Three weeks from today, I and about 9,000 others will run the Twin Cities Marathon. Today I ran 18 miles, and about six miles in a big, loud question came up out of nowhere and smacked me in the face: “What’s this all for?” I quickly pushed the thought away, knowing that at mile six, I was still feeling a whole lot better than I would be at mile 16, and that if a thought like that took root, it was going to be a very long morning.
But a few hundred yards further down the jogging path, the question came back: “Why am I doing this? Why am I out here, right now, doing something that I know is wearing out my body?”
Three years ago, when I was training for my first ever marathon, I knew exactly why I was doing it – for the experience, and so that I could say to myself and to everyone else that I had run a marathon. My purpose was clear, my motivation was high, and I loved every minute of the whole process. (Well, okay – almost every minute.)
But this time around, I just decided to do it because my cardio workouts had become few and far between and I felt I needed a big motivator. And knowing that you’ll have to run 26.2 miles at some point in the future is a big motivator, so I would say the training has been successful in that regard. But I could’ve gotten in shape training for a half marathon, or even a series of 5 and 10k’s. So I asked myself again, as I approached “The Hill” in Hidden Falls Regional Park, “Why another marathon?”
And an answer immediately came to me: “To strengthen my body and my character. To prove that I can do it because I said I would, and for no other reason.” And then, apparently satisfied with that, the questions stopped.
The miles rolled on and it wasn’t until mile 15, in a particularly hilly section of the course, that I let myself think ahead to October 6th. “You will have run eight miles more than you have at this point,” I told myself. “And how will you handle these hills then?” And immediately, my physical body was taken over by these negative thoughts. I sort of floated outside of my own head for a moment and “observed” the energy drain right out of me. My form went from upright and near perfect to collapsed and weak instantaneously. It was a very revealing experience, and I wondered how many times in other settings my negative self-talk was having similarly disastrous results.
I pondered this over the next two-and-a-half miles, as I drove the present doubt from my mind and focused instead on correcting my form, shortening my stride and relishing the real physical pain I was in. It was significant, but it was nowhere near bad enough to make me stop, and I knew that if I wasn’t stopping today, I wouldn’t be stopping on race day, either.