The Long Haul

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

2/9/2012 12:01:00 AM - Jackie Gingrich Cushman
My first marathon was New York in 1992. I trained with a group for months but had never gone a full 26.2 miles before the start of the race. Turns out that's something you ought to do.

The New York marathon is a wonderful event -- well planned, well laid out and with great crowds. We took a bus over to the start on Staten Island, where tens of thousands of runners gathered. After over an hour of waiting, the race began. As a slower runner, who was running for completion rather than time, I was near the back of the pack.

The course begins by crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into the borough of Brooklyn. In fact, throughout the 26.2 mile course people lined up cheering the runners on.

The first few miles were fine. My adrenaline was pumping, people were cheering, the mile markers seemed to pass faster than normal. That is, until mile 8. As the adrenaline of the first few miles began to wear off, I began to think about completing the race. As good as I felt at the start, I had never run the full distance, and now the thought of completing the race began to weigh heavily on my mind. Could I finish, would I finish, could I go the whole distance?

As my mind began to doubt my ability to complete the marathon, my legs felt heavier, my breathing became more rapid, and sure enough, I slowed down. Not long afterward, I slowed to a walk and put my hands over my mouth as I began to hyperventilate. I began to wonder if I would be able to make the distance.

After a couple of dozen breaths, my breathing began to slow down, the panic subsided, and I started running again.

Running and walking the remaining 18 miles, I finished the race after all. Exhausted, worn out, depleted of all physical and mental energy, I ran through Central Park and crossed over the finish line with tears streaming down my face. It wasn't pretty, but I had finished.

The lesson that I learned that day was not only that I could go the distance, but that it helps to go the distance before the actual race. It's about being mentally ready as well as physically ready. It's important to know that you've actually done it before, otherwise your mind can get the best of you and sow doubts about your ability to weather the journey. Mental toughness is key.

My second marathon was in Athens, Greece, in 2007. My sister, Kathy Lubbers, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, decided to walk the marathon to raise money for the Arthritis Foundation. A few friends and I joined her, and together we formed the America to Anywhere for Arthritis (A2A4A) team.

A few years before the marathon, due to her arthritis, Kathy had days where she could barely get out of bed. Her desire to complete the 26.2 miles of a marathon was inspiration in itself. After training for months, we finished the marathon in 7 hours and 48 minutes -- not the fastest time, but a victory for us. We had walked on and achieved our goal!

Since then, Kathy and I have completed marathons in Dublin, Ireland and Portland, Ore. Last fall, Kathy completed the Buenos Aires marathon. Our sights are now set on the Pasadena, Calif., Marathon on May 20th.

While it's over three months away, it's pretty close in marathon training terms. When training, long runs are often done every other week, allowing your body to rest and recover before the next long run. Since my goal is to finish, feel good and avoid injury, I alternate running with walking.

Yesterday, I began my training in earnest. I woke up dreading the 8 miles I had to complete and was thrilled when it was done. A bit sore today, but not too much considering I have not gone that far in over a year.

Why a marathon now? To help raise money for the Arthritis Foundation -- our little A2A4A team has raised over $160,000 so far for the Arthritis Foundation -- as well as to be involved in something bigger than myself. Most importantly, it's a way to spend time with my sister Kathy.

Once again, it's time for us to "Walk On."