Stacey Margaret Jones: Reaching the Magical Finish Line – The Longest Distance


Toward the end of the year I lived in Prague, a friend from Paris visited me. After nine months in the central European city, it was a delight to show her around, and through her eyes, I saw Prague with the same delight I had as a new resident, before I lost the wonder of it all by running for trams that left me behind, and having my rudimentary Czech snubbed in shops. I saw afresh the wonder of the Jewish Quarter, the brilliance of the “wedding cake” Church of St. Nicholas in Old Town Square and the dark and mysterious Vltava River passing under the medieval Charles Bridge in ways I hadn’t really noticed them in months.

Lately, some friends and I ran with our friend Natalie as she accomplished the longest run of her life. It turned out to be a little like that renewal with Prague. Having run two marathons, I don’t get a lot of new personal-distance records these days, but I could remember and relive those feelings as we ran our friend’s first long runs with her.

Natalie happened to be at Disney World for last year’s Princess Half-Marathon and hatched a fiendish plot that a group of us should join her this year. Some of us have run marathons, and some have not. Active in many ways, Natalie has not been a distance runner, so each week’s long run is a new threshold—a new accomplishment. Some of us with marathon experience joined her for her 7- and 8-mile runs.

Though it wasn’t the first time Melissa, Tina and I had logged those distances, we were all coming back from—or trying to power through—injuries. Each pain-free mile for us was meaningful and built our confidence for the 13.1 coming at us at the end of February.

But to run a distance you’ve never run before is a significant moment, and it was a joy to watch Natalie’s training and preparation pay off so she could experience that, too.

“I felt awesome!” Natalie said, when her running app announced to her she’d crossed those longest-distance mile markers. “I was surprised at what I could do.”finish line full

Of course, she had worries going into those distances. For example, she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to keep up with her friends who had more distance experience, even at a slow pace.

But she prepared by running as many short runs of 2 to 4 miles during the week as she could. Of course, mental conditioning is probably more than half the battle. Natalie said to meet that challenge, she convinced herself that she could do the run, and simply faced her biggest fear of getting winded and losing her breath by reminding herself once she got started that she was fine. “Once I get into that mental groove, the run seems to go more smoothly,” she said.

Natalie found one of the most motivating aspects of the long runs was that we were doing them together. “I’m not sure I would have pushed myself like I did if it was just me. There’s too many opportunities to say, ‘Oh, I’ll just walk this part for a little bit.” When you’re with others, you are focused on the group effort and inevitably push yourself more.” 

For the record, she ran both the 7- and 8-milers without walking once.

Another thing Natalie said she really likes is running in Little Rock. It’s energizing. “Running along the Arkansas River is beautiful, and I love having that quiet time to think and enjoy the scenery,” she said.

When I started running, I heard the distances my runner friends covered and thought it was insane, but now the long runs are what I most look forward to. Natalie also likes the endurance tests. “It’s an incredible feeling to finish a long run each and every time,” she said. “I have never been a runner, so running that first distance was really an accomplishment.”

And Natalie already has advice for others. First, she recommends training with other people when you’re starting out with steadily increasing challenges. “We created a Facebook group and discuss our training triumphs and challenges, and, of course, our very important costumes for the big race!” (We have a Rapunzel, a Merida, a Sleeping Beauty, a Snow White, a Belle and an Ariel in our group.)

Whether you are running Disney, along the River Trail or in your neighborhood, Natalie has found her running app, Runtastic, to be very easy to use and helpful in tracking distance and measuring her time, which has been steadily improving. She also likes how it interfaces with social media: “Seriously, who wants to run that long and not brag about it on Facebook?” she asked.

She found the success of the long run didn’t just live on the running path, but crept out into her day-to-day life for the rest of the week. “It’s a lesson in commitment,” she said. “You can’t really just wake up one morning and tell yourself you’re going to run 8 miles without hurting yourself. I’ve had to prioritize my life differently to make all the training happen,” she said, and for a business owner, wife and mother, that takes real commitment.

“It’s not a bad thing,” she said, because she likes what it demonstrates to her children. “Committing to health and fitness is important, and if my husband and I don’t do that, then we risk not being here for our children to see how they fare as parents.”

In the meantime, she’ll have plenty of souvenirs for her kids from Mickey and a group photo of herself as an athletic Sleeping Beauty with her Princess running friends amidst the magical world of distance runs realized.

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