When helping another becomes a gift: Gina Wright

Today I’m happy to share the story of Gina Wright, a mid-20’s graphic designer/webmaster living in Maryland with her spouse and dog. She is also the author of FitBlogr, where she writes about her experience in completing the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.

By helping another runner mid-way through the course, she was able to receive valuable inspiration to complete her race, despite a terrible head cold. Read more about her amazing attitude and selfless spirit. Congratulations, Gina!

Tell us how you became interested in running.

A little over two years ago I hopped on a treadmill and decided to see how far I could run without stopping. I only lasted two minutes. It was mostly a personal thing; I just wanted to see how far I could push myself and eventually I made it to the 5K mark. We also adopted a high-energy dog, so running with her seemed like the best way for us to bond and both get our exercise in. Soon after that, I signed up for a half and full marathon that were a few months apart. Unfortunately, I had to drop from the full to the half because of an injury, but three 5Ks, five half marathons, and one full marathon later, I’m still going.

It sounds like you started to train for a marathon last year but became injured with shin splints. Can you share how you were able to overcome this?

A few weeks into my training I had a sharp pain going up and down the inside of my leg getting worse with every step. I took it easy the next few weeks but the pain still ached even when I wasn’t running. I knew something was wrong so I went to my doctor, who then sent me to a physical therapist. I had posterior shin splints. One month of no running, and six weeks of physical therapy was my prescription. It worked! I’ve run four half marathons and a full marathon since then and I trained and ran pain-free!

How much have you been able to run with your dog? How does she make it easier for you? How long can she go?

Since my longer runs were during the hot summer, I didn’t take her on any run that was longer than 5 miles and made sure she drank plenty of water. Since she is a high energy dog, she kept me entertained during our runs. Although she pulls a lot, I looked at that as a positive thing because it would make me run faster. Whenever I took a walking break she kept looking back at me as if to say “Can we start running again?” She also makes me feel safe during our runs because she’s protective of me. The longest we have ever ran together was about 8 miles during the winter. If we trained well, I know she could easily do a half marathon. But, I think any distance makes her happy.

What was your marathon goal prior to race day? Why did this goal change at the last minute?

My goal before the race was to finish in under 6 hours. I had been training at that pace for most of the summer. Unfortunately, I caught a head cold a few days before the race, and it hadn’t gone away before Saturday night. After a horrible night’s sleep, I woke up on race day hoping to just finish. But, it would be nice to finish under 6.5 hours.

Given how bad you felt just before the start of the race, how were you mentally able to talk yourself into running anyway?

I woke up two hours before the race started in hoping to get some food down but I only managed a few bites. I knew it wasn’t good to start any kind of race with no food, but my body just wasn’t agreeing with me. As we were heading to the starting line, I felt incredibly nauseous. I kept telling my husband that I didn’t want to do this, that I felt horrible, and knew I couldn’t do this on an empty stomach. Then, I started thinking about the past few months. All the times I forced myself out of bed at 5AM on a Saturday morning to train for this. So I knew, I had to at least try! My first plan, 5 miles. Just get to 5 miles. When those miles came and went, I was feeling pretty good, so I just kept going. Even during the pain (my stomach was hurting me through miles 9-15) I kept telling myself, this is what you’ve trained for, this is the last “long” run, if you want you don’t have to run anymore after this! Just finish! The amazing spectators and the views during the race also helped distract me.

Tell us about what happened mid-race – the experience that really changed things for you.

One moment I will probably never forget is around mile 10. My stomach was hurting a lot because I hadn’t eaten much and I came across this guy who was limping. I turned around and asked if he was okay. He said he had twisted his ankle pretty badly and was waiting for the medics to get him. I offered him some muscle cream that I had in my pack, although it probably wouldn’t help with the pain, I figured it would be better than nothing. After he thanked me I told him, “If it makes you feel any better I feel like I’m going to throw up any minute.” He turned to me and said, “What will make me feel better is if you finish!” Although my stomach continued to hurt the next 5 miles, I kept pushing on and eventually finished. I realized after that moment though, that I was lucky. Sure, it would have been nice to race when I was 100% healthy, but it could have been much worse. I could have been injured like he was, or the other people I saw at the medic tent around the half way point. I was extremely lucky to be running this race, and after I hit mile 15, my stomach felt better, and I knew I was going to finish. My only regret during that time was not getting his name, it would have been nice to thank him for those words and see if he was okay afterward.

How did it feel when you crossed the finish line?

I was in pain when I crossed the line. But, I also felt amazing. I finished under my goal, just under 6:20. Although it hadn’t been the race I had been planning for, I pushed through the obstacles and finished a stronger person than when I started.

What did you learn about yourself through this experience?

That I’m slow, haha. But I also learned that I that I can endure a lot, and actually wake up early on a Saturday morning. I ran every single long run without music. Hours and hours of just my thoughts to keep me company. I don’t remember everything, but I know I made a few minor and major decisions in my life on those runs. Many of those I wouldn’t have even thought about in the first place.

Will you run another?

I told my husband to never let me sign up for one of these again! This was about five minutes after I crossed the finish line. After recovering though, I knew I could do better, especially once I reached my healthy weight. So I think I may do another one, but not until 2012. As they say, you have to forget the pain during the last marathon before you run another. The pain of the first one is still in my head when I think about it.

What advice would you give another first time marathoner?

Don’t worry if you miss any runs during the week! I actually skipped a few weekday runs because I knew I needed the rest. It’s the long runs you can’t really miss. Just make sure you do those, and you’ll be fine! Bring a variety of gels/bars (ones that you have eaten during training runs) on race day. I had only run on energy bars during my training runs, but I could not stomach them on race day. So, I ended up eating the gels they handed on the course instead. Have fun! Take in the views and the spectators. Also, if you notice you’ve been running with the same group of people for awhile, talk to them! Even if it’s just for a few seconds, it’ll make the experience that much better! I probably talked twenty or so random people, and we gave each other a little bit more energy to keep going.

Melinda Hinson