THE BLOG
06/08/2014 09:27 am ET Updated Aug 08, 2014

5 Lessons I Learned Running an Ultra-Marathon

I had lots of ideas about what running my first ultra-marathon, 50 miles at Nanny Goat, would be like. But what I never could have anticipated was that my life would be changed forever after crossing my finish line. Things still seem the same -- but it's as if my eyes were opened, and I see things more clearly. I learned many life lessons, and to me, that was more important than any medal or finish time.

5 Lessons I Learned Running an Ultra-Marathon

1. Take your first step. I've been guilty of it: letting fear, uncertainty and self-doubt hold me back. We can spend our entire lives wishing for something to happen, or waiting for the perfect time. But while you are waiting and wishing, time is passing by anyway. You may as well take the first step -- toward something, anything. I kept telling myself I didn't have the time, energy, strength, or ability to run an ultra-marathon. And one day I decided I was tired of waiting, and I was done with my own excuses. So my first step was making the decision I was going to try. And the next step was getting a coach willing to train me even though I hadn't run a marathon since 2011. Another step was getting out there and logging the miles, committing to train day after day, week after week, even when the initial excitement wore off and it got hard, really hard. Each step I took was just one step closer to crossing the finish line of my 50-mile dream. Take your first step and see where it takes you.

2. Believe in yourself. It's wonderful to have the encouragement others, but if you don't believe in yourself, no amount of support from friends and family will get you across your finish line, no matter what kind of finish line it is. It was difficult for me to imagine running 50 miles, but somewhere deep down in my heart, I had faith I could do it. And in the middle of my race when I was struggling and started thinking the words then saying them to my family -- I can't do this -- deep inside me was the hope and belief that I could. That faith rests in your heart. Believe in yourself because you are stronger than your mind will let you imagine.

3. It takes a village. I mostly run alone. Running is a time I use to pray, meditate, think and get lost in my head. But I did not cross the 50-mile finish line alone. It took a supportive husband -- he encouraged me to chase my dreams, he took care of our children without complaint every weekend while I was out running for hours, he believed in me -- and I needed that faith from my partner in life. My village included my coach, who not only got my legs ready to run the longest race of my life, but my head. He prepared me both mentally and physically. It included my friends and family, who lifted me up with their good thoughts and prayers, and I soaked up their positive energy and focused on the good in my life during my race. My brothers and cousins who helped pace me and kept my head up during my race were invaluable. The runners, race director and volunteers at the race were inspiring and encouraging in a way I've never seen people bond together at a race. I have no doubt I wouldn't have finished my race without my village.

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Photo Credit: Jason Buckner

4. Ride the wave. It was the best advice my running coach gave me. He let me know that I would have good moments and bad moments while running my 50-mile race. He told me to enjoy the good moments -- because they wouldn't last. Just as the bad moments would pass, too. Leading up to the race I was filled with nervousness and uncertainty -- I accepted those feelings instead of wishing them away -- knowing this was the first time I would be running a 50-mile race and the last time it would be a new experience. During the race, my best moments were when I stopped focusing so much on the pain and instead thought of the finish line and how it would feel to achieve a goal. Many times I focused too much on my discomfort while I was running and all that did was make me wish the time away and feel sorry for myself. None of that did me any good. After the race I came home feeling different on the inside. I was extremely happy but also raw and emotional from the whole experience. I would cry just thinking of the experience and I reached out to my coach again, wondering if I was normal for feeling happy and sad all at once. His advice again: Roll with it. And that's what I'm doing: riding the wave of all my emotions, both good and bad, in running and in life.

5. It's between you, your family and God. While I was running my race I didn't let the negative thoughts of others enter my head -- I was too busy running and trying to achieve a dream to care if someone was thinking badly of me. I walked away from that race a stronger person. Here's the thing: No matter how you choose to live your life, someone, somewhere, will judge you and find fault with what you choose to do and how you choose to live. If I focused on the negative opinions of others -- "She's neglecting her kids, she's obsessed with running, she's going to ruin her marriage" -- then I never would have even made it to the start line. Only you and you alone know what is best for you and your family. Someone on the outside looking in has no idea what is really going on in your heart, with your family or your relationship with God. Let them judge. Because while they are busy judging and gossiping about you, you will be busy living!

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The 50th mile.

It was the hardest race I've ever run. It required me to grow as a person and lean on others. This race opened up my heart and mind and left me raw and feeling more alive than ever. I've got these lessons tucked into my pocket and look forward to the next one, where I have no doubt I will learn more.

Never Give Up,

Nicole

Join Nicole at MyFitFamily, where she writes about running, family and faith.