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6.2 Miles of Inspiration

One of my sweatiest friends and favorite people in the world of running (and just the world-world in general) is gearing up to run her first marathon in two short weeks.

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Based on her flexing skillz alone, I can say with authority that she’s going to kill it.

Yesterday, some playful banter over twitter led me to start day dreaming about showing up on Ali’s big M-Day decked out in my neonest of neon apparel, cowbell in hand, ready to lose my voice cheering for Ali on the (26.2 mile) Run.

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This fun and only-kind-of-sort-of-joking conversation (this sweaty girl does not really joke about marathon start lines) led me to fondly reflect on some of the things that got me through my first marathon, 12 long 26.2 mile races ago.

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One of my favorite things that I did to help me conquer the distance for the first time is something I learned from my mom. For those of you who don’t know, my mom is a bad ass runner and finished her first marathon the year she turned 50…well before this I was doing anything resembling endurance sports (unless you count friday night flip cup tournaments as an endurance sport.)

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When my mom ran her first marathon, she decided to dedicate each of the last 6 miles of her marathon to someone who inspired her, motivated her, or believed in her ability to do anything. Because her longest training runs were limited to 20 miles, she wanted something to get her through that unchartered final stretch of the daunting distance. Associating each mile with an important person in her life meant she could think of each person to push her to finish that last 6.2 miles. And obviously, you can’t quit the race when you’re running a mile FOR someone. How would it feel to have to call one of the most special people in your life after the race and tell him you quit the race on his mile? Exactly. Not an option.

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She dedicated her last mile to my father, my brother and me. Seeing her round that last corner and knowing that she was thinking about us to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get to the finish, meant the world to each of us and inspired me to adopt her tactic before I toed the line at my own inaugural 26.2 a few years later.

I used an eclectic mix of people from all facets of my life to dedicate my last 6.2 miles to: an old coach who remains an inspiration in my life to this day, a cousin recently back from serving overseas, family members, training partners, and friends who supported me unconditionally as I embarked on my quest to train for and finish my first marathon.

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When I hit mile 20 of that first marathon, I was in desperate need or something, anything to keep me moving. I was dealing with a stress fracture in one of my shins and barely limping my way through each mile. My pace had dropped by minutes a mile and I couldn’t bear to look at my watch and face the harsh reality of just how slowly I was making progress towards the finish.

Digging deep and thinking about each person I had selected, and more importantly, why I had chosen them gave me the final push I needed to finish that last 10k of the marathon.

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I thought about my old swim coach pushing me beyond my limits at countless swim practices as I hit mile 21, I thought about my friend and training partner who had motivated me through miles upon miles of training runs to help me get in marathon shape, and I thought about my mom, who had flown past me miles ago, finishing her first marathon at age 50.

Using the inspiration of each friend and family truly got me to the finish line of my first marathon. If you’re looking for a little help at your next daunting distance, I suggest you also learning a lesson from my mom. She’s not only a bad ass runner, she’s one smart woman.

What tricks of motivation have you used to get through the final stretch of a tough race?

36 Responses to 6.2 Miles of Inspiration

  1. I ran my first marathon when I was a first grade teacher, and I thought of a student for each of the last 22 miles. (There were 22 kids in my class.) The kids were SO excited about my big day and had made a countdown in the classroom, given me “good luck” cards, and predicted that I would win the race. Thinking of their sweet little faces kept me going, mile after mile.

  2. I really like that idea for the last part — maybe I’ll do that at NYC.

    Usually when I get towards the end of a marathon, I try to relate the distances to familiar loops/routes. Eg: When I get to 20 miles, I think “only a loop of central park left” and when I get to 22 miles, I think “just like going from your apartment to the houston street bridge and back.” It makes that distance seems not so daunting.

  3. This is such a great idea! I’m approaching my first marathon this fall (Philly in Nov.) and I am definitely going to dedicate each mile for the last 6 to someone important to me. Great post!

  4. Having lost my father to cancer 6+ years ago, I decided to dedicate each of my Boston Marathon miles this year to somone who had been affected by cancer. I had a handful of people in my own personal life to dedicate miles to, but I took it to facebook and posted that I needed more mile dedications. So many of my friends responded within a few short hours and I had an entire list of 26+ people to run for. I truly believe that by dedicating my race to something much larger than myself, to all of those people who were currently fighting, or had fought and won their battle or unfortunately lost their battle, helped propel me to the finish in my fastest marathon time to date. It was the most rewarding and humbling race of my life!

  5. This is a fabulous idea and yes your mom is a fabulous woman. Running a marathon for charity makes me feel more ‘accountable’ in those last miles. Last year when I was struggling in the heat in Chicago, remembering I was running for people who can’t made those last miles doable.

  6. I really liked this post and I love the idea of this!

  7. Your Mom is one smart lady! I will have to use this tactic as I embark on my first marathon in less than 7 weeks!!! MCM, here I come. You also made me realize that one of those people I should think about is my old cross country/track coach from high school. Without his guidance I probably wouldn’t be a runner today.

  8. LOVE this!! Such a fantastic idea! I may never get to the 26.2 distance (and that may be OK) but this is a tactic I can still adopt in any “big” race (for me) or tough situation.

  9. Ohhh I love this — and totally got chills reading about the people you dedicated each of those 6 miles to. Thanks for the great idea. Which mile would you like me to dedicate to you? Remember, miles are not the same as levels. There are more levels than there are miles in a marathon. And I’ll dedicate at least two miles to Celine.

    Thanks for the shout-out friend. My plan is to make you proud. And if you show up with a cowbell, I promise you a lifetime supply of chocolate peanut butter Puffins. For real. I rarely make jokes. This is serious.

  10. This is such a wonderful idea! My first marathon is now less than 3 weeks away and I was franticly trying to come up with a strategy for those last 6 miles – now I need strategise no more! I should pick carefully though; I can imagine myself getting a bit emotional in those final miles and thinking of certain people will totally push me over the edge…running and crying is nigh on impossible (been there).

  11. I seriously teared up reading this. What a great way to tackle those last few miles! I feel so lucky for my marathon experience because I was able to see so many important people in my life throughout the entire course. Knowing that my husband was at each mile of those last six and that my whole family was at the finish line definitely helped me finish! I had seen my sister in the beginning of the race, but she had to go to work so she was not at the finish line…but a volunteer had seen her cheering for me around mile seven, and when I saw the volunteer again around mile twenty-five she said, “Your sister is going to be so proud of you,” so it was like she was still there pushing me!

  12. Thats awesome – what a great idea.. Although my brain is so fried by the time I it mile 20, I’m usually focused on just staying upright :) And what usually motivates me at mile 22? Margaritas ;)

  13. I have my first marathon in December and I will definitely be using this trick!! Thanks to you and your mom for the advice :)

  14. I agree about your mother.

  15. Your mom is so badass.

  16. Perfect idea since I will be in the same boat in a few short weeks at the Chicago Marathon…I have to start thinking of my dedication miles recipients now!

    FYI – not sure if you noticed but your blog doesn’t really show up google reader all of the sudden. It just show the first couple of sentences of whatever you write and then nothing.

  17. I love this idea. I know some people who have done it but I have never tried it myself. I think I will change that at my next marathon on October 9. This past marathon was in kilometers so I started counting down the kilometers which went much faster than miles! I also tried to enjoy it and think about how hard I worked. I really could be a much better marathon closer though..I am just not that good at the mental game!! Hopefully this will help. It was nice to read how it helped you!

  18. I actually first learned of this idea from Molly (mollyberries!). I think it’s a fantastic idea and plan on using it for NYC. Those last 6.2 miles are going to be killer, I know it.
    p.s. Love that your mom ran a marathon at 50. Baller.

  19. I love this idea!!! I’m definitely not a marathon, but I’m new to the sport of running and I have signed up for a half in Feb. I would love to use this idea for that!! Heck, I haven’t even done a 10k yet, so maybe when I do my first one sometime in Dec, I can use this idea then too!! Heck I might even do it for my next 5k!!

  20. I am so in love with this idea. Your mom is probably the raddest mom alive.

  21. WOW! I am in love with this concept and your mom is truly amazing! The pic of you two is beautiful!

    I haven’t raced very much yet but b4 my first marathon, I thought numerous people have completed 26.2 miles before me and many will do it after, so why can’t I?

  22. I do this, usually I dedicate every mile, my last mile is ALWAYS for my mom, who passed away on 9/11. I run every marathon with a her name on my back.

    Mom’s really are the best inspirations!

    Rock on Sweaty Emily, Sweaty Mom and Kill it Ali!

  23. This is a great post. I’m doing my first half this weekend and while I’m walking, I’m still pretty terrified something will happen and I won’t finish. But of course I’ll dedicate a portion or hell, maybe all of it to my mom and my aunt, the two most amazing women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. They are both so strong, and courageous.

  24. i LOVE this idea. SO doing it for the MCM (my first marathon) next month. Your mom is the greatest. Thanks for sharing:)

  25. “Zero Regrets” by Apolo Ohno is a great, motivational book… happy reading :)

  26. Great idea!!! I usually repeat encouraging words to myself, my favorite mantra being “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” to get me through any tough spots in a race. Will definitely be using the dedication idea for my next 26.2 though!

  27. Thank you for sharing and posting this! What a great idea! My first marathon is in 3 weeks and I’ve been having nightmares about those last 6.2 miles since my longest run has been 20. I know I’ve done the training and that my body is physically ready (or so I hope) but having something like this to help me through that last bit will be just the push (and probably a shove too) I’ll need to get me home!

  28. Your mom is awesome! That is such a great idea!!! Whenever I am competing in long stuff and negative thoughts cross my mind, I try to remind myself of all of the hard workouts I have put in to get to that point. The race is the icing on the cake after a long bout of training.

    Smiling also makes a world of a difference for me. At IM WI this past weekend, I made a point to smile, thank volunteers, and encourage other racers that I was near. I figured it was going to be a long day and the only way I was going to make it through was going to be to stay positive. It helped!

  29. Tell your mom thanks for being so smart. I’m going to do it for NYC, because I will probably only see my supporters in Queens (Miles 14/15) and then at the finish. Thanks for sharing!

  30. I’m running my first marathon (MCM) in 6 weeks, and after dealing with an injury, I haven’t been able to train the way I really wanted to. I know I can still do the race, but I also know I’m really going to need help at the end. I love this idea, and I am definitely going to take a page out of your mom’s book. Thanks for the great idea!

  31. I love this. Because I’m a huge freak, I teared up reading this post. I def cried at various points during the last 6 of my first marathon. When I get into the NYCM next year (year #3 is my year, I KNOW IT), I will use this little method :)

  32. [...] thing that helped me was what I had recently (i.e. yesterday) read on Sweat Once a Day about in dedicating each of the last 6.2 miles to a special person. Although I didn’t plan this [...]

  33. [...] week, Sweaty Emily posted about how her mom inspired herself to finish the final 6 miles of her first marathon…at the age of 50!  She talked about dedicating each of the final 6 miles to someone [...]

  34. [...] internet perusing the last few weeks, I came across an idea for the final miles from this neato chick’s running blog. She suggests – based on something her mom did during her first marathon – running the [...]

  35. [...] icated each one to someone who helped inspire and motivate me throughout my training cycle. It’s a trick I learned from my mom and employed during my first marathon for the last 10k. The theory is that [...]

  36. [...] my first marathon and my first 50 miler, I dedicated each of my final miles to some key people who motivate me, [...]

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