Finish What You Started

I have always wanted to run a marathon, but I kept putting it off. It was on my “someday-do-list” which I didn’t plan on getting to for a very long time, and if I was honest with myself, I would probably never get around to doing it. But in my third year of college I mentioned this dream to my roommate and I was thrilled when she said she wanted to do it with me! But we weren’t so naïve as to think we could run a marathon without any previous race experience, so we signed up for a half-marathon for the following fall semester and planned on training over the summer.

Planned, because Alicia ended up hurting her knee. This was a major setback since she could no longer train, and we had planned on running together. There was no way I was going to leave her behind. We had already paid and signed up for the half-marathon, so we were going to finish it even if we had to walk the whole way! It was fortunate we had signed up for a half-marathon for starters, or walking would have been an all-day affair.

Most people would have thrown in the towel. What’s the point in even going when you’re injured and won’t make a good finish time? How will walking a half-marathon prepare you for a marathon? That’s right – it won’t! But we wanted to finish what we started, for the principle of the matter. To be able to say “Yes, I’ve run a half-marathon before” (granted, a whole lot more walking than running, but who needs to know!) and to be able to check it off our list as one more thing we did in life before we died. To not let a little thing like injury get in the way of fulfilling our dreams.

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This year I decided to hell with a half-marathon, I’m running a marathon! I am a healthy, athletic twenty-three year old, and if two of my siblings can do an Iron Man twice with training, then I certainly can run a “little” marathon!

I started training in January. On my workdays and on days where the temperature dropped below thirty degrees, I didn’t have to run, but some days I ran anyways, I was so fired up. Until…

Setbacks.

The knee pain started almost immediately, and I had never had knee pain before, at least not like this. Sharp pain that forces you to walk or you feel like you will break something. But most of the time the pain was dull and aching. Primarily in my right knee but occasionally in my left.

I tried everything short of going to the doctor, because I already knew what he would tell me. He would tell me to stop running for a while to give my knees a break, and when I do start running again to run on a softer surface (what’s softer than grass?). He would examine my feet to determine arch support and pronation, and might suggest a new pair of running shoes and insoles. He would tell me to do knee-strengthening exercises and to try wearing a brace particularly if my knee is misaligned, which may be a genetic abnormality considering I have two siblings who either have had knee pain or multiple dislocations. If he were feeling ambitious, this new information might prompt him to order an MRI, CT, or X-ray of my knee. Misalignment or decreased cartilage would require surgical repair which I doubt any doctor would want to perform considering I only have knee pain when I run. And is running one marathon worth knee surgery?

I gave up. I stopped training. I didn’t even walk anymore, I was so discouraged. Six months of trying everything, and the knee pain was still there, taunting me, telling me I don’t have what it takes, that running a marathon is one dream that will always be out of my reach. When the day of the marathon came, I didn’t go. What if I’m walking and my knee starts hurting? What if I injure myself because I haven’t trained in so long?

What do I do now? Alicia (right) could walk half a marathon while in recovery, even jogging half the distance, but a marathon is twice as far. Does twenty-six miles make that much of a difference? Or are my fears justified, and the risk of injury too high to justify even attempting such a feat? I don’t know. But what I do know is that the dream still burns inside. I could cast this one aside and still have many other dreams to pursue, but it’s hard to let go.

My brother once told me something I will never forget. He told me how important it is to always finish what you start. I disagreed with him at the time, but now looking back I realize how ridiculous my counterarguments were. “If you don’t plan on finishing a drawing, does that mean you shouldn’t begin drawing in the first place? If you’re reading an awful book, do you HAVE to finish it? If you’re stuffed at the dinner table, do you HAVE to clear your plate, especially if you’re overweight?” But I was missing the point. He was talking about the principle of the idea, no doubt knowing the subtle stress that builds with each unfinished task, and as all the little things on your to-do-list pile higher and higher, the weight can become crushing and overwhelm you.

I now whole-heartedly agree with him, but I don’t always know what to do, especially when it’s hard to finish what I started. This marathon, for instance, that I already started training for, that I want to finish but as of now remain at a crossroads. But something else he said forever lingers with me, and that is that “the pain of regret is always worse than the pain of discipline.” After all, is anything worth accomplishing in life truly easy?

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