A couple weeks ago, I set out to run the Big Sur Marathon. This was meant to be a “fun run” for me – Big Sur is known for its fierce hills, its fiercer winds, and generally unpredictable coastal weather. Those factors, combined with the breathtaking and amazing views, make it a marathon that very few show up to “race,” but rather experience. (Not unlike SFM!)  I knew I wasn’t going to finish fast, but planned to enjoy myself from point A to point B, (hopefully) smiling all the way.

Imagine my surprise when just 4 miles into the race, I felt a tweak and a groan from my right side – from the hip down to the knee. That is never a good feeling to experience – especially when you’re four miles into a 26-mile race and about 22.5 more miles from civilization. I tried to fight off the sense of panic that was quickly enveloping me. I’ve dealt with injuries over the course of my distance running career, but have been blessed that in my eight marathons to date, only once did I experience “bad” pain. (Miles 22-26 always seem to hurt, no matter how good of shape I’m in!) Now, here I was, hurting already while still solidly in the “warm-up” miles.

I knew it was my IT band, and likely had something to do with the camber of the road. I pulled over to stretch for a few moments and mercifully, the pain subsided. I hoped it would be just something I’d need to pay attention to along the course of the run.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. For those intro miles, I had to stop and stretch every mile and a half or so – momentary respite, but then the pain would come back, dull at first and then a little sharper. Uphills or flat roads were fine, but then running downhill or on a tilt the pain would come back.

It was quite manageable with some stretching into the upper teens. At that point, I realized this thing was absolutely not going away, and quickly revised my goals from a course PR to simply finishing happy and with no injury to my leg. Walk breaks became longer, stretch breaks became more frequent. I would NOT risk doing anything stupid, but I’d get myself across the finish line.

Miles 20-26 were six of the hardest miles I’ve ever had in a marathon, but for different reasons. Normally, those miles hurt because my legs are spent and I’m exhausted, but I’m doing everything I can to keep myself moving forward. Not this day. This day I still had energy to spare, I wanted to RUN, to kick the crap out of the hills before me, but my leg often relegated me to a slow walk. The six miles took me about as long as the ten before them.

But, I finished. When I came into the finish chute, tears brimmed in my eyes. For a moment, I forgot the pain in my leg or the frustrations of the day, transported back to that same finish chute two years ago, when I finished my very first marathon – something I never thought I could do. And here I was, two years later, finishing my 8th – slower than that first race, but feeling accomplished and proud in other ways.

One of the reasons I love the marathon distance is because of its unpredictability. No matter how prepared (or not) that you are, there are so many things that can happen in that race – you never know what unique challenges will be before you. This was one of my most challenging races, but one in which a runner’s mantra became very real to me: the mind is stronger than the body.