The Mighty Logo

How I Completed a Half Marathon One Awkward Step at a Time

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Is it adversity or just life? Cerebral palsy (CP) can really blur lines. Take cooling temperatures for example. Given my spastic CP, my muscles tighten increasingly in the fall and winter. Therefore I must make an extra effort to keep myself stretched out. Some might view this as a challenge, an example of adversity to overcome. Yet I deem the situation simply life. When you know no other way, cerebral palsy becomes your “norm.”

I am not one to feel like a champion over adversity. However, one recent event leaves me beaming with pride. On Sunday, October 9th, 2016 I completed a half marathon. 13.1 miles is a challenging task for most people. Imagine the additional challenges cerebral palsy creates.

“Athlete.” Growing up, that description certainly eluded me. My two brothers played sports, but the closest I came was an after-school basketball program in second or third grade. I took swimming lessons, too, but even those ended once the swim instructor felt I could not advance to the next level. By junior high I received a pass from actively participating in gym class. I earned my physical education credit via an alternative method.

These decisions were well-intentioned. My parents sought to preserve my physical safety, not to limit me — although, I admit back then I wasn’t so understanding. I only grew to appreciate their perspectives while writing my cerebral palsy memoir Off Balanced.

Between my cerebral palsy and lack of history with athletics, I seemed an unlikely candidate to complete a half marathon. Various physical obstacles combined together to intimidate me, taunting “You can’t do this.”

Determination, or maybe sheer stubbornness, protected me. My spirit refused to break. Instead I met the adversity head on, one step at a time.

August 19th, 2014 marked the day I started seriously training for a half marathon. I clipped on my brand new pedometer and off I went. Four-and-a-third miles later, I returned home to shower. The hot water ran down my sore body, bringing great relief. Afterwards I sprawled out on the couch and watched TV all evening. Less than a third of my goal distance rendered me completely exhausted! How could I ever complete 13.1 miles?

Soon I found my answer: consistency. I began walking twice a week, one short walk and one long. Slowly my endurance increased. Eventually the distances for my “long” walks became the “short” distances. Five, six, seven miles no longer seemed trying.

Increasing my endurance involved ups and downs, quite literally! Throughout my training I fell, multiple times. Often uneven sidewalks caused the missteps. Thankfully my  only injuries were only minor scratches or soreness. Still, I recognized the importance of improving my balance. Fewer falls meant risking injury less frequently. Again I discovered progress via consistency. In August 2015 I added reverse crunches to my daily exercise arsenal. Months passed and I gradually noticed change. Full blown falls evolved into slight stumbles. I often thought “a year ago I would’ve fallen,” but I no longer did.

One of my biggest challenges was a fairly sneaky one — self-doubt. An internal voice questioned my abilities. “Are you going to be fast enough?” “You know the Towpath course is narrow. Are you going to be able to stay out of other competitors’ ways?”

I was empowered to silence my inner critic by support received via social media during my training. Others’ encouragement put me in the right place mentally. I approached my speed concerns logically. Before registering for the half marathon, I researched last year’s results. My worries washed away when seeing I could keep pace with the slowest times. Regarding the path’s narrowness, I relied on positive feedback to summon courage. “There is only one way to find out,” I told myself.   

Man, am I glad I ignored my fears about the path! Crossing the finish line and completing the half marathon left many emotions running through me. I was exhausted and hungry, but my feelings of joy, confidence, and pride won out. Two-plus years’ worth of consistency and supportive words all led to that incredible moment.

I’m not sharing my story to brag. I hope my experiences may inspire you, and leave you ready to work consistently towards your goals. I hope to motivate you to divulge your ambitions to friends and family, and enable them to cheer you on.

Here are more details on my half marathon journey.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Originally published: November 2, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home