"You never know what lies ahead. Sometimes I wish I could see for miles down the road ahead or anticipate every turn. Logically, I know it’s not feasible to prepare for every instance when something unexpected might occur in life; and I’ve seen the same kind of randomness happen during marathons."

-Jill woxland

Intemark insights

Putting one foot in front of the other. Why it’s always a solid strategy.

Autumn is more than upon us. It’s peak time for foliage, racing to the end of yet another year and for bucket list marathons. We had ours in the Twin Cities a few weeks back, the prestigious Chicago Marathon was one week later, and the most prestigious of them all –  The NYC Marathon – which takes place this weekend. After cheering on the Twin City runners this year and viewing all the inspired photos online, I seriously have that Big Apple itch once again. I am feeling more and more as though I need a big scary goal – and this time, more than a PR, more than “going the distance”, if I do decide to train for a 6th marathon, my goal- qualifying for Boston.

The urge to run a marathon came to me late in life. In 2009, my oldest son Kipp ran the Twin Cities. A year later my daughter, Brita, ran the NYC Marathon. Both experiences were so inspirational – watching my children commit, plan and train for months, and then watching them crossing the finish line, to hearing their stories of wanting to quit, hitting the famous “wall,” and not giving up. I decided to run my first in 2011. I needed to keep up! I suppose it’d be fair to call marathoning my midlife crisis.

Before training for my first marathon, I was a casual runner. Very casual. I was always an athlete, but you would hardly say running was my ‘thing’. A few Turkey Trots here and there, a weekend lap around a neighborhood lake, or just chugging away on the treadmill during the winter.  I learned to love the training. It was my time to think and be alone with my thoughts, a much-needed stress reliever and most importantly, I learned daily that I was capable of more than I ever thought I was. Looking back on training for my first marathon, I remember thinking….” oh good, only a 10 miler today”. What?! The long runs were so incredibly daunting for me. I would try to leave work early so I did not have to run in the dark. Most of the time, something came up at work late in the day, hence I would be running until after 10pm to get that 17-miler in. My late husband Mike would magically appear at points along my training route for all the long runs with water, energy gels, a thumbs up, a smile and sometimes a “are you crazy” sentiment! I was so into it, there was no way I was missing a training run, no matter the weather, the time of day or the temptations and subtle pressure from family and friends as I missed out on social engagements – my life was running and work for many months. 

Marathons have been used as metaphors for many things, and rightly so. Distance running takes the same mindset as so many other challenging endeavors: discipline, persistence, planning, training, resilience, and my personal favorite – obsession.  

If you look at it start to finish, a marathon at 26.2 miles is an incredibly daunting undertaking. I decided to block out my training as a gradual, progressive series. 40 steps at a time in the beginning. Then one-half mile at a time. One mile at a time. And eventually, one lake at a time, one playlist at a time, one hour at a time and so on, including one cramp and tear at a time.

The urge to run a marathon came to me late in life. In 2009, my oldest son Kipp ran the Twin Cities. A year later my daughter, Brita, ran the NYC Marathon. Both experiences were so inspirational – watching my children commit, plan and train for months, and then watching them crossing the finish line, to hearing their stories of wanting to quit, hitting the famous “wall,” and not giving up. I decided to run my first in 2011. I needed to keep up! I suppose it’d be fair to call marathoning my midlife crisis.

Before training for my first marathon, I was a casual runner. Very casual. I was always an athlete, but you would hardly say running was my ‘thing’. A few Turkey Trots here and there, a weekend lap around a neighborhood lake, or just chugging away on the treadmill during the winter.  I learned to love the training. It was my time to think and be alone with my thoughts, a much-needed stress reliever and most importantly, I learned daily that I was capable of more than I ever thought I was. Looking back on training for my first marathon, I remember thinking….” oh good, only a 10 miler today”. What?! The long runs were so incredibly daunting for me. I would try to leave work early so I did not have to run in the dark. Most of the time, something came up at work late in the day, hence I would be running until after 10pm to get that 17-miler in. My late husband Mike would magically appear at points along my training route for all the long runs with water, energy gels, a thumbs up, a smile and sometimes a “are you crazy” sentiment! I was so into it, there was no way I was missing a training run, no matter the weather, the time of day or the temptations and subtle pressure from family and friends as I missed out on social engagements – my life was running and work for many months. 

Marathons have been used as metaphors for many things, and rightly so. Distance running takes the same mindset as so many other challenging endeavors: discipline, persistence, planning, training, resilience, and my personal favorite – obsession.  

If you look at it start to finish, a marathon at 26.2 miles is an incredibly daunting undertaking. I decided to block out my training as a gradual, progressive series. 40 steps at a time in the beginning. Then one-half mile at a time. One mile at a time. And eventually, one lake at a time, one playlist at a time, one hour at a time and so on, including one cramp and tear at a time.

There comes a point with every marathon I’ve run where the head takes over for the legs. You decide you are going to finish despite the pain and exhaustion. One August while I was training for my first marathon, I tore a hamstring water skiing (BTW, I don’t recommend water skiing as part of your marathon training regimen, another very late learning). By the time of my injury, I was well into my training. I’d mentally, physically, and financially made the commitment to run. I was crushed that I may not be able to keep training. Then…a medical miracle! My orthopedist cleared me after a three-week rest.

I continued with my training in constant pain. So why do something so seemingly crazy and detrimental? Because it was all about commitment, about the prize at the finish, and above all, about not wanting to give up after six months of dedicated training. What I didn’t count on was this – by favoring my injured leg, I ended up with the other leg giving me problems, both during training and on race day.

My goal was to finish – that was it. I didn’t care about my time. I didn’t care if I came in dead last. And finish I did…starting in the dark and finishing in the dark, with many stops in between – to the medic tent for Advil popping and leg massages, for photos with my family and friends along the racecourse, for bathroom stops and for everything else a marathoner must consider.

I finished the NYC Marathon #1 with a very forgettable time- just under seven hours. Of course, my dad let me know that I was listed in the Star Tribune as Minnesota’s slowest runner that year. Wow! Thanks dad?!! I’m still not sure if he was proud of me or embarrassed by my appearance in the paper. To motivate myself, I decided it was the latter. And in that moment, I knew one thing – merely “finishing” was not enough. I knew that a year from that moment I could run a markedly faster time – so I registered to run NYC again in 2012. No messing around, no water skiing or anything else to risk an injury. Possibly even taking less photos with friends along the course and limited liquids. Along came 2012 and sadly Hurricane Sandy, ready to run after training like a fiend for months, my goal was to finish under 4:30 – I had a decent shot. Days before the NYC Marathon, Hurricane Sandy ripped through, and the marathon was canceled last minute. What to do? Volunteer, run a fake marathon in Central Park (seeing as we were already there), register for 2013.  

THE LONG RACE COMES TO AN END

We are coming up on three years since the Covid-19 pandemic began. People from all walks of life are feeling exhausted – and rightfully so. Personally, I see a such a parallel between the discomfort and stress of everything happening in the world right now…and the rigors of marathon running. Quitting is not an option. Quitting is never an option. Being overwhelmed with negative thoughts or allowing gloom and doom wash over us as we continue to go through one pandemic aftershock after another requires a good amount of mind control pushback to maintain a healthy, positive mindset. 

Endurance training is an ongoing mental exercise. In my experience, it’s not so much about being physically fit enough to avoid pain and suffering. It’s more about changing how I feel while suffering. The more I trained my body and brain, the more I felt equipped to manage it.     

You never know what lies ahead. Sometimes I wish I could see for miles down the road ahead or anticipate every turn. Logically, I know it’s not feasible to prepare for every instance when something unexpected might occur in life; and I’ve seen the same kind of randomness happen during marathons.

My favorite marathon was not the one where I ran my fastest time. Or was in the best shape. Instead, my best races have been marathons where I’ve started out short on energy due to lack of sleep, suffered sudden cramping or felt beyond ready to pack it in. Long distance running has taught me to simply tell myself: ‘Hang in there! The lows will always pass. Always. It’s also made me believe something in my head, heart, and gut – if I can just stick with it, it will get better. And it always does.  


-Jill Woxland


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