Running My First Marathon Taught Me About The Power of Community

UPDATED: June 17, 2024
PUBLISHED: February 27, 2024
Group of runners high fiving on the beach at sunset learning the importance of marathon running and community

For most of my short running career, my running experiences had been solitary. While I’d heard other runners wax poetic about run clubs, I’d never joined one myself. Not only that, but I’d run less than a dozen runs with others. On all those solo runs, I ran mostly as a way to quiet the voices in my head, to find peace of mind as I wore my body down, to build resilience

A productive practice run before the big race

The day before my marathon, I ran in the Run Barbados 5K as a final shakeout run. I ran it with Kwasi Kessie, a fellow runner who also happened to be the Adidas Runners NYC Captain of Culture and Experience. He’d taken me under his wing, and he became my unofficial coach throughout our time in Barbados. As we ran, he shared the mindset tips and running cues that had helped him in his many marathons. I’d never had a coach before, but I was beginning to see how it could be helpful. I told him the next time I was in New York, I’d join one of his running clubs to see what all the hype was about. 

Poised at the starting line to prove myself

And then, after five months of building on the road, it was time to prove myself. I stood there at 5:30 in the morning at the starting line of the Run Barbados Marathon. If it wasn’t so dark, I’d have been able to see the coast just to my right. The sun had yet to rise, and I was elbow to elbow with dozens of other runners racing the half and the full marathon. 

Before we started, I sent a tracking link from my running app to a small group of friends and family. I thought it would be a fun way for them to follow along. And then the race commenced. Mile after mile, I felt strong and capable. My training had paid off. The scenery was as stunning as I’d imagined, with the sun gently tinting the clouds and showing us the coast. Palm trees lined the road, and the most gentle rain showered down on us. It was magical. 

Relying on grit and resilience as motivators only took me so far

This marathon wouldn’t be easy, but it didn’t feel too hard either. Then the sun rose, and the route turned brutal. We were running a half-marathon loop with multiple out-and-backs built into it. At each hill, I couldn’t help but think about how I’d have to tackle it again. But I had grit and I had resilience, and I knew those qualities would take me far. 

Pyramid of Success offer

Well, my grit and resilience took me as far as they could, which turned out to be a little more than 13 miles. By then, the weather was a scorching 80 degrees, and I’d been running for more than two hours. It was time to rerun the entire loop again, and I wasn’t so sure about the whole idea of finishing the marathon. In fact, I hit the most intense wall I’d ever experienced while running. Not only was I losing confidence that I could finish, but there was a growing confidence in my inability to finish. 

The confidence boost that propelled my performance

I began to reason with myself. There was really no shame in stopping. The most important part was that I tried. The route was tougher than expected. The heat was unbearable. I’d have to repeat the whole course again. 

Then I got a text message. 

“Good luck today, you’re gonna crush it. Super proud of you.”

That text snapped me out of my funk. I could run a few more miles. I had some more energy in my body. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other. 

And then I got another text, and then another, as my friends and family began waking up. I didn’t feel like I was running this marathon alone anymore—I had a community behind me. 

“You’re doing great!! Only 11 miles left.”

Marathon running taught me the power of community

Only 11? Three hills ahead of me. I could do it, I was sure. As I reached the first of the three, I remembered my shakeout run with Kessie. He told me to pump my arms, imagining that I was elbowing the runners behind me. And so I did. I was gaining my momentum back. More importantly, I was gaining my confidence back. Maybe I could finish this marathon after all.

By the time I hit 20 miles, I had reached an important milestone. I recalled another mindset tip that Kessie had given me. Think of my marathon in three parts: 10 miles, then 10 miles, then 10 kilometers. I could do a 10K. 

And I did. When I finally reached the finish line, I felt emptied out, completely spent. I had given my everything, but it hadn’t been enough. I started running to learn to be more resilient, but I finished my marathon realizing I didn’t have to do it alone

Photo by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.com

Ionna-Brannon

Iona Brannon is a freelance journalist based in the U.S. You can read more of her work at ionabrannon.com.