By Jessica Seaberg
Updated March 07, 2008

by Jessica Seaberg

Through blisters, humidity-induced asthma, scorching sun, and humidity, I prevailed.
I started writing this column the day before the marathon, because I didnt want my message to be colored by the outcome of the race. That was smart, given that I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday to 72-degree heat and 84 percent humidity. It only got hotter and wetter as the day went on. Under conditions like these, training goes out the window, and you just have to make the best of what youve been given. Im sure most of you heard of the mess that was the Chicago Marathon—but what you didnt hear was that had it been 1 degree warmer at the start of the Twin Cities Marathon, officials would have cancelled the entire event.

I finished.

Through blisters, humidity-induced asthma, scorching sun, and humidity, I prevailed. I can now say that I finished the Twin Cities Marathon.

Over the past 20 weeks Ive come to see running as a metaphor for life. I want to share with you some of the most important things Ive learned.

Next Page: You cannot actually run away. [ pagebreak ]You cannot actually run away.

In one of my earliest columns, I said, “This journey is as much about running away from the person I used to be as it is about running towards the person Ive become.” I want to rescind that statement. You cant run away from your past. You shouldnt want to. After all, we learn from our mistakes.

Similarly, you cannot run away from your present. There were times throughout this summer where it became crystal clear to me that I was using running as a coping mechanism—healthier than smoking, drinking, overeating, or shopping, but a mechanism nonetheless. No matter how far or fast you run, youll never outrun what is bothering you—youre better off learning to run towards those problems with all of your might, building the strength, perspective, and confidence necessary to conquer the beast.

Its okay to put yourself first.

Im what appears to be the most social person youll ever meet. A natural hostess, a social butterfly. But nothing makes me happier than the independence of a long run alone. I thought about finding a running group, but in the end, I actually dont enjoy running with other people. I look at running as the only time in my over-programmed and overly-concerned-with-others life when I get to focus on nothing but myself. I dont want to wait, and I dont want to rush. I just want to run on my own terms.

Its very selfish, and Im 100 percent okay with that. When Im running I solve my problems, and it is hard to do that when you are making conversation or gasping for breath to keep up with somebody else. To everybody I ran with this summer—and everybody that offered—I love you, I thank you, but I dont wanna run with you (and if I change my mind, I promise Ill ask).

Step out of your comfort zone.

Two years ago, when I watched the marathon for the first time, I cried because it looked so amazing. I wanted to do it, but I was afraid to even want. I was afraid that I wasnt capable. I was afraid that Id try, fail, and look pathetic.

Deciding to step outside my comfort zone and do the unthinkable has brought me so many more rewards than just running. If I hadnt taken that risk, I wouldnt be sharing this with all of you. I wouldnt be evaluating my lifes success by different standards: happiness, health, authenticity, and fulfillment. A woman ran by me wearing a shirt that said, “The miracle isnt that I finished, the miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I didnt know it at the time, but that was a John Bingham quote, and it became my mantra.

Next Page: Goals are grounding. [ pagebreak ]Goals are grounding.

Im not sure that in my 30 years, Ive ever really had tangible goals. Sure, I wanted to get into a good college and get a good job – those were givens. But never in my life have I trained for something. Ive never had something tying me to a schedule, a routine, and a way of life. Training for a marathon is definitely an exercise, no pun intended, both in restraint and exertion. It is just as hard to keep yourself from overtraining on a good week as it is to push yourself extra hard during the times when running feels, quite frankly, like hell. This rigorous and disciplined training provided a refreshing structure to my life—in a way, it was nice to not wonder or worry about Friday night plans or how to spend my Saturday mornings.

Overcoming inertia is the hardest part.

When I first walked through the door of Weight Watchers, “for real this time,” it was Oct. 24, 2003. I had just returned from a business trip to New York City, where I smoked what I vowed was my last cigarette.

I stepped on the scale.

I weighed 250 pounds.

I cried.

Then, I put on my big girl panties and got to work.

I never walked through those doors aiming, or even considering, that I would have the life Ive earned today. The goal was never to lose 100 pounds and run a marathon.

The goal was just to do ... something. The use of the word “earned” above is intentional. I was not just given this life, this body, or this state of self-awareness. I had to work for it, search for it, claw my way to the holy grail of health and happiness. I was given all the tools and raw materials—a wonderful family, parents who raised me well and loved me and supported me, general health, education, a brain, a strong circle of friends, and a good attitude.

Life was definitely a lot easier at 250 pounds. But it wasnt better, because the unfortunate irony of life is that things easily acquired are very rarely worth having. The difficult things in life—the ones that take blood, sweat, and tears—are the ones we value. That first step was the hardest. Overcoming inertia is the hardest. After that, the momentum of the initial struggle launches you into space, raises your trajectory, and allows you to soar.

Thats why the quote above became my mantra—because the miracle here is not that Ive finished—I always finish what I start—its that I ever began. It's that I trusted myself enough to walk through the doors, sit down, and admit that I needed help. That I signed up for that first 5K, then that first 10K, my first half-marathon, and ultimately, the full 26.2 miles.

It comes back to the very first quote I ever wrote about: “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” Even if you dont know where youre headed, I encourage you to start that journey today. Your destination most likely will surprise and empower you.

In the meantime, just enjoy the run.