Every runner hits this metaphorical place at some point in the marathon. For some, it comes as early as Mile 18. For others, as late as Mile 23. It’s a much darker and deeper place than the “mundane middle miles” of the race; miles 12-17. I refer to it as “the part of the race that nightmares are made of”; where your mind screams out loud all of your deepest doubts and insecurities about your abilities, questions your resolve to push yourself clear through to the finish, and gives you every reason and excuse to justify quitting now, promising to not even let you feel bad about it. (But you know that’s a lie!) You begin to magnify little aches, pains, illnesses, and debate exaggerating them into “injuries” or reasons why you could not continue running or racing to your goal pace or finish time. This is the point in the race where mental strength is so much more important than physical strength. If you did the training, you have the physical strength. Simple as that. It is MENTAL STRENGTH that will power you through these miserably difficult miles and on to that victorious finish you intended for and had envisioned when you signed up for and committed yourself to this journey.
Even the very best of runners struggle at this point in the race. What is it that pulls them through it? The answer to that question will be different for every runner. Amidst your training, you will need to find your own reason for continuing; your own answer to the question of “WHY?”. This is where things get personal; and YOU are the only one who can save yourself from the proverbial hell that you are running through. For me, it’s all about keeping my mind out of the “dark”. I must intentionally refuse to think about the negatives. So when my mind starts to tank, I try to look around; take in the sights, smells, and sounds of the course and the crowd around me. Read the race signs. Make eye contact with a spectator. Give a thumbs up, a smile, a wave- especially if they are one of those extra special attentive ones who are reading the runner’s bibs and calling out your name to encourage and cheer for you. They know you are hurting but they don’t want you to stop. You may be doing something that they can only dream of doing or wish that they could do; so do it for them. Do it for all of those people out there who would love to be able to run but, for reasons beyond their control, TRULY CAN’T.
In preparation for this race, perhaps you had a mantra that you called upon in your longer runs or your more difficult paced tempo runs? Now is a good time to call upon this line to give you strength. For my last marathon PR it was: “Don’t stop till you’re proud.”. To this day, that one still helps to keep me going. Another thing that helped me through was to look around at the runners beside me or take notice of them as I passed them by. Give them a smile or say something funny or encouraging, anything you can think of, to help them keep going; show them that you feel the pain too but that it is no reason to give up. Note their own struggle and realize that you are not the only one here that is hurting. Everyone in the final miles of the marathon is hurting. Everyone is struggling and trying to find their reason WHY they should continue to fight for each and every step along this road that seems to have no end.
Much like in life.
Which brings me to my own current struggle; my own proverbial “wall”. It has been a little over 3 months since my parents were killed in a motor vehicle crash. I thought I would be “ok” by now. I thought I would be “over it”, that my life would return to “normal”, and all would be fine. Instead I feel like I, myself, have crashed. It’s hard to get excited about or find the drive/desire to do much of anything. I go through the motions of life and work, but my heart just isn’t in it right now. I train with my Coach and some workouts bring out “flickers” of the old me; the me that was motivated and inspired and in love with the experience; “Chasing Boston”. But then comes the roller coaster of emotions again with the lowest of lows that I have ever known, where it is hard for me to remember the point of any of this. It’s hard to remember my own “WHY?”, and even harder at times to simply keep going.
Thankfully, I have some truly amazing friends; people who refuse to give up on me or stop believing in me, even when I struggle to find reason to believe in myself anymore. I have begun to see a counselor to help clear my mind of the emotions and details that continue to unfold surrounding my parents crash. In addition, I am about to embark on a 13 week “grief share” program with the partnering of one of my strongest friends. This person has refused to let me shut them out and drown in my own emotions over these past few months. She stood by me when I brought my parents bodies home after the crash, as well as, guided me to think clearly throughout the entire funeral planning process and beyond. I will be forever grateful to her and, therefore, could not refuse to trust her in taking this step despite it feeling a bit like signing onto an “AA” program. I have no idea what to expect and it is a little intimidating, but I am learning to “trust the process” and take each day one at a time. The loss of my parents is/was “everywhere” in my life, making it hard to move on. Giving myself these “outlets” to specifically vent my thoughts and emotions in one (or two) specific places seems to make it easier to function in the other areas of my life without feeling as if Mom and Dad (and the problems surrounding that whole situation) are bleeding into everything. I’m hoping it brings me some relief because, like in the late miles of a marathon distance race, I am tired. Everywhere I look, they are there. The ironies are endless.
The most pertinent example (to this blog) being this: I have been scoping out a specific race at which to attempt my next marathon PR. Cool fall temperatures, slightly downhill, predominantly shaded course, small field of just 400 runners, and the ability/option to submerge yourself in the cool river waters at the finish line. Just a few weeks ago, they officially released the date of the 2018 race. It just so happens to fall on the one year anniversary of my parents deaths. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. What were the chances? And what kind of impact is this going to have on my performance that day? Will I crash and burn in a blubbering mess of heartbreak and tears? Or will I find the strength to power through and use the run to burn these emotions like fuel in a fire? There really is no way to know. All I really know for sure is that going there to run my race on that particular day is the best possible thing that I can do for myself. It’s the only thing that will make me feel better. So that is what we will do. And whatever comes our way that day, we will simply find a way to get through it. As Shep always says to me: “Focus on the process and the results will come.”
So I can not promise that I will qualify for Boston that day; although it sure would be a beautiful thing. And I can not say that I will PR the marathon that day; although that will certainly be my hope. But what I can say is this: I will continue to train with Shep and heed his advice. I will give each workout and run the best I have to give on that particular day and time. And when race day comes and we travel to this course, I will lace up my shoes alongside my Coach, and I will run the race we committed our time and energy to preparing for. I will run it from start to finish with the best I have to give on that particular day when it comes. And I will not stop until I am proud.
I hope you do the same at whatever it is that you are working for. Maybe your “wall” is simply about the miles and the pain you must endure to power through them; or maybe your “wall”, like mine, is deeper than that… either way, I hope you find your “why”. I hope you never quit. I hope you find a way to push through it all because just a little further, on the other side of that “wall” is a beautiful finish line. And just imagine that moment when you can raise your eyes to the sky, thank god that you didn’t give up, and look back on your race with pride, knowing that you did your absolute best. And one day, your “best” just might be good enough for *”Boston”.
*(The term “Boston”, as used here, indicates whatever your own ultimate dream or aspiration may be.)