Today’s Marathon: What a Marathon Taught me about a Pandemic

COVID-19 Map

It’s been over 10 years since I ran the Chicago Marathon, but I vividly remember mile-marker 13. Because of the feeling in that exact moment, I’ve run almost a dozen half-marathons, but never another marathon. I wasn’t close enough to the end to see the finish; in fact, I wasn’t even half-way. Despite having run 13 miles, I felt like absolutely nothing had been accomplished. That mile-marker has been on my mind a lot the last few days – reminding me of the mental strength of the marathon.

The thing is, before you run a marathon, you plan out the route. It really matters where you are in the race. Where do you refuel? Where are the hills? Where are the water stations? Where are the moments that you know you’ll need a little extra mental toughness? This plan helps carry you through, and so yesterday, I sat down and mapped out this COVID-19 marathon with the events of the last few months and the types of things that I think lie ahead.

As I filled in the items that have already happened in dark red and green, it became clear why mile 13 has been on my mind. Life has been shifted, disrupted, and stressed. Despite expending a ton of energy, it feels like very little has been gained. The green, the good news, has been pretty minimal while the bad news has been overwhelming. It’s mile 13 of the toughest race I’ve ever run. It feels defeating because, frankly, I can’t see the end.

As I continue graphing, I remember exactly why I needed to lay out the rest of the race. There are some remaining bright red challenges – huge and painful challenges that we will have to endure. When these events arrive, I’ll remind myself that “this is the hill you knew was coming.” I will stick with the plan I made before I was exhausted. I may tweak my pace, but I won’t change course.

Slowly there will begin to be more bright green moments than bright red – more good news than bad. Schools will re-open, science will catch up with the virus, government stimulus will deliver support, markets will stabilize, sporting events will restart. I’ll sit in my favorite restaurant, drinking my favorite cocktail after hugging my best friend.

There is one other moment from the marathon that stands out just as vividly as mile 13. A bit further into the race, a spectator yelled out “just a few more miles and you will be a marathoner.” I had never considered that I would be a “marathoner.” Of course, it had been my goal to finish the race, but it never occurred to me that this victory would add to my identity. This stranger brought things sharply into focus. I was a lot closer to the end than when I started. I had already overcome more than I realized. If I followed my plan and kept putting one foot in front of the other, I would finish this race – forever changed for the better.