How a Marathon Became a Movement

  • By Erin Leigh Patterson (as told to Rachel Hofstetter)
  • March 22, 2014

Erin Leigh Patterson

“Marathon” and “easy” don’t often show up in the same sentence, but on that snowy night in December 2012, the words rolled off my tongue as if they were made to be together. And in a way, they were: Friends and I were lingering over the last glasses of wine at a birthday dinner, and someone suggested we each pick a “Word of the Year” for 2013. 

“Oh, that’s easy,” I said, without skipping a beat. “Marathon.” My friend Rachel scrawled it down, and the conversation continued around the table. But my word, etched now for all of history (or at least until the notecard ended up in recycling) was about to work its magic in ways I’d never dreamed of — affecting my life in ways both bigger and more meaningful than I could ever imagine. 

On the surface that night, “marathon” meant running. I had recently signed up for the Georgia Marathon in March 2013, and I knew in just a few short days I’d be in official training mode — 20-mile long runs and 40+ mile weeks. (In the freezing snow, of course.) 

Below the surface, it meant a lot more. Running a marathon was a big, crazy goal — especially for a non-runner like me. But now that I’d been out of college for more years than I’d been in college, I felt ready for big change, and a big challenge was just the thing to make change happen. I’d developed this theory that life is more analogous to a marathon than a sprint: It’s the non-flashy things we do every day that add up to those big-bang moments. We just need to keep moving forward. I might be taking little steps, but forward motion would get me somewhere.

I know it sounds a little silly. But I thought if I could train and run a marathon — if I could keep moving forward day after day — it’d be a reminder across my whole life. For example, at work: I might not be making career-changing moves every day, but I could keep heading in the right direction, step by step. 

Late in the fall of 2012, I picked a marathon — March 17th, Atlanta — and signed up. I convinced a friend to do it with me. I started thinking about how I could make the experience about more than just myself and hit upon the idea of sponsoring girls to attend school for a year (my roommate runs a nonprofit I deeply believe in called She’s the First). We wanted something big, aggressive and measurable, so it became: 26 miles, 26 girls. 

And so I set “marathon” as my word of the year — even though, in my mind, it was really a first quarter thing. I’d be done and move on to other things, having learned some big lessons in discipline and fortitude. Ha! Here’s what really happened. 

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