Have you ever been to a dinner party with your parents as an 18-year-old? It’s awkward. You’re in this weird in-between age where you’re not old enough to have intelligent conversations with the adults in the room, but you’re not young enough to have anything in common with the children either. But this one dinner party was a little different. Most of it was awkward for my 18-year-old self, but there was one conversation that stuck with me.

I was talking with the one of the party hosts, a wife and mother of two who happened to be an ultra runner. My brother, Eric, was there with us, and at the time he had one marathon under his belt. I mostly listened to their back and forth, adding nervous laughter and a self-deprecating comment here and there. I knew nothing of substance about the topic. The most running I had ever done was during high school lacrosse practice, and jogs and sprints weren’t even in the same sport as some of the serious distance running they were talking about.

I told them that I admire their tenacity, but I wasn’t built to be a runner. I’m just not good at it. The woman told me she used to think the same thing about herself. But somehow she started training and eventually shaped herself into someone ran marathons a couple times a year like it was nothing. I believed her, but I still didn’t see myself as someone who could do it. It seemed like an impossible task, so I shrugged the conversation off and went on with my life.

A year or two later, I was living with my brother, Eric. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but he brought up the idea of signing up for the Columbus Marathon. In my mind, running a marathon was locked in a box with other “impossible tasks” that people like me just can’t do, like climbing Mount Everest or swimming across the English Channel. After a few days of refusing his challenge, I finally gave in and we both signed up for it together.

I did some research, set up a training plan, and started running. After the first couple months, my runs were capping out around 6 or 8 miles, more than I had ever run in the past, but it still didn’t hit me that I was going to run 26.2. It still didn’t seem real. The task was still impossible.

I kept training. I ran consistently and felt stronger with each run. Slowly, as the months went by, the impossible task seemed more and more doable. Most training plans recommend you get up to 18, 20, or even 22 miles, but two weeks before race day I logged the longest run of my life at 13 miles. I knew I had botched my training, but along with my increased endurance over the past months I had also built up something more important: my confidence.

I spent a lot of hours running during those months. Getting up, getting out, putting foot to pavement, over, and over, and over again. It was boring. It was tiring. It took a lot of time. Most days I didn’t want to run, I forced myself to anyways. Then I wanted to quit by mile 2, but I learned to wrestle with my mind and keep going. Endurance is much more than physical. And when race day arrived, I was ready to do the impossible.

During race day, you can feel the stoke in the air. Thousands of people are lined up ready to find out what they’re made of, ready to pit their body against their mind in the single moment they’ve been sacrificing for during months and months of training. I got off to a strong start, running at about the same pace I ran my 13 mile training run. I stuck with Eric for the first 8 miles, but I had to stop at the bathroom and he kept going. Miles 8-13 were draining, but doable. My heart dropped when I saw the half-marathon runners peel off and approach their finish, knowing I was only halfway to the finish. I really wanted to stop, but I knew I had more in me. Miles 13-18 were hard. My pace slowed, I began stopping at every aid station to guzzle water and GU, but what I really wanted more than sustenance was to walk for those 30 seconds while I grabbed the fuel. Miles 18-24 were absolutely brutal. My legs muscles were tired, but that didn’t bother me as much as the aching tendons and bones and joints in my legs. I started walking the majority of each mile. Miles 24-26 were just as brutal on my body, but by then I was close enough to the finish that I gained a mental second wind. A numbness covered the aching in my bones and joints, and I started believing in myself again. My self-talk went from “Fuck this,” to “Almost there, I can do this.” I picked up my pace.

I clocked in at just under 5 hours, which is slow by competitive standards. But I was as satisfied as can be. I had just done the hardest thing in my entire life. I had just done the impossible.

For the next few days I had trouble walking, but the pain in my legs eventually went away. What didn’t go away was the knowledge that I, someone who “isn’t good at running,” had just done something that for my entire life I considered impossible. That experience stuck with me and sunk deep into my heart. Now, every time I catch myself thinking I can’t do something, I remember this marathon and the truth inside reminds me that the limits of what’s possible are all made up in my mind based on what I’ve done so far. Running a marathon was only impossible until I did it. And last year, I ran my second marathon in 4 hours and 15 minutes.

What else is impossible?

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