If you’re not a runner – hear me out. If you are a runner – hear me out.
You wake up on race day – it’s early, and you slept long but not deep. Nerves. 26.2 miles is a long way. You’ve only run 22 in training, can you really do more than 4 longer? You’re nervous about all the variables, the things you can’t control. Traffic to the race, the weather, the crowds. You know you’ve done the work to be here but, somehow, the training runs that come to mind are those that sucked the most. The ones that hurt. The ones that took everything out of you. The ones you couldn’t finish and the ones you didn’t get around to doing.
You take a few warm-up strides and fall into your easy gait. This is familiar. This, you can do. At the start line, the energy of the crowd is physical – you can touch it, taste it, feel it engulf you. You’ve peed twice already but find yourself jigging the potty-dance as you wait for your corral to be called up to the start. You queue up your Marathon playlist – the mix of songs that get you fired up, some that keep your tempo, and a few golden jams for the miles that feel far longer than 5,280 feet. When the gun goes off, you’re in it. You’re fully in it – mind, body, soul. You pace yourself, making sure you don’t go out too fast, just enough to keep with the eager crowd – it’s nice to start out by passing a few people – but keeping your stride and heart rate in check. Suddenly, you’ve never believed more in yourself than you do at that moment, surrounded by fellow runners of all shapes and sizes, there’s something inside of you that knows you can do this. You’ve done the work. You’ve showed up day after day, deciding that what you want on this day is greater than what you wanted on every day before it.
Many miles pass before you even blink; some, mostly after mile-marker 20, feel never ending. You waffle between mental toughness and physical fatigue. At a certain point, you know that it’s your mind that will get you through, not your legs. You decide to keep going. Every step is a choice. It’s the actual practice of digging deep. It’s grit. You repeat your mantra “don’t stop until you’re proud” over and over and over because you decided at the start of this race that what will make you proud is finishing. Run, walk, or crawl, you’re going to finish. And you do. You muster every last bit of fight that you have – you pull from the hours of training, the months of preparation – and you feel your heart in your throat as the crowd cheers you across the finish line. You’re a marathoner. And suddenly, all of the hardest parts of getting you to that moment on the other side of the finish line, banana in hand, no longer feel like a sacrifice. They feel like the building blocks of a castle in the sky.
Almost every single part of running a marathon feels like a sacrifice. You choose to forego date nights, and birthday parties, and slow Saturday mornings. You subscribe to cracked lips, creaky knees, and blackened toenails (if you’re lucky enough to keep them), and you can pretty much count on ruining your favorite hype-song because once you reach next-level fatigue, you realize sometimes even Beyoncé can’t bring you back. You’ll probably get sick of your favorite running route and you can forget about the color of your feet ever matching your summer-tanned legs again. But, you know what? It’s worth every single part of it, because it’s not about the banana at the end of the race or the “26.2” bumper sticker you earn at the end. It’s that finishing the race, no matter how fast/slow/close to death you felt, puts an exclamation point on an incredible journey. Running the race is like seeing the tip of an iceberg, but the process to get there is deep, massive, and a force to be reckoned with.
What gets you through 26.2 miles on race day is not a determination to finish – it’s the determination to prepare.
It’s impossible not to learn about yourself when you spend upwards of 10 hours of QT with yourself in a week, on those early morning training runs or talking yourself into getting it in after the longest day at work. In sharing a few things I learned along the way, I hope you’ll consider doing something to challenge yourself – that certainly doesn’t have to be running a marathon – but something that requires sacrifice for a pay-off that’s one million times worth it. Getting out of your comfort zone with a goal that scares you is good, and healthy, and necessary to growing yourself. What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you.
My body got stronger before my mind did. More times than I can count, I set a goal for myself on the distance or time I thought I could run. And then I beat it. (Worth noting that there were a lot of times I just didn’t have it, too). I learned that I need to recalibrate the expectations of myself as I get stronger, smarter, closer to achieving a goal. This is true in every aspect of life – keep challenging yourself, keep moving the goal post farther away, if it means your kick gets longer.
I really enjoy the process of things. I’m one of the crazy ones who actually prefers the training that leads up to an end goal. I love to learn, I love realizing I’m “not there yet”, and I love having a carrot in front of me to go after. I get more satisfaction in preparing than in competing because I know the preparation is what will make me a fierce competitor – I’ll never be the fastest, smartest, strongest, most talented – but I can be the best prepared.
Consistency is everything. I’ve always heard this little plug and known it to be true, but there’s nothing like an impending 26.2 miles by a specific date to force you into a consistent mode of action, because that date is coming, whether you like it or not. For me, it took proving the validity of this concept in marathon training to then get myself into a mental place to apply to other areas of my life.
Your life is defined by your habits. I’m an absolute nerd about the impact of habits on every facet of a person’s life, business, productivity, relationships, etc. This topic merits a whole post, but the short version is that the habits you form determine your success. Period. You can learn more about this topic, from people much smarter than I am here, here, and here. I also love this TED talk on setting a new habit, if you’re interested but not sure exactly how to start.
Sticking to something outweighs the hesitation to start, every single time. As humans – or, maybe more accurately, as mammals – we’re wired to seek gratification. It’s why your dog stares up at you, head cocked to one side, after you praise him for taking his business outside, and it’s often why we look to food, booze, shopping as a reward for accomplishing even the smallest things – I’ve earned it. I think there are better and worse ways to indulge this instinct, but one of the best ways is the mental gratification that you struggled for something and you got it. I think it’s a fundamental truth that the harder you work for something, the more potential you have to enjoy it once you have it (there’s obviously a balance here. Ex. of this not being true: Wolf of Wall Street). The amazing thing about sticking to a goal you set for yourself is that it costs you nothing because every sacrifice or “tax” it takes on you is actually just an investment in your future self. It’s like the difference between paying rent and paying your mortgage. You’re still committing to a certain sum every month, but in one scenario, your money is being invested into your ultimate ownership of the property. (Ugh, this stings to write as I sit in my NYC apartment that’s currently listed at $3.2M, for which I’ll continue paying rent until I’m dead in the ground).
Whether your goal is athletically related or a personal or professional marker you’re striving for, I hope these little nuggets of inspiration encourage you to jump in with both feet and don’t stop till you’ve crossed the finish line.
I’m curious – what’s a goal you’re proud of accomplishing and what did you learn along the way? Sharing in the comments helps inspire me and the rest of this community, so let us know in zee comments!