My Marathon Journey

by Samantha Lee

Editor’s note: Sam is another one of our awesome employees at The Sneaker Store. We asked her to share her story of becoming a marathoner because it’s one that so many of us can relate to. I’ve heard many people say that “Sam makes it look so easy,” and that’s exactly how you know she’s worked her tail off for everything she’s earned! Well done Sam, and thanks for sharing your inspiring story with us.

As someone who has always been enchanted by running, it was a surprise to many that a marathon was not on my radar. I loved to run but run 26.2 miles for fun? Who would want to do that? Better yet, who would PAY to do that!? My usual 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons were okay with me. You could still get that sense of accomplishment, rush of race day adrenaline, AND you didn’t have to dedicate 20 weeks to get it.

It was a few years after I had finished running competitively in college that my point of view changed. At that point I had become substantially less motivated to run, barely picking up my run sneaks, especially in the winter months. But while I was becoming less motivated, I began to see more and more of my past teammates not only running marathons in their spare time, but running them well! My younger brother, too, was reaching the double digits for marathons completed and I began to think to myself, if they can run marathons, why can’t I? And just like that, my marathon journey started.

So on impulse I signed up for my first marathon. And then I stared at the confirmation page on my computer screen and wondered what the heck did I just do!? Now I actually had to train for the thing. And so I did.

I did some research online and created a makeshift training plan and began to increase my mileage each week. With a goal to solely survive the race, my efforts were minimal. I was too quick to skip runs when a better plan was offered to me or if the summer heat was too aggressive for my taste. But I trained to what I thought, at the time, was the best of my ability. And then I ran my first marathon and reached my simple goal - I survived. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I could barely walk once I passed the finish line. I was covered in blisters. But I survived.

And my first thought when I finished? I want to do that again. And so I did.

After reaching my goal of merely surviving, the competitor in be began to show. Not only did I want to run another marathon, I wanted to run it fast. And then with much more confidence in me than I had in myself, Josh at The Sneaker Store implanted the idea in my head of qualifying for Boston. “Why not?” And so with an agreement to coach me through it, my marathon journey continued.

Josh, who took on the role of my new coach, created a plan for me and this time I decided to be more disciplined. I was now more apt to deny plans that were offered to me when I had yet to get my run in for the day. I woke up early on the weekends, early enough to beat the summer heat (sometimes!), in order to get my long runs in. I realized the value of having running buddies to get you through those three-hour training runs. I realized how much you can train yourself to go farther and farther on your feet.

With the goal of qualifying for Boston, I ran my second marathon. As I ran the race, keeping my pace for my goal time, I felt confident. And then as any marathon runner can relate to, my confidence got harder and harder to hold on to as I reached mile 18, then 19… by 20, things were taking a turn for the worse. But I held on. And then things REALLY took a turn for the worse when right before the mile 26 marker I found myself blacking out, toppled over, being taken to the sidelines of the race. Once I began to come through, my first reaction was pure anger. I didn’t train all those months to leave the race with a quarter of a mile to go! But unfortunately a Boston qualifying time was not in the cards for me that race.

So after about twenty minutes of being attended to, I picked myself up, and walked the last quarter mile to the finish line. With no Boston qualifying time and no P.R. to bring home, I was defeated. But want to know what my first thought was when I crossed the finish line? I want to do that again. And so I did.

With the help of my coach, another plan was created and I had a new goal in sight: run a qualifying Boston time at the New Jersey Marathon. Oh, and not pass out.

With a new goal in sight and a more rigorous training plan, my marathon journey continued. This time there was no summer heat but I had to face an even bigger personal fear – training in the winter! With a hatred of the cold, I trained myself to be even more disciplined and I ventured out for each run. As I became a stronger runner with each week, I also realized winter running wasn’t so bad and could even be fun (who knew!). I continued to utilize my running friends even more, appreciating their company during long runs and their understanding of the sport. I continued to complete every workout on my plan, refusing to skip a scheduled day or to modify a workout to make it easier. I sacrificed sleeping in on the weekends so that I could wake up early to run and sacrificed my Sunday afternoons to being couch bound after an exhausting three-hour long run. After a while it becomes your norm – you’re now a marathon runner.

Then race day came and boy was I nervous! I tried not to question myself, though. I was going to reach my goal. And so I did.

I ran my race and my hard work paid off. I didn’t feel the same agony that I did during the previous race. Although it was hard (it’s still 26.2 miles, after all!), my training had transformed me into a stronger runner and I was able to keep my pace with more ease. And then with four miles to go, I was able to quicken the pace and finish with a faster pace than when I started. The best feeling was knowing, as I ran, that I was going to do it.

I’m sure I was smiling from ear to ear when I passed the finish line. I had just run a 33-minute P.R. and I had secured a Boston qualifying time. I was going to run the Boston Marathon next year. I was ecstatic! And you guessed it, one of my initial thoughts was of course, I want to do that again.

sam wins 2.jpg

Next stop, Boston

Sam after a 33-minute PR at the New Jersey Marathon

So who knew that the runner that was NEVER going to run a marathon would start this marathon journey and be so captivated by the race. It was hard, harder than anything I had done before, but I loved it.

And it taught me valuable lessons. My marathon journey taught me that sometimes the winter can actually beat the summer. That water and gels will be a life saver. That compression socks can be a runner’s best friend after a hard run.  That your best work can be done before the sun comes up. That you should surround yourself with people that want to help you reach your goals. That you need to trust the plan and put in the work. That the pain is only temporary and will make the reward so much better. That you should set your goals high and do everything you can to reach them. And most importantly, if you fail, use it as motivation and try again.

So whether you’re thinking about running a marathon, or maybe your first 5k, just do it. Say to yourself that you can and do it. Because then you will.