You Can Run a Marathon, But You Can't Outrun Your Fears
By Stephanie Hinrichs
This past February I ran the Austin Marathon. When I think about the fact that I did it, I think about how 10 year old Steph would be proud as heck of me. But then, when I think of how I felt when I crossed the finish line, I was anything but proud. After months of trying to figure out why that was my initial response to running the race, I think I’ve finally found peace with it.
Flash back to October of 2018. It took little to no convincing at all from a friend before I found myself registering to run the Austin Marathon instead of the Half. We began our training plan in early November and I only missed a handful of runs in the 14 weeks that lead up to race day. I was lucky enough to be training with a coworker, so we had each other’s support whenever we had to be at work early after running 18 miles the day before. Training was all we talked about. We gave up Friday evening plans and glasses of wine because we knew our bodies needed rest and sustainable fuel for long runs on Saturday mornings. We laughed about how some customers at work could speed-walk faster than we ran, we sent really ridiculous texts of our toast and eggs at 6am on weekend mornings before we met up a couple of hours later to push through the really long days together. As you’re likely catching on, I could have never ever finished this by myself. I don’t say that to belittle myself, because let’s be honest I’m beyond impressed that my body carried me over 300 miles in just a couple of months. I say that because my mind wouldn’t have gotten me there without the support of my dear friend.
There was a lot of alone time too. The long, solo runs are the ones that I now fully deem “the runs that wrecked me”. And there I would find myself quite literally trying to run away from emotions and fears that I was being forced to acknowledge. I needed to allow myself to hurt and process things, but yet I pushed those feelings deep down and hoped that my anger might fuel me through a run. The funny thing about running is you find yourself both figuratively trying to run away from your problems while literally running away with your body. You find yourself on a 10 mile run on a Wednesday afternoon after a full day of work and in those moments of solitude you really have no choice but to face your thoughts head on. No matter how loud I attempted to blast Taylor Swift in my headphones, my mind still won. I had to acknowledge the fact that a boy that I really liked chose to step away from me. I had to accept that my parents had no clue what training looked like for me and would likely never really be proud of me for doing this race. I had to come to terms that I was at the tail end of a season (that up until now I had refused to acknowledge at all) of complete dislike for myself. I had to acknowledge that I was discontent in my job, and overall I had a really poor attitude about how I was living my everyday.
And then, after all of the training and facing the hard stuff you come to race day. The hardest day ever. The first half was speedy and dare I say, easy? The spectators were loud and signs were funny. But almost immediately after hitting the half way point I started going downhill, fast. My stomach hurt, there were way fewer signs to read, and it seemed that every runner around me was slowly just beginning to walk. I was in pain and I told my friend, who had trained with me from the beginning, to go ahead. So there I was in that solo pit again. I was angry that my body hurt so bad. What was all of the training for if race day was still this hard? I was very confused and my thoughts were out of my control. I remember vividly all of the things I was thinking about that morning during the second half, but I’ll spare you. I texted my best friend at mile 18 and told her I wanted to quit, she said I could if I wanted, but she didn’t think that’s what I wanted. She was right, so I kept running. I hugged my boss at mile 20. I cried at the sight of a friend at mile 24. I was grateful for a familiar smile at mile 26 as I struggled to make it up that last damn hill.
And then at last I crossed the finish line and saw all of my friends standing there. I was so, so grateful and then just…angry I’ve lived my whole life and still don’t know how to process anger very well. The fact that that’s what I felt at the finish line was confusing and made me more angry. I was angry because my intentions of running away from hard things didn't work. I was angry because my body hurt...really bad, period cramps didn't do me any favors that day either. I was angry because the way I thought I would feel at the finish line was the opposite of how I was actually feeling. I was angry at myself for letting my pride get the best of me, I was so determined to run under a certain time and when I didn't do that, I didn't even want to be excited that I just finished the race.
A few months have passed and now it all just makes me laugh. None of those feelings at the finish line made much sense, but they were there and that is why it took months of processing to realize that running the marathon was in fact a success. I’m grateful for the thoughts of broken relationships and discontent that found me and wouldn’t let me hide while I ran. I’m grateful that through it all I still consider running one of my safest places. Let's just say that present day Steph is now proud as heck about that experience. It’s like my body knew that it would strongly carry me through those 300+ miles of training and that 26.2 miles on a single day without harm if that’s what it took for me to finally, finally not be afraid of my own thoughts.
Stephanie Hinrichs is a people person, an occasional writer, and the director of Community Relations at Cafe Medici in Austin, Texas. She’s the world’s foremost expert on boiled eggs. When she’s not reading books, making coffee or going for a run, you can find her poolside in the summertime because Texas is so dang hot.