This year was meant to be my first Boston Marathon, which of course was cancelled -twice! - and then replaced by a virtual marathon. A virtual marathon is a questionable thing to say the least, but I thought I'd try channel some disappointment and the substantial cardiovascular fitness I currently have from 8 months of marathon training into something that meant a little bit more! My 30th birthday happens to fall in the Boston Marathon virtual window, so I've decided to not only run the marathon but tack on an extra 3.8 miles to make it an even 30 miles- further than I've ever run before!
I've also decided to do this to raise money for Girls on the Run St. Louis, an organisation that empowers and instills confidence and self-awareness in young girls through running-based games and activities. It sets them up with lifelong healthy habits and values- mentally, emotionally, and physically- that develop not only their strength of character but also helps them contribute more to the world in general. I know first-hand the impact running can have in someone's life, particularly when you're young, and this organisation has some fabulous programming that uses physical activity as a pillar to uphold a lifetime of meaningful values. Any money raised goes directly to provide scholarships to girls who otherwise might not be able to participate.
Why running is so important to me: Being told you can't run a 26.2 mile race in the scheme of what's going on in the world certainly isn't something to complain about but, as anyone who was training for any big event this year can attest to, it was still a big ol’ punch in the gut. Training for a marathon is hours and hours a week for months on end and you alter the way you eat, drink, and sleep. As a lifelong runner, qualifying for Boston, one of the most prestigious marathons, was always a dream come true for me.
Everyone in my life knows that running is a big part of it. Thinking through it, I've realised that, outside of family and friends of course, it's one of the main constants in my life - something that's been with me through everything. For me, there's always been lot more to running than just a way to stay in shape. Despite anything going on, it's been something I could rely on, no matter where my fitness level was.
When I was really young, I discovered I was pretty fast on the playground when we played boys vs girls keepaway at recess. As a 7 or 8 year old, I wasn't the quickest, but I could always outrun the boys and tire them out - and man, did I love that feeling. I played all of the sports in grade school and I actually liked the running drills at practice. Part of it was just physically enjoying running but the other, bigger part is that there was something about pushing myself to the limit in a way that was measurable that I just couldn't get enough of.
I clearly remember the very first time I ever went out on a 'run' (which is strange considering I typically have no idea where my keys are). My older sister joined the cross country team in high school and she was going out for a run around our neighbourhood and I decided to join. I still remember being so incredibly excited at the fact that I was going on a run just to run- something that seemed very adult to me. It also sounded...fun and exhilarating. I made it about a mile before I had to stop. But after that,, but after that, I was hooked on the way it made me feel. I felt GOOD about myself. My sister went for lots of runs in high school and that example definitely motivated me in some really important years of my life to do the same. I just liked that running made me feel strong and that I felt like I was constantly working to get better at something.
In high school I dropped all of my other sports in favour of running because, in some twisted way, my brain was telling me it was the sport I would do for the rest of my life. I joined the cross country team and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have had a coach who had a massive impact on me as a runner and person - Coach Segraves. My freshman year, our first meet of the season was a scorching, humid midwestern morning in August. I went out confidently and strong and with just a couple hundred meters left in the 3 mile race I felt myself losing focus and losing my presence, starting to wobble back and forth, feeling nauseous and... I passed out. The next thing I remember I was in an ambulance with a mouth like a cotton ball and a searing headache. I had literally run myself past my limits and into the hospital. After that, I had a few tough seasons and hadn't really met my potential. I got incredibly down and frustrated. I was working so hard at something I loved but I wasn’t doing as well as I knew I could. But with my coach’s support and encouragement and a lot of determination I had a final senior year season that I was really proud of. And, most importantly, working through the frustration and failure was a major life lesson that I’ve always held on to.
Throughout college I didn't stop running. Although I didn't do many races or have specific goals, it has kept me mentally and physically healthy. Being away from home, I learned that running was an amazing way to explore new places. Running has a wonderful way of making me feel more connected to and present in the world around me.
When I moved to London in 2015, I had been in a bit of a running rut but a bit of serendipity pulled me out of that rut the following April. On the day of the London Marathon, I had actively chosen not to go watch because I knew watching it would make me feel down about my running lull. But, on my way to the gym I walked straight into marathon course. Oops! Many people who run the London Marathon run it for a charity. When I stopped to watch, I just happened to be standing right next to the group of supporters from Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (JDRF) and picked up a conversation with a couple of them. My amazing cousin Lizzie has type 1 diabetes and is really active with JDRF so it suddenly clicked that I was going to run next year's London Marathon and raise money for JDRF to support her. It gave me a purpose. I felt a massive surge of energy again and got myself back on track slowly and cautiously re-building my endurance and strength. I had some hiccups in training but got through the race and more importantly raised some money for JDRF.
Around this time, I also learned that running is a great way to connect with others. I had always seen myself as a 'lone' runner- I truly do love running alone. Being with just myself when I run has always been how I get the best mental benefits of running. However, I did a lot of the long training runs with a friend and my best memories related to that marathon were definitely with her. My boyfriend at the time also took up running and, despite some initial resistance on my part ("I run ALONE, dammit!"), it ended up being a totally wonderful common interest to share and to connect over. It re-shaped my perspective on running with others and I know that I'll be able to get even MORE out of running over the years if I share it with people more often. But only sometimes ;)
By no means am I an outstanding or particularly gifted runner, that's for sure. No matter how much you love running, it never stops being tough and it comes with its fair share of, let's say 'character building' experiences. I think because running has been so intertwined with so many big and important parts of my life, I feel some deep emotional connection to it. Watching a race, nearly any race, is often enough to make me well up with tears. I cannot explain it.
I've also experienced first-hand the confidence, stability, and motivation that running can give you. Running can be hard, really hard, but I've realised pushing through something mentally and physically difficult and accomplishing something that, in the moment, you didn't think you could do (or just didn't want to do), has helped me in every aspect of my life. There is also an inexplicable sense of 'goodness' that comes from it. It's tough to quantify, but more often I feel more capable of being a better person - more empathetic, kind, and happy - because of running. You can probably Google an article that explains it better.
Running has kept me stable through these last five months. During the worst parts of living alone during lockdown, looking forward to a long, easy run around a sometimes eerily empty London at the end of the workday was the highlight of many days. It has given me consistency and a sense of accomplishment that kept me positive (well, as positive as can be!).
This 30 mile run feels like a fairly big milestone in not only my running life but also just in my life in general. It will be the furthest I've ever run, 'technically' my first Boston Marathon (obviously nothing like it should be!), and to top it off, it will be on the last day of my 20’s- which to be honest, I've been a bit wary about! After this run, I'll give myself a month or two off of running. Just like everything else, the world of road racing has been turned upside down by the pandemic, so no one really knows when races will be able to actually be held again.
And that's my very long love affair story with running. It's also why I decided that Girls on the Run was an awesome program to support with this 30 mile run. I truly believe in how transformational physical activity and running can be, particularly in young girls, and if what I raise can inspire and put confidence into even just a few girls, then it's all worth it!
Donate to Erica's campaign here!
For more information on Solemates, click here.