply not born with creative ability and would never obtain it.

It wasn’t my thing.  When I thought about it, this disappointed me, but it was something I accepted.

But oddly enough, as I moved through the world, met other people, read new things, and took different jobs, I realized just how confused I had been about what it means to be creative.  Creativity is not limited to art or theater.  Creativity is a mental process.  It’s a method of thinking and living that involves exploring new concepts, generating ideas, trying new things, and being adventurous in experimenting with thoughts and actions.

Once I understood this, it became clear to me that I am a indeed a creative person AND a type-a, left-brained, planner, too.

I’m creative when I problem-solve with clients at work about how to make their lives more safe and comfortable.  I’m creative when I wade through my apprehension to see what it feels like to work a sewing machine.  I’m creative when I see a recipe and start thinking about what spices to swap for one another and what vegetables I might want to use that aren’t included in the instructions.  I’m creative when I read a book and let my mind wander into a world of fantasy or when I generate ideas for blog post while out on a run.

I am creative all the damn time.

Seriously.

I bet you are, too. And, you may not even notice it.

My creative pursuits are most evident these days in my knitting, cooking/baking, and writing.  (By the way, I’ve always been a writer, but never thought of it as creative.  Since I generally wrote non-fiction-type things I didn’t think it counted.  Funny.)  But, as I’ve shared, it shows up all over the place.  Some of my most creative moments don’t necessarily have any tangible end-product.  Brainstorming with co-workers and solving problems with clients is a whole world of creative energy in its own right.

Moral of this story?

It took me to practice creativity in my thinking to understand what creativity really is.  Doing so has opened up a whole new sense of self and a fascinating abundance of possibilities.

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To read the previous series in this column, select the ‘Why Wednesdays’ tag in the right side column.  The prior series in this column explored the topic of running.