Hello! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mary Johnson. I graduated from Fairfield in 2009 and rowed all 4 years of school. It certainly wasn’t easy being an athlete the entire time I was in college, but now that I’ve been out for almost 7 years, I’ve never once looked back and regretted my decision to remain on the team. Being on a team gave me patience, perseverance, taught me leadership, and introduced me to some of my best friends. Being a rower gave me a high pain tolerance, contributed to a 4-year sleep deficit, introduced me to the biggest hand calluses I’ve ever seen, and made my jean collection grow twofold because my quads never stopped getting bigger.

So nowadays? I run. A lot. I train for running like I used to train for rowing in college…but sometimes I train more. I run half marathons at a 6:35 pace and marathons around a 7:00 pace. For all you non-running-enthusiasts out there, that’s 13.1 miles for a half and 26.2 for a full.

So why? People ask me that all the time. I’m not a professional runner, nor will I ever be. I’m good…but in the big world of running, I’m not THAT good. I mean…I’m sure plenty of you have had people ask you why too. Why are you doing a sport in college? Why do you wake up so early for practice? Why don’t you just focus on your grades? Why do you push yourself so hard you puke? Is a race really that important? Who are those little people that scream at you while you’re on that whooshing machine with the moving seat and why are they yelling?? Can’t you just get an internship instead?

I can’t answer your why, but it’s something I encourage you to figure out if you haven’t already. Sure, there are season goals and PRs you want to hit. But your why is different. The WHY that drives you to do this insane, painful, hard, ridiculous, beautiful, soothing, gratifying sport day in and day out.

So I’ll let you in on my little secret behind my why.

The reason why I’m 7 years out of school and still answering that why…even though I don’t make money doing it…I constantly deal with injuries…I’ve almost snapped my femur bone, spent hundreds of dollars on new running shoes, see a chiropractor on the reg, have a torn labrum in my left hip from all the pounding, and have plenty of people telling me, “no…you can’t…”

…is because I know that those people are wrong. I know I can, and I want to prove it–not only to the people telling me no–but to myself.

So my why is very simple. I like to sum it up in 5 little words that I repeat to myself all the time during workouts: I can, and I will.

I ran my first Boston Marathon in April, 2014. The run was special for a lot of reasons, primarily being that it was the year after the bombings. The fact that I was about to be a part of this important part of history was exciting enough…but I also was in the best shape I had ever been in, and I knew I was going to completely demolish my old PR, which was just under a 3:23.

You see…months before, in January–before training even got under way–I told my running coach that I wanted to run a sub-3:10 marathon, which is around a 7:15 pace. He flat out told me no…I wouldn’t be able to improve enough to run sub-3:10. “It’s not gonna happen,” he said.

The night he told me that, I got sad. Like really sad. And mad. I blew off my workout and drank wine instead. But then I woke up with a headache and a new attitude. The madness turned into determination. Because frankly, I was pissed off he told me no, and I knew that I could. My WHY was burning inside. I can and I will. I refused to take no for an answer.

So I made it my personal mission to run my goal of sub-3:10. I never brought it up to my coach again until the night before the race.

The training was intense and the winter was terrible. But I put my head down and put in the work. If I had to wake up at 4AM to get a run in, I did. If I didn’t get home until 9 or 10PM because I had to get to the indoor track for a speed workout after work, I did. If I had to go to gym 1 to get a lifting session in…and then gym 2 to get an hour of crosstraining in…I did.

The night before the marathon, my coach asked me what he thought I’d run it in. He’s got this uncanny ability to guess my race times within 60 seconds almost every single time….so this holy “projection number” is pretty important to me.

Now remember…we haven’t talked about this 3:10 thing since January. I was almost afraid to say it out loud. So when he asked me what I thought I could run the race in, I kinda backpedaled a bit…didn’t really answer his question. But then I said, “honestly? I really think I can go under 3:10. At least a 3:09.”

And just like that. My goal was spoken again. And his response? “OK. So you’ll run a 3:09:30.”

To this day, I honestly don’t know if he thought I was going to do it or not. The only time he adds 30 seconds to the tail-end of a projected time is when he thinks it’ll be reaaaaally really close. And with the sun/heat that was projected for this year’s race, he knew it’d be close.

But, at the time, I honestly didn’t care. Because I knew I could. I can and I will.

So I did.

I crossed that finish line in 3:08:34. I ran the second half of the marathon 4 minutes faster than the first half. My splits got stronger and stronger with every mile because I knew that I would. I had the confidence to prove my why.

Another 14 minute PR in just 1 year. Almost half an hour of my marathon time shaved off in 2 years.

Stuff like that isn’t supposed to happen. The more experienced and efficient you get in a physical activity, the less you improve. It’s just science. Yet…I did it. And I’m trying again this year at Boston. –not for another 14 minute PR…that’d be crazy. But another goal that I know, deep down inside, that I’m 100% capable of if the stars align, my body behaves, and I have another magical day.

So figure out your why and use it. Let it motivate you to be better and don’t take no for an answer. Commit to something, and let passion be your driving force. Be brave. Fight for what you believe in and whatever you do, do NOT let doubt creep in. If your heart is telling you something…go with it, and let it control your entire mindset. Because if you really and truly believe you can, you will.