“If you believe in yourself and put in the work, our bodies are amazing machines capable of accomplishing things you think aren’t possible.”

Today’s success story comes from Jessica Torgerson-Lundin. Jessica is the Cataloging & Acquisitions Technician at the MSU Billings Library, and has always been very active in the MUS Wellness program. Anyone who’s ever run a marathon or similar long event will be able to relate to the emotions and physical toll Jessica describes in her story. Congrats to Jessica on setting a big goal, sticking to the game-plan, and crushing it despite adversity!

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to run a road marathon in 2017. I ran a road half-marathon in September 2016 and a trail half-marathon in April 2017.

The road half was slightly challenging, but satisfying knowing I could do it. I didn’t do much to train for it, except increase my mileage. That worked just fine. Thinking back, I wasn’t even lifting at that point and doing no speed work. The marathon distance was intriguing and it stayed on my mind for the next few months.

The trail half was in Zion and was extremely difficult. Climbing up and down those mesas is quite challenging! We had such a snowy winter that I was unable to run on trails from mid-December until about March. That was not good for training. Most of my training was on the icy roads. I had barely gotten into speed work once a week at this point and had been consistently lifting twice a week for about six months or so. I got through it though and enjoyed myself. That is when I realized I wanted to challenge myself more on the trails because it is so exhilarating, a feeling that does not ever happen (for me) on the road. But the problem was I had already been telling everyone since December that I was going to run a road marathon in 2017.

I had it narrowed down to three fall marathons: Spokane, Portland, and Seattle. In the end I chose the Seattle Marathon which was Thanksgiving weekend. I talked about it a lot over the course of the summer, but nothing about it seemed real. I had a couple of other challenging runs to do before I even wanted to think about training for the marathon such as the race in Zion mentioned earlier, The Wulfman CDT, and The Rut VK. The Rut was 12 weeks before the marathon, so my formal marathon training started right after that.

Training went really well. I stuck to the plan the entire 12 weeks. That is a huge accomplishment for me, sticking with anything for 12 weeks straight! It was a great plan written by my friend (a coach) that focused on timed runs, not mileage. I had timed, easy runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I had speedwork on Tuesdays (fartlek) and Thursdays (hills). [Fartlek is a Swedish word that translates into “Speedplay”. It is a type of less structured or unstructured interval training] I lifted Mondays and Fridays. I won’t say it was easy. It was so hard. I was so tired, so cranky, so emotional, so unsure of what I was getting myself into… I had people questioning how I was training. They would say, “Well, how long is your longest run? I am very curious to see how this will work out for you.”

My husband had to make me feel better about it several times. He would say there’s more than one way to train for a marathon and this is one of those ways. He runs a lot of trail ultra marathons and this is basically how he trains. I had minimal goals for this marathon. I wanted to finish, and I didn’t want it to be terrible. I didn’t care how fast I ran, I just wanted to run fairly consistent. I went through a lot of ups and downs the last several weeks. I would feel ready about it one day and completely terrified the next.

The marathon weekend finally came. I felt so sick the day before. I was pretty sure I had come down with something, but it was just nerves. The night before, it started raining. It rained all night and all day on race day. I was soaked before the race even started!

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Keeping a positive attitude through the rain while waiting for the start.

The wind was howling. And oh the hills!!!!! It was a super hilly course, close to 1300’ of gain instead of 300+ like the Montana Marathon. It’s really beautiful, but not easy. I enjoyed the first 15 miles, but then started to have issues eating. I was trying to take in a certain amount of calories every hour, but it was so hard. Fortunately they had aid stations every one to two miles. I had to force myself to drink Gatorade at all of the aid stations after mile 15 so I could get some kind of calories in me. I went to a really bad place at that point. I was not going to quit, but every time I saw a medical tent approaching I thought: well maybe I look so bad that they will pull me out or maybe I will hurt myself and they will pull me. I didn’t stay in that place too long, fortunately, but I think I had to go there to lift myself up. I knew I could do it. It is what I had been training for the last 12 WEEKS! After that I walked through all the aid stations and I let myself walk on all the uphills at that point. Then the running wasn’t too bad. I ended up having some slower miles, but not terribly slower. I still finished 20 minutes faster than my goal—4:39! My “A” goal was 4:25, my “B” goal was 5:00. I was so amazed with myself. Really amazed. I couldn’t believe I finished. I couldn’t believe the moment I had been waiting for the last 12 weeks was finally here.

When I got to the hotel, I was shivering so much and my lips were tinted blue. I took off my soaking wet shoes and socks and started crying because I had 3 black toenails. I got in the shower and started crying because the chafing was so bad from being soaked for all those hours. After I warmed up, I started sweating one second and then get the chills the next. Walking the next two days was so challenging because I was sore and my toes hurt. It took a good 2 weeks to start feeling normal again. I stressed my body out and it was letting me pay for it. I have never felt that way after a race! I don’t consider this to be the hardest race I have ran, but it was definitely the hardest recovery.

Now that a couple of weeks have passed, I’ve had time to look back on my experience. I’m happy I did it. It’s something a runner should experience at some point, if possible. The training was hard. Training requires so much time, and you also have to fully commit mentally and physically. It’s not just the race that is hard, it’s the road to get there. If you believe in yourself and put in the work, our bodies are amazing machines capable of accomplishing things you think aren’t possible.

Turns out the Seattle Marathon is not the best choice for a first-time marathon. Spokane would have been a much better choice… But I finished, and I suppose it would make any other marathon I run in the future seem a lot easier. Would I run another road marathon? Hmmmm…ask me again in 3-4 years. For now I think I will go back to trail running. Next up, SMUT 35k trail race in Pocatello, ID in June.

Jessica Torgerson-Lundin, MSU Billings

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Always worth it to bring home the hardware! Nice job Jessica!

2 thoughts on “Sticking with the Plan: A Marathon Success Story

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am planning to run my first ever marathon this summer in Missoula and have only run the half last year. I am taking a training class that I hope addresses most of the challenges in doing this race. Your experience definitely opens my eyes to some of the realities. I’m still a bit daunted, but continue to be hopeful. I’m even thinking I may be underestimating myself in regards to time. Thanks again, and well done!!

  2. What a great story! You might have passed me at the Rut or the Wulfman! I like running trails too, but did do a road marathon in Bozeman. I’m signed up for three major trail runs this summer, two 50’s and then the 28k at the Rut. Your story about sticking with the plan is inspirational.
    Sue (Montana Tech)

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