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EVERY MARATHON IN LIFE BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP | By my son, Nicholas Johnson

Updated: Jul 10



Yesterday* I ran my first ever marathon which I impulsively signed up for two months ago.


Afterward I told my mom that when I registered for the Blue Nose Marathon, I signed up because I knew that for most of my life I’ve been much stronger than my mind had led me to believe and I wanted a tangible challenge to prove to myself that I have grit. 


We have had some difficult times as a family, and together we’ve endured some hard things (for more about that you can read my mom's blogs, FINDING MY GREAT BIG LOVE), but running a marathon is by far the hardest thing that I have ever done intentionally, and I had to push my discipline further than I ever have before. I told her that there are many things I’ve learned from this experience that will bring me forward in life and she suggested that I write them down while everything is still fresh in my mind. So I did.


When I think about all that has happened since registering for this race, long before the peak of adversity hit me — all the kilometres I’ve run, all the pain, lessons, joy, and frustration I have experienced — I find memories of all the life lessons I’ve learned from running a marathon.


 

GETTING TO THE STARTING LINE IS A STATE OF MIND


One thing I've learned is that running a marathon is physically gruelling, but training for it is mentally much tougher. 


When you're there on race day all the training is behind you, you know you can push yourself, and there are fields of people that feed you energy, and teams of people to support you if anything goes wrong. The tough part is training alone, running in a flash blizzard on country roads in northern Ontario with nothing but a dying phone and a couple of Rice Krispies on your person. Even tougher than that is putting yourself in that situation by getting up off the couch and forcing yourself out the door, and not letting yourself back in until the job is done. 



Toward the end of my training I'd have to repeat to myself during my runs, "the job's not finished". I've never found any joy in doing half a job, nothing hurts your discipline more than giving up when things get hard, so that's when I'd double down. 


Doubling down is what brought me the most satisfaction in all of this, I wanted it to be hard, and I wanted to have to push myself, so when the time came that is what I did. 


When I wanted to quit, I didn’t. When I wanted to sleep and I needed to train, I trained. When I wasn’t hungry and I needed to eat, I ate. I formulated a vision and made a plan to execute it. I took action, and when I needed advice I reached out to Samantha (an experienced marathon runner and my girlfriend’s mother) and I tweaked my plan. When I wanted to give up, I didn’t. I pushed through my doubts, I kept my vision, and ultimately I executed it. 


That is what discipline is, and I cannot be happier with the result or more grateful to all the people who helped push me across the finish line.


 

0-10K | WHEN FEELING OVERWHELMED, STAY PRESENT


Just five kilometres into the race the finish line seemed like a very long way off.  By this point I thought I was going to throw up. In that moment it was hard to picture myself 37 kilometres from there and imagine that I would still be in good form, but I was not going to throw away all the work my past self had done in preparation for this moment. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I knew one way or another there would be some barrier, or many, that I would need to power through. I didn’t feel amazing like I had in some of my training runs, but I kept pushing myself, and that is the essence of running — to keep moving and remain focused on your goal. 


The finish line was dauntingly far away though, so I told myself to focus on the kilometre I was in at that exact moment, and only that kilometre. 


With this in mind I made it through Dartmouth, dekeing around the 10K runners in my way, and crossed the MacDonald bridge back into Halifax, grateful that at least that part of the journey was done.


 

10-25K: YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE MEANT TO BE


The next 15K was the most comfortable part of the journey. My stomach eased up and I felt good and all I had to do was put my head down and keep running. 


As I headed south I encountered a sign — literally and metaphorically. As I was running towards Halifax Harbour I ran down Hennessy Street, a street I have been searching for since I came to Halifax in the fall of 2022 when I started studying at Dalhousie University. In the summer of 2019 my mom took my siblings and I on a road trip from Guelph to Halifax. We were touring university campuses along the way and we were all pretty burnt out by the time we got to Dalhousie so ironically the school I go to now is probably the one I remember the least from that trip. But I do remember the Airbnb we stayed in around the corner from Hennessy Street, and I have been trying to find this neighbourhood since I got here but I wanted to stumble upon it so I didn’t ask my mom the street name or actively search it out. 


As I ran down Hennessy Street this coincidence felt like a sign from the universe that I was right where I was meant to be.



 

25-30K: SOMETIMES ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS STAY THE COURSE


I kept pushing on down the coastline around Halifax Harbour and made my way to Point Pleasant Park, which was not so pleasant. I was hitting the 25K mark and it was busy, and hilly, with twisty gravel roads. As I entered the park’s woodland a 40-year old dude passed me and I made it my goal in that instant to stay just behind him. I knew that he was feeling stronger than I was at that moment and I figured that if I could make it out of the woods just behind him then I was on good form. 


By this point my body was definitely feeling its own exertion and I had to call on my mental fortitude to keep moving. And believe me when I say it showed up.


Although running through the park's woodland was gruelling, I knew that all I needed at this point was some grit. I made it out of the woods still drafting behind that dude (who actually ended up qualifying for Boston), and although I was tired I felt amazing because I was now at the 30K mark, well over half way. 


Running a marathon is not the path of least resistance, it is the exact opposite of that, and I felt a wave of energy sweep over me as I realized my own strength and how hard I could push myself and not give up. 


 

30-40K: WHEN THINGS GET REALLY HARD, TAKE LIFE ONE STEP AT A TIME


Although mentally I was feeling sharp, I had been warned by all the marathon runners I had spoken to leading up to the race that past the 30K mark is where the race really begins. This is where things get very difficult physically because the limitations of your body start to take its toll and there is still such a long way left to run. 


Running over 32 kilometres was unknown terrain for me. It's rare to run a full marathon distance during training because running over 30K can take a long time to recover from physically and can actually hinder your training. I was feeling the pain, but I knew it was time to really double down. 


I made my way back through the city’s north end, came around the bend, and drafted behind another strong runner along the coast where the wind was picking up. 


After 40 kilometres I was demanding my body to take every single excruciating step, but my excitement eclipsed my exhaustion because I knew I was getting close to the end.


 

40-42K: WHEN THERE IS ONE LAST HILL TO CLIMB, CONQUER IT


After 40 kilometers I took comfort knowing that the race was almost over, but as I entered the last 2K I was confronted with a massive hill. Not cool marathon planners, not cool at all.


It would've been more daunting, but luckily I had trained for hills at my mom’s house in the Almaguin Highlands when I was home in Ontario the month before so I was well-equipped for this mission. It was still definitely a challenge though and I fought my way up that hill, but knowing that I was almost at the end helped me push through. 


As I brought the race home I was elated because I realized that I had done what I always knew I could do. It’s easy to bring one step to life at a time rather than focusing on the whole picture, and sometimes just simply moving forward is the only way to get through a new challenge thrown in your path. 


When I saw the finish line my face lit up. As I came around the bend to the final stretch I saw Sydney, my awesome, beautiful girlfriend in her big sweater cheering me on, so I ran over to her and kissed her. My housemate Noah was there too so I gave him a high five before crossing the finish line.



 

AFTERWARDS: RUNNING THE RACE IS THE CELEBRATION, SO REMEMBER TO SMILE


As I reflect on the last 24 hours, I realize now that some of life’s most important lessons can be learned by running a marathon. It is human nature to give up far before we reach our limits. Our minds seem to be much better at making excuses and thinking of problems that may arise than actually just going out and doing something.


And even after we’ve put in the work to prepare, we question ourselves. Even after we have earned our spot at the starting line, we doubt whether or not we can do it a quarter of the way in. I know I did, but a determined mindset and perseverance does pay off. 


To prepare for the race Samantha’s running buddy, Jordan (whom I have never met) gifted me a Garmin watch that I used to time my run and keep track of my pace. Along with the watch he gave me a card that contained some tips, but what stuck out to me most was a message about marathons in general. This is what it said: The race is the celebration. The marathon is the reward of all of the training and work that is put in leading up to it, so remember to smile. 


 

GRIT & GRATITUDE: TWO KEY INGREDIENTS TO A HAPPY LIFE


I smiled during many moments of the race, not just because those moments were the culmination of all the hard work I had put in preparing for it, or the runners high, but because of the privilege I have to be able to run a marathon. 


One of the most special things about a marathon is the energy of the city and the support from random strangers cheering you on as you run. One moment that stands out was catching a glimpse of a man in a wheelchair cheering me on from the sidelines as I ran past him. There were many moments when my body was in so much pain that running a marathon didn’t seem like a privilege, but seeing him reminded me how lucky I was to be there, for so many reasons. 


At this exact moment I feel so lucky and grateful for everything I can do, and everything life has given me. I feel overwhelming gratitude for the supporters from all over the country who rooted for me, to have my health, to have the food I need to support this dream, to have running shoes, to have a home I could retreat to afterward to recover. I don’t take any of these things for granted.


I ran the Blue Nose Marathon to challenge the stories I tell myself and to connect with the strength that I knew was within me. But inner strength doesn't just have to come out in hard times, you can use it to have fun too.


Doubt is natural, it happens to everyone, but I learned that every step of the way I had a choice to make — I could believe what my mind was telling me, or choose to challenge it — this was where my control over the outcome came in. 


So if your really not sure if you can do something, just start by moving, push through life by taking it one step at a time so that when you do look back on what you’ve accomplished, you’ll know that the doubt ahead of you is going to be as dead as the doubt you left in the tracks behind you. 


 

Nick Johnson is my son and a student at Dalhousie University. He ran the 2024 Blue Nose Marathon in 3 hours, 12 minutes and 54 seconds, finishing first in his division (19 and under) and 13th out of 322 runners. I just looked at the results and if he hadn’t stopped to kiss his girlfriend and high five his roommate before crossing the finish line he probably would have come in 11th (lol)! I am a proud mama, not just because of his results (which are definitely impressive), or how worldly wise he is, but mostly because he set himself a goal and accomplished it using determination, wisdom, humility, and plenty of good ol’ fashioned grit. ~ Sara Moore


*This blog was written on May 20, 2024


 

FINDING MY GREAT BIG LOVE: A three part blog series about navigating grief


"It is not uncommon for my glamping guests to tell me that I am living their dream. This is interesting to me on many levels, mostly because my snobby, city slicker, younger self would have been absolutely mortified if she had glimpsed future me. It is also interesting because the road that led me here was not a straight one, my trajectory is mostly due to detours caused by heartbreak and necessity (...) But every time I have to pivot and rebuild my life on my own I feel more like myself and more sure of what I want out of my one precious life. After two decades, and three houses, I know that I am finally on the crooked path to wholeness, but ironically it is because of all of the difficult detours along my way. Because there’s one thing I know for sure: If you lean into the pain, grief and growth are inextricably linked." ~ Sara Moore


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