Dear Runners and Walkers

When I first started walking half marathons back in 2007, I was pretty clueless about everything except how long I was going to have to walk. I didn’t know that there are people who feel that distance events are for runners, and that walking is something you do only when you are failing at running. I didn’t know that people believe walking a marathon “doesn’t count.” It’s been such a blessing to spend so many years working with Gilda’s Gang, because we embrace and encourage people of all fitness levels, at all paces, to tackle 13.1 miles. We don’t believe that marathoning is just for runners.

Gilda's Gang 2014!
Gilda’s Gang 2014!

In the newspaper this weekend, there was a blog post by a woman who calls herself The Fair Weather Runner. In it, she offered advice to the first-time marathoner. To be fair, she doesn’t call herself the Fair Weather Marathoner. But still, I’m so glad I never saw a letter like this when I was first starting out, because I probably would have never queued up at my first start line. It’s hard enough to put ourselves out there and do something physical in a very public way; to be discouraged before we even start makes it all the harder. To that end, I’ve written my own version of a letter to a first-time marathoner.

Dear Everyone Who Felt Like Marathoning Wasn’t For Them After Reading that Letter,

No bones about it: training for and completing a distance event is hard work. You may very well have doubts about your ability to finish. With the right training, nutrition, hydration, shoes, and support, you’ll get there! Now, the Fair Weather Runner mentions that “the likelihood you’ll be last is statistically very small.” Well, someone has to be last. And it very well may be you. But as she points out, you will still be a finisher. You will still get a medal. You will still have accomplished something amazing, and there is nothing to be ashamed about. Get across the finish line, and don’t worry about who is or isn’t ahead of or behind you.

The Fair Weather Runner says that running a marathon may make you realize that you hate running. If you decide you hate running, try this: stop running. Why would you spend so much time and energy (and it’s going to take a lot of both, trust me) doing something you hate? A lot of people give up on incorporating fitness into their lives because they don’t enjoy it. You’re more likely to stick with something you like doing – so find out what that is. Marathoning isn’t for everyone. Running one might not be for you, but walking one might! Find what you love, and keep doing that.

In my favorite (not favorite) part of the letter, the Fair Weather Runner wrote, “You might have the temptation to walk. So what. Do it if it makes you feel better. You haven’t quit.” Try this version instead: If you feel the urge to walk, embrace it. There’s absolutely no shame in walking a marathon. Walking is not just the resort of the tired or failed runner. Heck, there are some marathon coaches who encourage walking! It’s still 13.1 or 26.2 miles, whether you walk them or run them. If your body is still moving in a forward direction, you absolutely have not “quit.” In fact, continued forward motion in a marathon is pretty much the opposite of quitting.

Nutrition! It’s very important, and the Fair Weather Runner has some very specific things to say about that. Orange slices? Good! Purple and blue electrolyte drinks? Bad! Honestly, if you dislike orange slices, or dig purple and blue electrolyte drinks, go for it. Spend some time during your training weeks figuring out what works for you, nutrition-wise. There is absolutely not a one-method-works-for-all approach when it comes to eating and drinking during a marathon.

Finally, you do not have to “be prepared to be horrified at how you look in your race photos.” You might look sweaty, red-faced, tired, spent. You might look powerful, capable, and strong. Or you might very well look like all of those things! Your photos are a tangible memento of what you and your body accomplished on race day. Will you use it as your professional head shot on LinkedIn? Probably not. But you may very well want to show it off proudly as your Facebook profile picture. It can be tough to like pictures of ourselves that aren’t typically considered flattering, but there’s zero good in preparing yourself to be ashamed of what you look like.

Post-race in Toronto, 2013.
Post-race in Toronto, 2013.

The expression “fair-weather friend” means someone who is your friend only when things are pleasant or going well for you. It’s not always pleasant to train for and complete a distance race, which the Fair Weather Runner certainly makes clear. It does indeed take “ambition and courage,” just as she mentions. But things will be a lot easier if we also remember to be encouraging, kind, welcoming, and inclusive – to others, and to ourselves. While marathoning isn’t for everyone, it can be for anyone.