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How To Overcome Hitting The Wall In Your First Marathon

Laura Johns hit the wall at mile 20 of her first marathon and a lot can learn a lot by how she overcame it and became a marathoner.

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first marathon

Driving to the start line of the Marquette Marathon in the wee hours of the morning, I felt oddly calm. I’m no stranger to being wide awake when others are sleeping; my job as an orthopedic trauma nurse often requires me to work in the middle of the night. Still, I anticipated feeling a little anxious on this particular morning.

Hanging out with my parents before the start, I took a moment to bask in their support. While I normally hope to earn a PR or hit a specific time goal during a race, it was all about getting to the finish line today.

I took off running, with my spirits soaring. I was greeted by high-fives from my parents at mile 3 and continued feeling solid. The first 13.1 miles passed by quickly. With each mile, my confidence rose.

Mile 16 brought the beginning of the infamous marathon fatigue. By 18, I began to focus on every ache and pain, salt crystallizing on my sweaty face.

I officially hit the wall at mile 20 with aching feet, screaming legs and mental drain. Knowing that I had to run around the island section of the race—a trail I’d run many times before—I wore my exhaustion on my face. My mom asked if I wanted her to run the island with me, and I eagerly said yes.

But by mile 21, I stopped and put my hand on my knees, questioning whether I’d actually finish. My mom calmly reminded me that I knew I’d feel this way at some point—she urged me to keep going.

Her encouragement lifted my spirits and I got back to run/walking intervals with the finish line in mind. Though my head was refreshed, my body  begged to differ. Halfway through the island, I got a calf cramp that caused me to stop again. Thankfully my family was nearby and my cousin, who’s an experienced runner, suggested I take in some sugar. I downed a pack of fruit snacks and rested momentarily while a friend rubbed my leg. Feeling a little better, I started running again, wanting nothing more than to reach the end.

At mile 25, I had to slow down to a walk, but I was determined to finish. Each painful step would bring me closer to my goal. Though the last half-mile included a long hill, I was determined to run across the finish. I took off, overcome with the emotion of the day. With arms up high in the air, I crossed the line where my friend was waiting to hang my hard-earned medal around my neck.

Before this race, it was difficult for me to call myself a runner. I wasn’t sure that I deserved the title. After making it through, I know that I’m most definitely a runner—and a marathoner too.

Running taught me that I’m capable of handling anything life throws at me. The past year has been one of change with my college graduation, the beginning of my nursing career and a move to a big city, all while training for a new-to-me distance. It may not have always been easy to balance everything and I might have missed some training runs in my plan, but with a little hard work and a flower in my hair, I can do anything.

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