During my first marathon I quickly, or perhaps slowly, learned I had no idea what I was doing. I mean I knew a marathon was 26.2 miles. And I knew that I was going to attempt to run that distance. And I knew I had trained for months to prepare. But as speed walkers passed me at Mile 20, I also knew that I had no idea what I was doing. Not really.
But the finish line, and my ride home, were still over 6 miles away so stopping was not an option. No matter how tempting. To keep myself going, I started to repeat a mantra that I would go back to in many future races: “My race. My pace. My win.” No matter who I passed, or who passed me, I was going to get to that finish line and get my freaking medal. And all of the chocolate milk I could find.
I think it’s important to have some mantras or phrases to get you through tough times. For the past year or so, I’ve often relied on one I heard from Kelly Roberts, a running blogger: “This is what strength looks like.” Those words help to fight against the negative voice in my head that declares I do not fit. And inspires me to push hard so that I can help others see my strength too. It is especially motivating when running on the sidewalks past heavy traffic. Instead of feeling embarrassed in front of all those strangers (who most likely are not even looking), I seek to hold my head up and run like they should all be cheering me on.
In early June I ran a half marathon the morning after I’d run a 5K with friends. Out of that facepalm life choice I landed on a mantra for the morning: “Strong, safe, and satisfied.” Those words kept me going throughout the 13.1 miles and inspired a smile on my face when I cross that finish line. I decided to try out the race specific mantra again a few weeks later while I prepared for a trail race that I felt underprepared for. “Belong” echoed in my head and heart for 17 miles up and down the mountains. Each time I questioned if I should even be there, or worried someone was coming to force me to stop, I held on to that word and kept moving forward.
After two successful outings, I wandered around the starting area of the Foot Traffic Flat last week, trying to settled on some words for that morning. I felt fine about the 13.1 miles ahead of me, but totally not inspired to push myself regarding speed. I just did not want to be in pain that day. I had decided to join a pace group that would be an effort for me, but one I felt confident I could stick with the whole way through. And its the pace I need for my marathon time goal in October.
After a few loops wandering the farm, the right words sparked inside: “Have a nice run.” It felt like the blessing you wish upon a loved one when you say goodbye for the workday. Instead it was the was the permission and wish I gave to myself. I didn’t need to push myself that day. Instead I could just be there and enjoy the race. I could just have a nice run.
About 10 miles into the race, I had to push a little bit to get ahead of the pace group I had been with for over 90 minutes. There were two reasons for this need:
- I had more energy inside than was going to burn off at that pace. I was not going to push so much that it would hurt, but needed a quicker pace to enjoy myself.
- There was a teenager who was weaving more and more as he got tired. And as I got tired, I was getting more and more tempted to push him into a field for being too close. While it might have been satisfying for a moment, that move probably would have ended my nice run for the day.
The right mantra can push you forward…and help you from pushing someone off the road.
I’ve survived 13 marathons and one Ph.D. program. So…now what? I’ve learned through the journeys that it’s not about intelligence, speed, magic beans, or waiting for it to get easy. It’s about strength and perseverance. This year’s blog series will be about #WhatsNext after crossing some major finish lines, and preparing for new starting lines as a runner and a (not that kind of) doctor. I am #RunPhD.