On what seemed like an impulsive and overly optimistic whim, I signed myself up for a half marathon. While the most I had ever run before was seven miles, I wasn’t being outrageous. I mean, I had run nearly half the distance. Okay, okay, I was still limping five days later, but I would train this time. I wanted to because, on this particular day, I believed I could be strong. I believed I could run 13.1 miles. I was inspired.

I remember looking at the website, which now displayed my registration to the Marin County Half Marathon—and I thought, “I am committed! There is no turning back now. I am going to run 13.1 miles by myself.” Of course, I asked if others wanted to join, but I did not pursue anyone to do so. I knew this was something I had to do—something for myself.

As a sensitive, intuitive, and introverted person, I tend to take on others’ emotional worries as my own. I forget to take care of my own needs, let alone express them to others. In particular, with depression, I victimize myself. It is as if all I can feel is the unreciprocated sensitivity and awareness of my needs. Not understanding the uniqueness of my traits, I thought I was being ignored and forgotten. When in reality, I was just forgetting myself. For this reason, as the depressed-grad-student-dropout, I needed to prove to myself that I was still capable of accomplishing a challenge. I was going to do this run to become a better me.

The week leading up to the race, I was feeling particularly low. I was depressed and anxious about my summer plans. It got to the point where I had to confess to my Dad, “I don’t think I can do the race. I don’t want to go all the way out there to run a race. I am not ready to run.” I had barely run six miles total that week. “How about we just run here at home?” I was getting desperate.

My dad is my biggest cheerleader. Once, for my soccer section finals, he painted his whole head blue with a white cougar paw on top. I could hear his voice from the stands as his signature “Boyah!” echoed across the field. On this day, his voice was once again affirming. He said, “No, we are going! You are going to run.” He sat me down. I took a deep breath and dropped my shoulders saying, “I just don’t think this would be a good thing for me—it would be overwhelming and nerve-racking.” My dad took in these words. With a sigh replied, “Kiddo, I know how you feel. I feel the same way before speeches and traveling sometimes. The best thing to do, though, is just do it. Those feelings will go away once you’re there, I promise. You’re also like mom when she doesn’t feel ready for a bike ride, but then she goes flying past me up a hill.” We laughed. “All right. You’re probably right,” I agreed begrudgingly. And we went to pack our bags to travel to the race.

The day before the race, I again became apprehensive of why I was even doing this in the first place. With all the hype, what’s the point of doing this? One of my dad’s coworkers, who runs four marathons a year, heard I was running my first half marathon, so he left me some advice in an email to my dad. “Don’t let the course run you; you run the course.” His words rang louder than my other thoughts. I was going to run my race. Run at my pace. Run for the joy it had brought me.

Race day came. I was up with my alarm at 5:30 AM and put on my meticulously laid-out brightly-colored clothes. I had my Lord of the Rings soundtrack and philosophy podcasts downloaded. I stretched and fueled up with pre-workout juice. I felt like a runner. But I was not ready for the stimulation of the crowd.

As we waited for the tram to take us to the park entrance at the indicated time, the crowds began to gather. At first, I could shake off the nerves, sizing myself up against the people next to me; however, once we rolled through the park entrance, my nerves thunder-bolted into an anxious nightmare. There were old and young, professional and amateurs, walkers and sprinters—oddly, there was even a bagpiper playing. In all of this, I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I needed to poop. I needed to pin my number onto my shirt.

I was panicking, but no one around me could tell. Even though I could hear my thoughts vocalized by others, there was no sense in trying to calm my overstimulated body. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. But before I could begin to hyperventilate, we were at the start line and on the clock. The runners squeezed through the blow-up arch way into the street. Uncomfortable and overwhelmed, I walked through the arch and took those first few steps with great hesitation.

I decided to place myself in a pace group. My goal was to finish under 2.5 hours. The group was composed of runners who seemed comparable to myself in size and strength. Still, that first one-third of a mile was horrible. The anxiety outpoured into tears as I ran. “Just breathe,” I told myself. “You are okay. Catch your breath, and find space for you to run your race.”

By that time, the pack had just gone around a tight turn, so I seized my chance. I took longer strides, headed towards the outside, along the water. The road was rougher, but I didn’t have anyone in front of or behind me there. I passed people until I found my comfortable stride. I knew I needed to make sure I wasn’t exhausting myself by running too fast, but I also needed to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself by running too slow either. Each racer had to find their stride, and I finally found mine.

By mile three, I noticed that several people were running the race with a partner. At a 9% grade, a steady half-a-mile incline was a respiratory attack for everyone. As I was pacing myself up the hill, I noticed two college-aged girls beside me. One slowed to walk up the hill, but before she could fall too far behind, her friend reached back, pulling her shirt until she picked up her pace again. Seeing this, I wished I had someone to pull my shirt as I grew exhausted.

My pre-planned strategy was just to keep running. If I stopped to walk, it would be even harder to start running again. Some people passed me, while I passed others. We all trained differently, and we all had different strategies. The trick was not to judge myself. My goal was not to beat anyone; my goal was to run my race.

When I hit mile eight, I realized I needed a pacer. Bouncing from runner to runner, I finally held my pace with one girl for almost three miles. I don’t know if she realized it, but I needed her. I needed someone to challenge me, to motivate me.

Surfacing the peak of Hurricane Hill, the most challenging portion of the race, I hit mile 12. I caught up to my normal pace—I felt like I was flying! Around a bend, there was a band playing. They were improvising, playing off each other to create sounds of celebration! I hit the dirt of the trail my dad and I had walked up the day prior while assessing the course.

This is it—I am here. Soaking up the moments, breathing in the bay air, passing my dad and sister, going through the flags, I ran all the way to the finish line! I beat my goal, finishing at 2:14.54. Medal in hand, I gave my dad and sister huge hugs, saying, “Where are the next five miles?” I did it! I just ran 13.1 miles, and I had fun.

Though those first few minutes were hellish, I had found my pace. The crowds were overwhelming until I made my own space to breathe. Partner runners made me wish for a buddy, but I found my own encouragement in others. At first intimidated by the perceived competition, I was later assured in what I had trained for. I left the race inspired.

To all of you introverted, goal-oriented persons—run your race. Take it day by day. Pick yourself up, and tie your shoes. Take a sneak peek when you can. Let people be your biggest cheerleaders. Allow yourself off-days. You, as you are, can do what you think is impossible.

It might seem impulsive or optimistic, but you sure can be inspiring to many, and most importantly—to yourself.

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  • Jamie Jakubik

    Very inspiring, Christy! A few things that resonated with me:

    “We all trained differently, and we all had different strategies. The trick was not to judge myself. My goal was not to beat anyone; my goal was to run my race.” I heard a quote once that is somewhat in tune with this, “I’m too busy working on my grass to notice if yours is greener.” By focusing on your goal at hand, and not worrying about what others around you are doing, it makes accomplishing your goal that much easier. Be proud of yourself!

    “I don’t know if she realized it, but I needed her. I needed someone to challenge me, to motivate me.” And for all you know, you played that same part to someone else during that race!

  • D. Sue Davis

    What a moving story! Please keep writing!

  • Thank you for sharing your story. You spoke to me when you said, “I thought I was being ignored and forgotten. When in reality, I was just forgetting myself.” Yes, I think I’ve done that most my life. My current mantra is, I engage in life! When I speak those words, I feel my body responding. Perhaps you will be my pacer for awhile! Thanks.

  • Trecia Speckert

    thank you for this incredible story. You truly are an inspiration to others. I will remember you!

  • Daryl Locklear

    Thank you Ms. Ailman for this incredibly well-written and inspiring story.

    If I may, a few reflections…

    “I mean, I had run nearly half the distance.”
    – It is important to reach, but also important to try to set achievable goals. Good managers, though few and far between, practice this with their teams.

    “I was going to run my race. Run at my pace. Run for the joy it had brought me.”
    – Setting enjoyable goals!

    “My goal was to finish under 2.5 hours.”
    “My pre-planned strategy was just to keep running. ”
    “My goal was to run my race.”
    – Your game plan! Excellent!

    “Seeing this, I wished I had someone to pull my shirt as I grew exhausted.”
    [ and ]
    “It got to the point where I had to confess to my Dad…”
    – I know so many women of single parent families who have no father present in their lives. Sometimes their lives become incredibly – and dangerously – entangled. I’ve heard them cry out for their fathers. I am driven to wonder in silence as these women struggle to make the most of their lives. Sometimes we can overlook the one who is present in our lives, who pulls our shirt: our Dad.

    “Don’t let the course run you; you run the course.”
    – Before we embark on an adventure, it is always good to gather advice, to listen to the voices of experience.

    “At first, I could shake off the nerves, sizing myself up against the people next to me; however, once we rolled through the park entrance, my nerves thunder-bolted into an anxious nightmare.”

    – It was exactly the same for us as we traveled to an away game in football. We were all anxious and nervous, until our first full contact along the line of scrimmage with the other team. Then, settled, we stayed with our game plan.

    “By that time, the pack had just gone around a tight turn, so I seized my chance. I took longer strides, headed towards the outside, along the water. The road was rougher, but I didn’t have anyone in front of or behind me there….Each racer had to find their stride, and I finally found mine.”

    – The secret race…very few people discover this, but on a ski run, two feet in from the edge of the run, there is always snow: it is very easy to ski, turn, and brake in this narrow band.

    [ The band ] “were improvising, playing off each other to create sounds of celebration!
    [ and ]
    When I hit mile eight, I realized I needed a pacer. Bouncing from runner to runner, I finally held my pace with one girl for almost three miles.”

    – As with the band, so with you!

    “Soaking up the moments, breathing in the bay air, passing my dad and sister, going through the flags, I ran all the way to the finish line! I beat my goal, finishing at 2:14.54. … I did it! I just ran 13.1 miles, and I had fun.”

    – Wow! Like mother, like daughter! What did your Dad say? “You’re also like Mom when she doesn’t feel ready for a bike ride, but then she goes flying past me up a hill.”

    Thank you.

  • Carl Oiler

    I want to say how incredibly proud of you I am! I use to run many miles ago before I had open heart surgery and loved the feeling it gave me.I would like to offer all of us introverts a way to help us stay in the moment and it is through mindfulness meditation.Please give it another chance to work for you and try it again.Christy…I’m so glad your in the world with me.I knew you were out there because I felt your goodness everywhere…God bless you sweetheart,keep living a life full aspirations. love carl.

  • Marlana Sherman

    I really enjoyed reading your story. I have never run a marathon but the way you wrote this piece I felt like I was running with you.

  • JaneyKay

    Great writing and amazing story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Currently training for my first half marathon, to prove to myself that I can do hard things at a time in my life when I need to encourage myself. 🙂 I definitely feel like physical challenges help me with the other day-to-day challenges in life; just wish I’d figured that out before age 40-something! Thank you for this inspiring post!

  • Sahana Narayanan

    You are an inspiration..:)

  • Manu

    Wow!!!👏👏👏👏👏👏👏