Thursday, November 3, 2016

I went out for a run yesterday.  That’s not earth shattering news by any stretch, but it felt different than other recent runs.  This time I went easy.  I mean really easy.  I’ve learned from experience that this was absolutely the correct thing to do.  You see, in just a little over two days I will line up on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City to traverse 26 miles, 285 yards in a competitive race for the 11th time in my life.  I’ve spent the last 16 weeks training my body to cover that distance.  Just like the previous ten times, as I reach the final approach to race day I have lingering questions.  Questions about my readiness, my physical well-being, and my mental well-being.  Each one of these elements really no more important than the other when looking at the bigger picture.  But if I were to give even a teeny, tiny, slightest of edges to one or the other, it would be the mental. 

Sure, the physical preparation is important, but if experience has taught me anything, it’s the power of our brains.  I’ve written about this concept on this blog and within the pages of my book.  Physically, almost anyone who is in reasonably good shape can cover the distance.  For me, it’s the mind that makes all the difference in the world.

So as I moved along deliberately last evening questioning all the things I typically question, I focused on the things I haven’t done which are mostly things I cannot do anything about.  In order to save myself physically I replaced two long runs with races of much shorter distances.  On my other long run I cut it short by a mile.  I’m here to tell you that there really is not much difference between a 19 mile run and a 20 mile run, but it’s eaten at me ever since that day I chose to cut it short.  I did so due to heat and humidity.  Rationally it made sense then, and as I look back on it, it makes sense now.  But try to overcome that nagging thought within days of doing a marathon.

My mind looked ahead to Sunday where the choices are limited.  Continue to put one foot in front of the other.  Or don’t.  I hate to oversimplify it, but that’s really what it boils down to.  As my mind raced in every direction last evening while the sun was setting amidst the risen moon I did what I do on most any run – I thought.  I thought about my experience in this spot.  I thought about my expectations.  I thought about my goals.  Inevitably I want to break 4 hours.  I need to run a 9:09 per mile pace in order to make that happen.  With hot and humid conditions this summer and early fall I have done that occasionally over long distances.  Other days I have not. 

I have every reason to lack confidence.  But then I came up with a reason to have confidence.  My mind.  My mind has memories that will help me.  I know that I will experience pain and suffering.  I also know that I will experience elation, some sadness, fear, and anger.  I will want to quit.  I will feel so tired that stopping and quitting will seem like the very best option.  I know I won’t stop.  Oh, I may walk but I will also overcome anything thrown at me on Sunday.  My mind is stronger than all of it.  I will allow it to carry me when I can’t carry myself.  I will not let conditions or pain stop me.  I’ll face it head on, and just like each and every time before it (not just in the marathon, but life in general), I’ll persevere.  I’ll accept what is happening and I will fight through it.  I’ll know that I’m lucky to be a participant in this crazy event, with 49,999 others and with 1 million people watching in person and countless others on television.  I’ll draw energy from that.  I’ll also look to other recesses in my mind to help me overcome and push through.

I’ll think about those who are not fortunate enough to run, let alone walk.  I’ll think about those too sick to care that I’m running but who would give anything to be where I’m at in that moment.  I’ll think about my friends and family who are truly pulling for me.  I’ll also think about the “trolls” who are secretly rooting against me to fail.  I’ll think of the jealousy that some will feel and although I won’t fully understand it, I’ll use it to motivate me.  I’ve been beating odds my entire life.  The odds are actually in my favor, but that won’t matter.  I’ll use it.  I’ll think about my fellow runners who I know are suffering right there alongside me.  Each one of them runs for a different reason.  Each one of them has a story.  I’ll draw up memories of family and friends lost and hope they are looking down on me with a smile, and perhaps give me a little nudge when I need it most.  I’ll know they would switch places with me in a heartbeat and not waste the opportunity I have been given.  I’ll pray for them and I’ll pray for that nudge.  I’ll think about the homeless and those less fortunate. I’ll know that despite fighting through it all how lucky I truly am to even be in the moment.  I’ll think about my pain and know that’s its only temporary.  I’ll think about my dad, back home in a hospital bed, wishing he was better and not in that place.  I’ll think about my mom who has been fighting right beside him for the past few years.  I’ll run because they can’t.  I’ll think about all the people who have helped me along the way.  I’ll thank God for bringing them into my life.

I’ll think about all the things that running has brought into my life and the places I’ve gone because of running.  I’ll think about each and every marathon I’ve done.  From the first one in Cleveland a decade ago, to my Boston qualifier in Chicago seven years ago, to Boston itself now five years ago.  I’ll think about all the reasons I’ve run and continue to run.  I’ll definitely think about quitting.  In a sick sort of way, I cannot wait for that moment.  It’s the moment that draws out the best in me when I’m at my worst.  I’ll crave it.  It is the moment that decides how I’ll look back on this day for the rest of my life.  Was I tough enough?  Did I allow it to beat me?  Did I quit?   

And last but not least, I’ll think about Becky.  She’ll be waiting for me at the finish line.  I’ll think about the hug and kiss I gave her in the morning before departing for the starting line. I’ll think about the moment that will end up being 9 or 10 hours later when we reunite for an even bigger hug and a kiss.  I’ll think about all the sacrifices she’s made for me to chase my silly dreams and how I won’t want to disappoint her.  I’ll draw on the strength she shows me every single day.  I’ll wonder why I chose to do this to myself again.  I’ll push through all of that while I’m alone, knowing I could never truly do any of it alone. 

I’ll come to the conclusion that the choice is mind.  Run on…