Awhile ago, the idea of running a marathon absolutely and utterly sickened me. Why would anyone willingly run 26.2 miles for fun?! Growing up, the only real running I ever did was in junior high before I “got smart” and realized long/triple jumpers only had to sprint 30 steps before their event was over.  I was also made fun of often because my bowlegged knees made my running form an easy target for humiliation, making running not a friend of mine. When I was forced to participate in track events longer than an 800-meter dash, I would mysteriously injure myself jumping before the event. This was fairly easy to fake considering my extensive past of ankle sprains due to my ankles being about as strong as small twigs. It took 3 years of little to no motivation to exercise, multiple anxiety attacks, and a handsome boy I wanted to impress before I ever considered signing up for a race.

Being in pharmacy school I had become use to the mundane routine of eat, study, sleep, repeat. My wildfire passion for pushing by body to its limits had become a small side-table candle that couldn’t even produce enough light to be used for reading. I no longer had a sport, weightlifting coach, or competition fueling my need to be the best version of myself. I found myself going through the motions in life instead of really living. It was also at this time in my life I started to develop severe anxiety. Going to college 8 hours away from home, I had virtually no support system to help me through the omnipresent stress of school, the societal pressure to drink in order to be perceived as “popular,” and the helplessness I felt after my father suffered a stroke. I started having panic attacks almost every day for four consecutive months during my sophomore year in college. I had always prided myself in being mentally tough and strong enough to overcome anything. Without that identity, I began to fall apart. I knew I had to do something, but I was so terrified with what was happening to me I couldn’t think about a solution. I could only think about my problems. It took me quitting almost every organization I was a part of, taking a leave of absence from work and getting conditionally unaccepted into the pharmacy program before I found my saving grace, running.

My boyfriend at the time, now fiancée, decided to sign up for the IMT Des Moines Marathon. William had been a state champion cross-country runner and collegiate runner for Drake University. He insisted that I sign up for the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon, mentioning how it could help my anxiety and how running, “is fun!” All I wanted to do was give him the biggest eye-roll and tell him that only people who are good at running considered running to be “fun.” However, since his love and support was a significant part in helping me overcome my anxiety, I decided to sign up. At the time I still didn’t think I could ever run a half-marathon. I thought that I was simply too weak to accomplish something of that caliber. I had no previous long-distance running experience, I hated running, and I had no idea how to train for a half-marathon. Naturally, I turned to the all-knowing Internet and found a 3-month training program. I started with running one mile and eventually worked my way up to 10 miles before the race.

During the first month of my training, I struggled. I struggled hard. I didn’t perceive running to be fun or even tolerable. But by the time October came around, running had become a form of meditation, a stress release for when I felt overwhelmed. Whenever I felt a panic attack welling-up inside of me, I laced up my shoes and went for a run. Running allowed me to clear my head and approach my stressors with a fresh perspective. It whisked me away from my day-to-day tasks and allowed me to fantasize about my biggest dreams and contemplate ways on how to make those dreams a reality. It was while I was running that I figured out my purpose in life. It’s amazing what the human mind can accomplish when the BS of life doesn’t interfere with it. My anxiety started to fade and my competitive nature came out of hibernation.

I had never been so nervous in my life than on the day of the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon race. The heart was like the broken metronome; drumming irregular beats and exponentially pounding faster. As the crowd began shouting the countdown to the start of the race, I let the sound of other people’s feet hitting the pavement fill my mind and a rush of calm came over my body. Within the first mile of running the IMT half-marathon…I was hooked. I don’t know if it was the roar of the crowd cheering me on every step of the way or if it was the countless talented performers entertaining me along the race route or if it was the pure joy I felt after crossing the finish line, but running the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon just felt right. It was like the first bite of homemade chocolate cake. I felt warm and fuzzy inside and it left me wanting more. I was on top of the world and within weeks I had signed up for the IMT Des Moines Marathon for the following year.

Before I go on, I want to clarify that I had no goals while training for the half-marathon other than to finish. I wasn’t concerned with time and I didn’t even care if I enjoyed the race because I didn’t think I was going to ever run another race again. However, running became a part of my identity while training and I ended up adoring every minute of the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon. I tell you this because I don’t want you to think my story is unordinary. I want you to understand that if you put your mind to something you can achieve it, no matter how taunting it may seem. Completing a half-marathon was the first time in my life that I had pushed myself to do something I never thought I could do. As I approached the finish line, I felt invincible. During that magnificent event, I realized the only thing holding me back from achieving more was the negative inner thoughts running through my head.

A year later I was once again training, but this time it was for the full marathon. I had completely lost all of my endurance after a brutal winter indoors and a hip injury that prevented running from December through the end of June. My training began again by running one mile and progressively working my way up from there. I knew it would be challenging physically and mentally, but I knew that if I didn’t shake up my daily routine I would fall back into an ordinary routine. I’ve always loathed the idea of being ordinary. The IMT Des Moines Marathon and Half Marathon gave me an opportunity to be extraordinary and for that I am eternally grateful to the IMT Des Moines race weekend. I only hope to inspire others to try and achieve something they never thought they could do. Whether that event is a 5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon, or something else, I beg you to try.

Until Next Time,

Tessa Heitkamp

Instagram: @apothecarymindset

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