This year, I accomplished something I never thought I would: I ran my first marathon. Running is still new to me. Honestly, I don’t love it. Not yet, at least. Many feel the same, they have their reasons and I mostly agree with those. You might wonder why I ran a marathon if I don’t enjoy running, and honestly, I’m not entirely sure myself. But I always found myself lacing up my shoes and hitting the pavement, constantly pondering the same question: Why am I running? And then, there I stood in a crowd of 50 thousands runners, questioning why I decided to challenge myself with a marathon.
It all started 7 months before the marathon. My best friend sent me a message suggesting we take part in the Paris Marathon. We both share a common interest in challenging ourselves. I accepted. In a matter of minutes, we had our tickets under the team name “This is fine”. That was a very fitting name for our thoughts at the time. Experts generally recommend novices train for at least 6 months for a full marathon. Great, we even had a month to spare.
5 months went by and the longest distance I ran was 5 kilometers.
With just 2 months to go, the one constant was my lack of commitment. Winter, vacations, and settling into my new apartment were all reasons I was able to come up with for not getting started. During the same period, I started playing badminton and injured my right foot in the process. Walking became painful and running was impossible. I felt deeply responsible for that. I knew it could have easily been avoided. The doctor recommended a few weeks’ rest. I followed his advice and stopped exercising.
When I signed up for the marathon, I was determined to see it through. But now, quitting seemed like the most appropriate option. The previous year, I ran my first half-marathon. As you can guess by now, my preparation was just as flawed, give or take a few details. And I learned how difficult it was to run without proper training.
It gets easier.
Every day, it gets a little easier.
But you gotta do it every day.
That’s the hard part.
But it does get easier.
This is my favorite quote from the show Bojack Horseman and it clearly embodies the process of running: being consistent. Here I was, with half the training, trying to run twice the distance. Something wasn’t right. My friends were quick to point it out, and I was quicker to dismiss their concerns. I started to feel that This was not fine.
1 month passed. A mere month to convert 5 kilometers into 42 kilometers. My initial goal was to run the marathon in 4h30. That would be impossible. Even completing it seemed surreal. I was unmotivated and ready to give up completely. This would also be the worst outcome I could imagine. Scrap that. It was time to manage my expectations. I resolved to use the last month to train as rigorously as possible. The idea was to identify a goal I could achieve. Then find simple actions I could take to make it happen. Instead of running 42 kilometers, I’d do everything I could and settle with the outcome. Instead of running under 4 hours 30 minutes, I would use the 6 hours I had available. A shift in perspective that really helped escape the flinch and finally get started.
This final month was the most regular I’d ever been in my life when it comes to running. For 30 days, my schedule rotated between a day of running and a day of rest. I gradually increased the distance until I reached the 10 km mark, repeated 3 times within the last week. Probably not a good idea, since I noticed blisters forming on my feet. Still a small price to pay for the renewed confidence that came from seeing these efforts come to fruition. It wasn’t much, but it was honest work.
It’s marathon day.
I woke up earlier than expected and had plenty of time to ponder over what might happen. The anxiety-induced feeling in my gut did not help when I tried to eat breakfast. One banana, three sips of water, done. Having checked that my pockets were full of energy bars, I headed out. The weather wasn’t ideal. Still, it was better than the one announced.
The moments leading up to the race track were filled with excitement and doubts. As I approached the start line, my doubts turned to excitement as I joined the massive crowd. Fifty thousand runners had gathered for this race. I began to doubt whether I was up to the challenge. Everywhere, seemingly well-prepared runners ready to take on this trial. At the very least, I was convinced they ran more than 10 kilometers during their preparation. I felt out of place. Almost like an imposter. But it didn’t really matter anymore. Overthinking is a luxury you can’t afford when it’s time to act, or run in this case. My friend was here and we were cheering each other on. We were in this together. There we were, in the middle of this huge group of runners with a common destination and different motivations for reaching it.
As soon as the race kicked off, runners poured forward in every direction onto the empty streets of Paris.
There’s no turning back.
The immediate goal was to prevent the peloton from disrupting our pace. We managed to do it and the first 3 kilometers went by without any particular issues. We even enjoyed the scenery and the monuments whose history was narrated by my friend. However, after 3 kilometers, I started to feel a slight pain on my right side. It was a familiar sensation, but it occurred sooner than it had in my training runs. The pain eventually went away but I didn’t feel reassured.
At the 15th kilometer, I decided to take a break. It wasn’t advisable, but my body wanted me to. My friend seemed fine. We had already agreed on the best thing to do in such a situation. I assumed my role of comrade-in-arms in a pinch. And clearly told him to Go on without me.
Reassuring him that I’d catch up soon after. I sincerely believed I could. I kept him in my sights for a while. But at the same time, I felt the need to take more breaks between strides. The more I started walking, the longer I wanted to do it. The more I indulged, the less I could see him ahead. Everything spiraled from then on. My legs turned into heavy rods that I now had to drag around instead of the other way around. I felt strange sensations in my toes. Shortly after, it started to rain. This was the last nail to break whatever determination I had left.
I was ready to give up.
But not for long. Every time I came close to giving up, encouragement came in all shapes and sizes. At first, it puzzled me. - “You can do it! Keep it up Yannick!” These words seemed directed at me. Was it someone I knew, hard to be sure. With my senses all over the place, it was easier to conclude that I hadn’t heard right. That or another Yannick was running close by. It happened again, and again. I heard right. People off to the side could read the name and race number inscribed on our tops. And they were giving individualized encouragements.
There’s a downhill slope in a few meters!
There’s only a third of the race left!
There’s a refreshment stand just ahead!.
Every 5 kilometers, there were stands where runners could grab something to eat or drink. We’d already packed a few energy jellies, but were still pleased to be offered bottles of water. There were children lined up on the side, hands outstretched, waiting impatiently for the runners to give them a high-five. I was happy to play along. I wanted to express my gratitude, so I accelerated with each tap to demonstrate its effect. They grinned happily, convinced that their gesture was useful. And it was. As insignificant as it may seem, I felt less slugish running afterwards.
One encounter remains engraved in my mind. After struggling to keep running, I started to slow down. Before long, I was practically walking. A slim runner passed me. He looked tired and was really struggling to put one foot in front of the other. But he kept running. He glanced back, his face full of exhaustion, to drop an unexpected “You can do this — don’t stop running”. I nodded back, impressed. It was sincere. He didn’t have to, but he’d clearly taken the time to encourage me to keep going.
After a few laughs between other runners, several high fives, being cheered on by two runners before catching up to them, encouraging them in return as one of them started struggling, reading supportive message from friends through my smartwatch, overhearing fellow run-haters swear that this would be the last time they’d attempt this madness — I finally made it to the finish line. I truly believe I couldn’t have achieved this without all the encouragement.
So yes, I finished my first marathon. My legs disconnected before reconnecting. My lungs collapsed as they discovered new levels of exertion. My heart beat in my ears so loudly I could count it. And of course: Hello blisters, my new friends.
Crossing the finish line was anticlimactic. Maybe I expected it to be the most special moment of it all but it wasn’t. The run itself was more memorable. After moving aside from the track I simply sat down. Then proceeded to stare at the ground while trying to sort out my thoughts.
I ran a marathon.
I knew how incredible this was, but I couldn’t figure out how I truly felt. Maybe my depleted energy levels were to blame for this but I didn’t feel happy. Somehow I just knew I was.
After the marathon, I stopped running regularly and only do it on occasion. I don’t enjoy running more now than before. And thanks to the marathon, I actually know for a fact that I hate long distance running. I decided to do it on a whim, proceeded not to train properly, and took the full brunt of that. But above all, I’m glad I did it. If I hadn’t gone through and at least showed up in front of the starting line. If I gave up just because things seemed too challenging or impossible. I might have hated myself more than I hate running. I wouldn’t have experienced such moments if I didn’t give it a go.
I don’t think you have to like something before giving it a try. You don’t have to have an unshakeable will or lofty motive to get started. Sometimes, the things you do on a whim end up becoming very important to you too. To get started, I think you just need a little curiosity. And what more appropriate thing to be curious about than things you don’t like or understand? And if like me, you think that running a marathon is absurd and foolish, perhaps you can give it a try too.