A Story of Courage, Commitment, and 26.2 Miles

This is Sonya Harrington, and she is a marathoner. Sonya (1)

Of course, that wasn’t always the case for Sonya. Just 7 short months ago, she showed up at a Fall Marathon Informational Meeting at Fleet Feet Sports in Schererville, Indiana to gather details on what it would take to complete 18 weeks of training to prepare to run the Chicago Marathon.

Many “would be” first time marathoners come to these meetings, but after seeing the intense amount of training that is required to successfully complete a marathon…never come back – only Sonya did come back, and that is where her journey began.

When most people think of marathoners, they picture people that have been running since elementary school who just love the sport. Those olympic specimens with “runner’s genes”. If you have never run a marathon and think it is impossible for a “normal” person to do, I invite you to read on and if you do, it just might change your mind.

Justin: Tell me a little about your running history.

Sonya: I ran Cross-Country in middle school, 1600 meter track during my freshman year of high school, two 5ks in 2015, one I ran and one I walked.

This was my initial introduction to Sonya, and admittedly I was concerned. We typically ask “would be” marathon program participants to be at a fitness level that allows them to run at least 6 miles without stopping prior to beginning our program, Sonya had never ran more than 3. We talked to Sonya about this, expressing our concerns but she was undeterred.

Justin: Did you question yourself during the training? If so, when and why?

Sonya: Oh my goodness, I couldn’t even finish the 3 mile “fun run” before our training officially started. I was panicking, and I was encouraged not to run the marathon, so I decided to see if there was some way I could get out of it, but soon found that it would be an impossible task.

After that run I was feeling really discouraged and I cried the whole way home. The next day I decided I needed to run every day to get myself close enough that I could complete the scheduled runs with the team. For the first two Saturday’s of our training I didn’t finish our Saturday long runs, but by the third week I had caught up.

Honestly, I questioned myself almost every week. Why was I doing this, could I fight through the pain, how can I get these runs in by myself? I had to put the doubt aside, and just do it.

A few weeks into training, I got hurt and the doctor wanted me to take a week off and I didn’t think I was going to be able to get back to the point of training where I had left off, but then, my coach (you) told me that taking a week off was okay at that point in the training, and not to worry. I came back a week and a half later, and ran my first ever 10 mile race, which was the Fort 2 Base race at Fort Sheridan.

This is when I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Sonya had what it took in order to get this done. 21191943_10100563091618681_8825966222907392887_nTypically when new runners undertake such a grueling endeavor, their first injury is enough to make them back out, whether by choice or by a doctor’s order .Sonya didn’t back out, she became even more determined to recover and come back better than ever. She did just that.

18 weeks is a very long time when you are logging endless miles during the early morning hours, in the evening after work, through hot and humid conditions, downpours, fatigue, and nagging injuries. Most people think that  running the actual marathon is the hard part, but that isn’t true. The hardest part of running a marathon is juggling everyday life, while getting in 35 – 50 miles per week on the road and track for 18 consecutive weeks.

Justin: What got you through the low points of training?

Sonya: My mentor, Peggy, and my running buddy, Andrea, helped me get through those grueling runs every Wednesday and Saturday.
They had pointers, tips, and great stories to share that helped me get through the long runs. Making great friends is a huge benefit to running!

Sonya (3)
Sonya and her mentor, Peggy

Justin: So you did it! Now, what advice would you give to someone who thinks that they could never complete a marathon?

Sonya: I think anyone can complete a marathon if they really want to. It takes a lot of determination, guts, and heart to put into the training.

Sonya is 100% correct in her answer. Anyone who has the determination, proper guidance, and willpower can complete a marathon. If you have ever thought about what it would be like to challenge yourself with the ultimate achievement of running 26.2 miles but let doubt talk you out of it, it’s time to reconsider. Sonya (5)Less than 1% of the population has ever completed a marathon, yet more than 40,000 runners toed the starting line on October 8th in Chicago to look fear in the eye and conquer it.

Justin: How has this experience changed you?

Sonya: I have learned to enjoy running again. I’ve already signed up for 3 half-marathons for 2018. I have learned that I can accomplish anything that I set my mind to. This was the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced. Many people doubted me, and it felt so great to prove them wrong.

7 months ago, Sonya had never ran more than 3 miles and today…she is a marathoner. That’s a pretty special feat and an accomplishment that no one can ever take away from her. Sonya looked fear in the eye and she conquered it. What’s stopping you?

Sonya (6)

Believe it and achieve it!

Author: Justin Skains

Hard-working husband, father, coach, and amateur ultra-marathoner who prides himself on results day-in and day-out...and oh yes, I love to write!

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