Making the Impossible Possible
One Runner's Journey
Chapter 1: You Always Remember the First
The sun was glistening off the sweat on his face. It had to be one of the hottest Saturday afternoons of the summer. To cool off, he started walking into the water, running shoes and workout outfit still on, drench with sweat, and eventually lake water. He looked completely exhausted, but I couldn’t help but feel intrigued that I was missing out on something fun.
Later that night when he announced his plans for the next day, he mentioned a run, and I spoke up.
“Dad, can I go with you? I want to learn to run.”
He was surprised, but more then willing to have someone to join him.
The next morning I woke up, got dressed, unsure of proper running attire but found something regardless, and met my dad eagerly ready to go. To this day I can’t image what he thought when he saw my attire of a jean skirt and flip-flops. Probably something along the lines of: ‘wow, we’ve got a long way to go.’
Chapter 2: What did I get myself into?
People are walking in every direction. Runners, parents, volunteers, security members. I keep wondering to myself if there’s anyway I can get out of it, but it’s that competition with myself that always keeps me going.
“Well, Bess, we should probably take off, but look for us on the right side, cheering you on!”
My mom is beaming, she’s been a non-stop supporter by phone, and like me, I don’t think she can believe that this is actually happening.
I give my family a hug good-bye, and look for my gate. I start to apply vaseline to the inside of my thighs and arms, double-knot my shoes, and start my warm-up routine. As I’m jumping up and down, I listen to a conversation happening behind me between two van-moms and an adorable older gentlemen.
“So, have you done this a lot? We are so nervous, is it as bad as it seems?” One of the ladies ask.
Good to know I’m not the only one who is nervous.
“It’s a very rewarding experience,” he responds, “but it never gets easier.”
Hmm....Not sure what to think of that.
Chapter 3: Finding My Rhythm
It’s a small, sizable group of people, ready for a neighborhood-friendly 5k run. I’ve only run this length once, but now it’s timed and official. Once the race starts, I remember to keep my pace. For me, it’s about finishing, not winning.
But sometimes you get the best of both worlds.
While most of my childhood friends walked the 2k, I ran in the “Age 14 and under” division and was one of only two participants in that age group. Since awards were given to three people of each group, I received an award by default, but still an award nonetheless.
I may have been one of the last participants to finish the race, and I really did enjoy my first real running experience, but feeling like an accomplished participant was special, and I wanted more.
Chapter 4: And they’re off!
With over 37,000 participants, it was hard to know when the starting gong went off. Eventually people started moving, and I slowly inched closer to the starting gate. I stripped off my hoodie and sweat pants, discarding them with all the other sweats being collected for local homeless shelters.
All of the runners seem quiet and focused, but supporters surrounded the barricades, cheering us on. I’m so grateful for all their kindness and support, but I eventually decide to tune them out.
Being a film studies student, I’m always looking for ways to spice up the movie of my life with references to other films. My favorite sports movie, Rudy, shares the story of a small, academically-challenged student trying to play for the Notre Dame football team, and eventually overcoming the odds.
In this moment, I felt like Rudy, and powered on my iPhone to play the film’s score.
This is my time to shine.
Chapter 5: I’ll Have Running on the Side
Over the next 10 years, the 5k’s continued, but I realized running on the side was a special hobby. Ironically, I was a basketball player in the winter, which involved a lot of short sprints, up and down the court. But every other season of the year I would stretch out my legs for those lengthy runs.
My favorite loop was around a small lake in my neighborhood. Depending on certain routes it ranged from 2.5-3 miles, but it was gorgeous. Leafy, green trees provided shade over the road, and I would run into other neighbors running, walking their dogs, or riding their bikes.
As I concluded the last .1 of a mile in each run, I started to sprint, celebrating the accomplishment of another run. With each breath as I picked up my speed, there was always a lingering dream. The possibility that one day when I was sprinting, it would be at the end of a much longer run: a half-marathon.
Chapter 6: Let’s Get Past the Boring Part
One year earlier, I would not have thought it possible, but the first half of the marathon flew by with great ease. I had prepared for this with my training runs, but at least now there was less boredom.
Every few miles my family greeted me with loud cheers of support. Chicago was a gorgeous city to be running in: the river, the skyscrapers, the bright theatre signs.
But I think what suprised me the most was the never-ending stream of people. Supporters weren’t cheering on specific groups of people, they were cheering on everyone. It was a giant community.
At UW-Madison, I had many rivals, but they ceased to exist at the marathon. Halfway through the run, a gentleman tapped my shoulder, pointing at my UW-Madison baseball cap, and his Ohio State baseball cap. He wasn’t pointing to the rivalry, but offering fellow Big Ten support.
It warmed my heart, and some salt gathered from my eyes that was not from sweat.
Chapter 7: Taking a Run of Faith
I’m not sure whether it was because it was Valentine’s Day, or because I had seen a few other people my age run one, but my sophomore year, I registered for a half-marathon in Madison. I twas official, I was actually going to do it. Preparing for the run did not come without the obstacles.
Just as I about to start training, I came down with mono and strep throat.
A sign? Should I really be doing this?
I decided to push forward, each week running an even longer distance than the week before. My last run was 11 miles, two weeks before the race. I felt good, I felt strong, but did I have what it takes?
The race started in complete downpour, and I loved running in a city that was so integral to my life. I ran past the State Capitol, Union South, through the arboretum, and more. As I ran down the lakeshore path, past former dorms, and finished at Memorial Union, I felt elated but my accomplishment.
But I couldn’t help but wonder: this was easy, and I could keep going. Could I do more?
Chapter 8: Take a Deep Break, Keep Calm, and Carry On
I was approaching mile 17, and the breaths were louder. I knew the challenge that made me so competitive had finally arrived. It was around this point that I ran into my family on the side, and my dad decided to jog with me for a couple of minutes.
“You look like you’re slowing down a little,” as he noted my decrease in pace.
“This is *huhh* is where *huhh** it gets *huhh* hard,” I say between breaths.
As he coaches me forward, it's nice to know that he still had words of wisdom, whether it was my first run and suggesting I wear gym shoes, or a marathon, and how I should keep myself paced.
It was a special moment, and one to cherish forever. But I couldn’t reflect too long, there was still just under nine miles to be completed.
Chapter 9: Why not me?
A few months after the half-marathon, I was watching my reality show guilty pleasure, “The Biggest Loser.” In the season premiere, contestants were made to run a mile, and were told by the end of the show, they would have to run a marathon.
The concept made me think a little. If severely obese people were going to run a marathon in a short four months, wouldn’t I, someone who had just completed a half-marathon, be able to run the full event in one year?
Yes. Let’s do it.
I created a video blog on YouTube called “Making Impossible Possible,” determined to make myself accountable to sticking to this goal. It was not going to be easy, in the spring I would be spending four months studying abroad in London. But I did my research, developed a training plan, and from there, I was on a mission.
Chapter 10: Entering the Unknown Territory
The farthest I had ventured with my training was 20 miles. Upon reaching the 20 mile mark during the marathon, I wasn’t surprised, knowing that I had done it before, but what was ahead for the next 6.2 miles was a mystery.
But there was no time for anxiety as I rounded the corner for the 21st mile, and saw many unexpected family members there, cheering me on. Grandparents, aunts, and young cousins, all with huge smiles on their faces holding signs of encouragement.
“Whoo-hoo! Yeah, keep going!”
“You’re amazing, you’re almost there Bess!”
They gave me extra adrenaline, and for awhile, each step became less painful. It was such an honor to have my younger siblings and cousins there. As the oldest of them all, I feel an important responsibility to act as a role model. Maybe seeing me here, they would want to do something like this in the future too.
How cool would that be?
Chapter 11: Taking it One Week at a Time
I knew that training for the marathon was going to be different from a half, the daily exercises were more rigorous, and the distances were much longer. I was constantly monitoring what I was eating, taking the time to stretch in the morning, and mentally preparing myself around the clock.
One benefit that was unexpected was the addition of a marathon buddy. One of my close friends from studying abroad, Hannah, was also running the marathon. Ironically, we had what the other needed. She had the physical strength, but lacked the mental, and I had the mental strength, but lacked the physical. We were perfect for each other.
On top of it all, it was the hottest summer in Madison. When I went for my 14 mile run, it was already 90 degrees Fahrenheit by 6:00 a.m. And it remained that way all summer.
We are making the impossible possible, Bess. You’re only young once.
Chapter 12: The Wall
I knew there was going to be point when I felt like I wouldn’t be able to move forward anymore. I just hoped that it was as close to the finish line as possible.
It came at mile 23. I took my first break, and stepped to the side to stretch and take a breath.
Wow, I wish the marathon was only 23 miles.
And then I realized something. I had just 3.2 miles left, the equivalency of a 5k. Here was my movie moment.
You have been running 5k’s your whole life Bess! You’ve been training for this for 12 years, since you ran your first 5k at age 10.
I could only think of that younger version of myself, gleaming with pride when receiving a plaque on default for finishing that first 5k. She was so happy for just finishing those 3.2 miles, did she ever realize that one day, on top of that same distance, she would have previously run 23 miles?
Chapter 13: The Weeks Leading Up
Having the summer to train was incredibly nice, but eventually school started, and I had to mix school and outside activities with training for a month. I was surprised to find that trying to create a balance here was the most challenging part.
Running my longest distance of 20 miles? No problem.
Spend an hour swimming laps to stretch? No problem.
Finding time to make three healthy meals a day? Help.
Although challenging, that innocent confidence was endless. There was no breakdown. No questioning whether my dream was realistic. I was anxious, and my poor roommates heard of nothing else for that entire month. Marathon this, marathon that, every single day.
The race of my life was so close, I could feel the happiness. But I just wanted it to come.
Chapter 14: Making Impossible Possible
Once I had pushed through the wall, the end came much quicker than I could have anticipated. There was just .2 miles left, and I started sprinting, just like I had sprinted all those runs when I was younger.
Holy cow, this is actually happening. I AM GOING TO FINISH A MARATHON!
Run, run, run, run, sprint, sprint, sprint, sprinting! The speed just kept increasing. Whispers slowly ushered out of my mouth “I’m making the impossible possible, I’m making the impossible possible...”
Then there it was: the finish line.
As I went to cross the line, I was in such a drunken state of happiness that it remains hard for me to remember what my surroundings looked like. But if I was a spectator watching me finish, I would have to imagine I looked like an newly-awarded Oscar winner. It was the perfect movie: Making the Impossible Possible.
Chapter 15: The Marathon Eve
The day before the marathon was unlike anything I experienced. I picked up my registration packet at the Expo in Navy Pier, surrounded by people of all running abilities, but still completely excited.
My aunt had picked my up from the Expo, and took me on a drive of different paths of the route. I sat in her front seat, a tad stupefied.
Was I really going to run this? There was no loss of confidence, but shock, that after waiting so long, this was actually going to happen. That night I had my large pasta dinner to get the necessary carbs, and I settled into bed early for a marathon eve Making Impossible Possible video. Was I really going to be a finisher of the Chicago marathon?
Chapter 16: Notes to Take Away
Yes. I was a finisher. It wasn’t a remarkable time, but I finished, and ever since that first 5k, that was all that mattered. From flip-flops to a marathon-finish line, it was an experience worth documenting, hence why I’ve done it now.
I can not let myself forget something so significant, and I owe it to myself to use my story as a reminder as I embark upon new challenges. When it doubt, I know I can just always make the impossible possible.