I’m going to be completely honest: I’ve always slightly judged people who ran marathons. I viewed them as “overachievers” and thought: Why on earth would you do that? Why would you put that many hours toward something that’s so brutal and lasts a total of four-five hours?
But my opinion has drastically changed, and it’s because of 40 special women.
As the Editor-in-Chief of Darling, I had the unique privilege of being a storyteller for a project called the Nike Women Marathon Project—following the journeys of 40 women, most of which had never ran a marathon, as they trained for 15 weeks for the Chicago Marathon. We did in-depth interviews and shot editorial portraits of the women (non-retouched, Darling style) at the mid-point of their training, ultimately resulting in a special edition print magazine (scroll to bottom for your COMPLIMENTARY download) and four videos documenting this journey.
On the first day, I grabbed my voice recorder and headed to set in Topanga Canyon for our interviews and photography of the first group of women. I was quickly impacted by the depth of their psychological experience around training, and found myself completely engrossed in their stories. I repeated this process for eight days, each shoot and interview day taking place in a different area of Los Angeles that the women lived in—Mid-City, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Silverlake…
One day after a long day of interviews, I was exhausted, yet felt so antsy. Listening to them tell stories of running over 10 miles that morning before coming to set, I just had to MOVE MY BODY. I went home, put on my running shoes and went running for a meager 15 mins. Yes, I know that’s not long, but here’s the thing. I ran track in college and was in great shape, and since then I’ve had a baby and somehow developed a psychological aversion to exercise—often feeling overwhelmed by the process, yet guilty at the same time over my lack of motivation. But some of their quotes from our time together started to completely shifted my paradigm:
“You never should put yourself in a box of what you love or hate. You could find a whole new pursuit for yourself if you don’t.”
“Then I thought, ‘What if one day I just told myself, ‘I am and I can’ and get it done that way?’”
“I’m really proud. I don’t think I’ve ever actually said that I was proud of myself so that’s a big accomplishment, to use the word proud.”
“I was running under trees and I was just thinking, ‘One year ago today, or one year ago last September, I was in the hospital for an eating disorder, and now I’m running a marathon.’ It was insane.”
“’Just Do It’ is removing any of the fear or boundaries that you put on yourself and doing what you are capable of.”
“Instead of shaming my body, I was exulting it. It’s extremely difficult to create a negative headspace when you feel physically strong, capable and in control.”
Their words rang in my head. I’ve always loved Nike and their tagline is one of my favorite brand slogans of all time, but never before had I encountered my own fears of success, the idea of following the “Just Do It” principle of just doing the things I know I need to do in life, with no excuses, because in all honestly, what are those excuses anyway?
There was something about listening to their raw, real stories of struggle—of crying at the top of a 4,000 ft. elevation climb run; of pacing with a friend and feeling like their strength was dependent on one another not giving up. I was reminded of so many things, but mainly the truth of how we all struggle, we just each have a unique battle. But, when facing hardships in community, we can carry one another to push through and accomplish incredible, unbelievable things.
A few weeks after our interviews, we traveled with the team to Chicago. We woke up at 6:00 a.m. and met in the lobby for the start of the race. The energy was pulsing from the streets as the thousands of runners—of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, gathered and moved as a mass of humanity. During the race, we ran through the streets, taking photos and cheering them on. At the end, we met at the hotel for photos to capture their emotions and get final words. The women were crying, shaking, in pain, full of joy and all over the map emotionally.
To witness that as a bystander made me realized the beauty of a marathon: It’s not just a physical experience; it’s a metaphor for the “races” we all have the privilege of running in life. As one woman said,