Making of a Marathoner

Name: Quinn Harnett


Type of Project: Creative and Artistic Endeavor


My STEP Signature project was to train for and run 3 marathons over the course of a year and a half. The goal was to see what I was capable of physically and mentally, and to train myself in achieving goals in general. My project definitely strayed from the original plan, but I feel that that is a part of the experience, learning how to adapt, to change my expectations and to deal with obstructions. I originally planned on running the Twin Cities Marathon in the fall of 2016, the Big Sur Marathon in the spring of 2017 and the Grand Island Trail Marathon during the summer of 2017. Because of scheduling conflicts and injury, I ultimately ran the Columbus Marathon in fall of 2016, the Asheville Marathon in spring of 2017 and the Mt. Nebo 10k in Arkansas in the summer of 2017.

Through my involvement in STEP and in the execution of my project I came to learn a good deal about myself, and my attitudes towards the things I did. I found out that something as big as a marathon required more dedication and priority than what I normally gave my hobbies. It wasn’t something I could do for a month and then just set aside and try playing the guitar (I have a habit of switching hobbies about once a month). It took a lot of strength and will-power to get up and make time to run three times during the school week and then another run on the weekends that always lasted more than an hour. I always thought that I was a pretty fit guy and that running a marathon could be done without too much effort, and simply with grit and some good shoes. When I took two weeks off from running four weeks before the Columbus marathon, I didn’t think much would change, but I was wrong. Marathon day hit me hard, and though I finished, it was not the best I could do, and I knew it. I found out that some things deserve more respect than I gave them.

Another place I noticed transformation was in my body, physically. I grew more fit, aerobically, if not aesthetically. I did not lose any weight or get a six-pack, but I gained the ability to run 12 miles easily, when before this project 5 miles was a whole lot to even think about. Training worked to an extent to make me fitter. I thought I was healthy and fit and able-bodied, and then the Asheville Marathon happened. When I felt a pinch in my hip at mile 13 I didn’t think much of it. But after a long downhill at the end of mile 17, I could barely walk, and I had to drop out of the race. That was a tough battle because a huge part of running a marathon is telling yourself over and over that you cannot stop, even if you’re hurting. Obviously, injury is not a game and it was definitely the right decision to stop, but that didn’t make it easier. I discovered that for me, training for a marathon would mean much more than just running, that cross training, and weight lifting, and hill runs, and speed work weren’t just made up things that people talked about to mess with me. Overall, I learned that running marathons takes much more dedication and time, and deserves more respect than I had given it.

My project was all about training for and running marathons, and therefore all the learning and transformations that I encountered came through training for and running in my marathons, and all my mess-ups along the way. Training for the Columbus marathon based on a simple training plan that I found by Googling “Marathon Training Plan” was the first place I saw growth. I didn’t think about any other aspects of training besides the miles on the schedule. I did not respect the weekday miles I was supposed to run, I thought that they were just good suggestions, meant to help you run faster. Since my goal was just to finish the first one, I assumed that skipping some (or many) wouldn’t be so bad. But like I said, my two-week hiatus from running so close to the Columbus marathon was not a smart move on my part. I learned to respect the advice of the many runners who made these training plans from their previous experiences, and further, to respect any advice from someone older or wiser than myself.

Me, post-Columbus Marathon, ’16

Training for my second marathon In Asheville, North Carolina brought about my second change. By giving myself only 12 weeks to train for that marathon, I disrespected every piece of advice I could find that said that any successful plan should be 18 weeks long with a solid base of running (20-25 miles a week before week #1). I thought I would be fine, seeing as I had just run in a marathon 3 months prior to starting this new training plan, while totally ignoring the fact that those 3 months had included about 20-25 miles of running total. The result of this carelessness was an injury that caused me to drop out of my second marathon, and eventually to skip my third. I learned that not respecting the advice of others could lead to more than just a hard time, but to actual injury.

In my training for the Asheville marathon, I also learned the importance of cross training. I saw the value in being a well-rounded athlete, ironically from the hindsight of an injured athlete. My IT Band Syndrome was the result of a lack of muscle in my hips and glutes and other core muscles, as well as a lack of hill preparation in my training runs. Through my ignorance of cross training, I discovered the value of spending time on other parts of my body. Stretching, strength training, hill workouts and good rest are all vital parts of being able to run a marathon, not just running. This idea can be seen in the rest of my life too. Without a balance of school, work, friendships and rest, things tend to go poorly, and that imbalance leads to weakness that is often not evident until something breaks down.

Me again, pre-Asheville Marathon, ’17

In the end, because of my lack of training, my high expectations of myself, and my desire to move on to something else (I suppose that is just a nice way to say quitting) every time I was too tired to run, I learned to respect the Marathon, the training required, and anyone with the dedication to attempt it. I learned that receiving advice is not the end, that advice is meant to be used and acted upon, and for good reason. Most people know more than me, and part of living is growing through the help, advice and teaching of others. I learned the importance of dedication, and perseverance and I learned to love running, even if not the marathon distance.

By completing this project, I was able to test myself, my limits, my strength, and my determination in a way that I hadn’t been able to before. I found out that I am not flawlessly dedicated as I like to think I am. I learned that there are more important things to me than being in great shape and being a ‘Marathoner’, like spending time with friends, resting, and learning. I did find joy in running, a sense of peace and a feeling of accomplishment when I finished a long run. I feel that moving on, running the marathon distance is not something I would like to do often, and especially not alone. I think that a shorter distance, like the half-marathon, which still requires high amounts of training while allowing for more error, is more of the stress relieving, satisfying activity that I need in my life. I also think that inviting people into my experience of running, and finding people who would like to run themselves would make it a much more enjoyable pursuit overall. Running is something that I will take with me for a long time, but I feel that it best fits into my life without a schedule or the demands of a marathon. I want running to be an enjoyable activity, not a duty. I want to be able to exert myself to relieve stress and get my blood flowing, not to hit a certain distance or time goal. I want to use running to explore the world around me, especially the natural world, and I think I can find that in trail running. I am very glad that I undertook this project, that I ran in two marathons, that I don’t hate running, that I feel more fit and healthier, and that I know were the enjoyment lies for me. Here’s to a lifetime of running, even if not a lifetime of marathons!