1. That there is nothing — nothing — more satisfying than running to an endpoint where there is food (except, you know maybe finally and gloriously running to your medal). But when you’re training, running toward food is enough to get you out of bed and into your sneakers.
2. That there is a look people will give you when you tell them what you’re training for and it’s equal parts “Oh, jeez, you’re one of THOSE people;” “Well, now I feel lazy;” “I’ve always kind of wanted to try one myself;” and “LOL U CRAY!”
3. Where every. single. public. bathroom. in. town. is. And which ones are actually okay for you to even unbutton your pants in without feeling like you already contracted a disease.
4. Exactly how many times it takes you to listen to a song before you never, ever want to hear it ever, ever again.
5. That resenting and envying a very fictional Forrest Gump for being able to just up and deciding one day that he wanted to run across the country multiple times without any training is a #real experience.
6. That sometimes, your legs just take over — no matter how tired they are or how many miles you’ve put on them that week — and it feels like you actually could just go on forever, and maybe run across the country, too.
7. How to justify wearing spandex with absolutely everything for any occasion at any time.
8. That if you sit down on the couch after a long run, there is absolutely no moving you for the rest of the day. It doesn’t matter how productive people think running 12 miles in one go is, it will be you and Netflix for the rest of the foreseeable ever.
9. That even the crappiest runs teach you something, and you’ll wind up even more prepared than you would have had you not been thrown into one of the worst runs of your life.
10. How frustratingly heartbreaking something as simple as an overuse injury can be.
11. That despite the anger and resentment you’ll feel toward your body for breaking down at just the wrong moment, you’ll still have hope that you can rehab, train smarter and better, and still run next year.
12. That running is infinitely more than something to do in order to lose weight. A lot of people enter marathons with the hopes of dropping pounds, and some do, but that much running also means your appetite is going to increase that much more. But running is good for you whether or not you lose weight. That is not always the endgame.
13. Even the runners who lace up every morning with zero finish line in sight deserve your respect. In your most miserable moments of “Oh God, I don’t wanna do this today,” you will cherish every last head nod as you pass each other.
14. The quiet stillness when the obligation of training for something is over. You might be the kind of person who runs race after race, or you might be a one-and-done kind of person. Whatever you are, even if you have a day after your race when you can just breathe and realize you did that and now you can run because you want to, not because you need to, the run that day will be gloriously unburdened and wonderful and light.
15. How to grow comfortable with spending time by yourself and your own thoughts. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with yourself, you might as well get used to it.
16. That the friends who will run with you — even just part of the way — are godsends and should be praised accordingly.
17. That your legs and your heart and your mind can accomplish a lot more than you ever considered possible.
18. How to plan, and prepare, and stare Crazy-with-a-capital-C dead in the face and say, “I will conquer you.” And then, how to do it.
19. And then, how to apply such principles to the rest of your life. You know what they say about life and how it’s not a sprint, after all.
20. No, but really, how awesome food is in all forms always and forever amen.
21. Especially carbs.
22. How your neighborhood looks in those quiet moments in the early morning or late at night; how the park takes on new shadows and new lights; how to weave through new paths and roads and trails so that you never quite see the same route twice; and how, even though cars honk and you pass other runners and dogs bark and you will be joining thousands of other people come race day — for now, you still have the road to yourself.
23. That a marathon is more than 26.2 miles — it is the hundreds of miles you log in the months beforehand. The last few miles are just the victory lap.
24. Exactly how expensive a sport that should theoretically only cost a pair of shoes and time with the road outside your front door can very quickly become.
25. But even with all the new pairs of shoes, all the wicking clothes, all the GPS watches, all the gels and beans and chews, all of the ice baths and massages and pedicures and race fees and the cost of travel, every last cent is worth the experience of working toward something that few other people will ever experience.