Here Are 26.2 Things I've Learned While Training for the New York Marathon

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Kim Zapata

To say running is my life would be an understatement. I took my first steps in 2009, training for a Tough Mudder. In 2010, I ran my first half marathon. I logged hundreds of miles on the streets of Philadelphia. And in 2016, I ran my most memorable race, completing the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World. But while I have more than 10 years of running secured firmly beneath my hydration belt, training for the New York City Marathon has been a life-changing experience. It has altered me in ways I cannot verbalize or explain.

Here are 26.2 lessons I’ve learned over the last few months.

  1. Celebrate the journey, not just the destination. While my eyes are always on “the prize” — i.e. when I’m running, I’m focused on the finish line and/or my final goal — it’s important to pay attention to that which is right in front of you. After all, joy is found not in a space or place but a moment. Don’t let happiness pass you by.
  2. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Things can (and do) get heavy. It’s part of life. But pushing through is what matters, not quickly but consistently. Move through. Move forward. Move on, one step at a time.
  3. Failure is an opportunity to grow. No one wants to fail, be it at work, running or life, but we all falter — at least from time to time. Instead of seeing failure as a setback, see it as an opportunity to rise above. To grow.
  4. Strong, supportive shoes are clutch. Your feet carry the weight of your body and, in some ways, the weight of the world. Take care of them.
  5. Rest days are just as important as active ones. I have a hard time slowing down. Always have, always will. But the truth is, our bodies (and minds) need time to recover, so don’t be hard on yourself if today is a Netflix and nachos sorta night. Rest days are just as important as active ones.
  6. Food really is fuel. From smoothies and spaghetti to steak, bagels, and BLTs, food nourishes us from the inside out. Feed your body. Fuel your mind.

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

  1. Run when you can, walk when you have to. While I would love to sprint across the finish line at the New York City Marathon, I may not. I’m slower, older, and have sustained several injuries. But that doesn’t make my journey any less meaningful or valuable. Sometimes the most important steps in life are the ones we struggle to take.
  2. My legs may be powerful, but so is my mind. Distance running takes a lot of work. It’s hard to stay on your legs for hours on end, but the truth is your body is only fighting half the battle. Mental fortitude is key.
  3. I am capable of more than I know. Self-doubt is common — on the streets, race track, and in life — but running has shown me I am capable of more than I know I just need to trust myself (and the process).
  4. Expect the unexpected. From injuries and illness to sudden weather changes, life happens. It’s important to roll with the punches and be prepared for divergences, deviations, and detours.
  5. You get out of life what you put into it. It takes a lot of preparation to run a marathon. It’s not something you can just “jump in” and do. And life is the same way. It takes patience, persistence, tenacity, and grit.
  6. Pain is temporary. When running, I’m usually fairly uncomfortable. My calves hurt. My ankles pop, and I struggle to maintain steady breathing. But the pain I endure — on and off the race course — is temporary, and I remind myself of that when life feels too hard or heavy. When things become overwhelming.

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

  1. Someone is always there to support you. From friends and family members to your colleagues and running peers, know you’re not alone in this. Someone will support you. If you lean in, someone will have your back.
  2. Setbacks are inevitable. No matter how hard you work (or how much you train) life happens. Things will throw you off and get in the way. But the key is consistency. So jump in the water or get back on the saddle — when you can.
  3. Chaffing is real. Three words: Tape your nipples.
  4. Embrace your shortcomings. Running has taught me to appreciate my mind and body and embrace my “weaknesses.”
  5. Celebrate your victories. Life is full of missteps, misgivings, and losses but it’s important to remember to celebrate your victories. These moments — big and small — are hard-earned and should be recognized.
  6. Know you are your own best friend. While some people run with coaches, partners, or teams, I am a solo runner. Most of the time I hit the pavement alone. But this has taught me to listen to myself, to appreciate myself, to care for myself, and love myself. After all, when it’s just me, myself, and I.
  7. Music really does make everything better. Feeling down or in a funk? Pump up the jams. Trust me. Music can push you past most obstacles in your life and move your mind from a dark space to one of light.
  8. Reframing works. My therapist has talked to me (ad nauseum) about reframing, or the process of turning negative thoughts into positive ones, but I didn’t truly understand how reframing worked until I began running long distances and had to overcome mental hurdles — and physical ones.

Courtesy of Kim Zapata

  1. “Me” time matters, as does self-care. If you’re anything like me, you probably hate taking “me” time. That, or you feel like you don’t have the time to take. But distance running is all about one person: the runner, and pursuing this hobby helped me to make myself a priority.
  2. Routines are great, but so is balance. If you’re training for a marathon, you’re probably following a strict schedule. Three weekday runs; one long weekend run; and two days off — or something like that. But while it is important to have a routine, balance is also important. Knowing when to step back and rest is key.
  3. Pace yourself. Coming out the gate at top speed may make you feel strong, but you’ll burn out quickly, and the same is true with life. Sprinting will exhaust your body and fatigue your mind. Instead, maintain a steady pace and keep moving forward.
  4. Preparation is key. When it comes to distance running, preparation is important. You’ll want to sleep well, hydrate often, and eat a well-balanced meal the night before. But you’ll also want to mentally prepare yourself for expected — and unexpected. Half the battle is in your head.
  5. The hardest step is the first. Whether you are running or just dealing with the ebbs and flows of life, remember the hardest step to take is your first. So lace up your kicks and start moving forward. You’ll be thankful you did.
  6. (.2) When you feel like giving up, keep going. And finally, remember: Marathons, like life, test you. They push you to your physical, mental, and emotional limits — and beyond. But you are strong. You are courageous, and you can keep going. No matter what.

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