The greatest relationship advice I’ve ever been given came from my very first marathon.
Like most runners, I lined up for my marathon debut convinced of my own readiness to take on the distance. I had put in the miles. I had visualized my race. And better still, I had a support system (in the form of my then-boyfriend) out on the course to cheer me towards the finish. I felt certain that, with his encouragement, I could handle any pain that lay ahead.
Boy was I wrong.
Here’s the thing that nobody tells you before your first marathon: you’re in this thing alone. Whether your race takes you along deserted country roads or bustling city streets packed with screaming spectators, it’s just you out there. And when you hit the wall at 30K, with dead legs and bleeding feet and less-than-nothing in your tank, all those encouraging voices that you thought you could rely on start to sound a whole lot farther away.
In the end, you run that race alone.
For a girl who grew up in a family of eight, and spent the bulk of her adult life in long-term relationships, doing anything alone—much less something as difficult as running a marathon—was an alien concept.
There are a lot of reasons why my first marathon fell apart in the spectacular way that it did. But I think one of the biggest reasons had to do with my expectations about support. It’s not that my boyfriend wasn’t every bit the enthusiastic, sign-holding, cowbell-ringing spectator I needed him to be—he absolutely was. But I’d come to believe that having him there would somehow lighten my own load a little. And as I’ve since learned, that can be a pretty pernicious expectation.
When we broke up seven months later, in the middle of my second marathon build, one of my first thoughts was, how am I going to do this without him?
But a funny thing happens when a voice of encouragement disappears from your life; your own, internal voice of encouragement starts to get louder. When I ran that second marathon a few months later (and 22 minutes faster), my internal voice didn’t fade away at the 30K mark. After months of training and living solo, I’d learned to rely on myself for the support I’d once looked for in my relationships.
I wasn’t alone out there; I had me.
When you’re on your own, it can sometimes be tempting to idealize relationships—to imagine that, by some unknown mechanism, the love of another person somehow relieves us of the burden of loving ourselves, or chasing our own dreams (or, say, running 26.2 miles like the badass marathoner that you are). Nowhere is this more tempting than on days like Valentine’s Day, when evidence of coupled-up happiness seems to follow us everywhere.
I still consider myself a romantic. But I often wonder if we haven’t been sold a bill of goods about what our relationships really can give us. I think love is an incredible thing, but it won’t relieve you of the sacrifices that your dreams demand. It won’t log your long run for you, or carry you over the last six miles of a marathon. It won’t teach you to make sense of yourself in a way that you cannot.
You won’t make much of a marathoner if you’re afraid to go it alone sometimes. And I could be wrong about this, but I’m beginning to suspect that you won’t make much of a life, either.
For a long while after my debut, I thought that the marathon was an impossible distance, but it’s not. The only really impossible distance is the space between yourself and other people. The reality of love represents a beautiful and incomplete and imperfect closeness. Nobody in this world can make order of your pain for you. Nobody can inspire you to complete a task you otherwise cannot do. That strength comes from you.
But hey, who am I kidding – you’re a runner. You knew that already.
By Amy Friel.
I’m a 35 yrs runner just read your story on my tablet down here in florida enjoyed very much.keep it up your an inspiration to people you don’t even know
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