Everyone who endeavors to run a marathon hears horror stories about â€œthe wall,â€ the moment during a long race when a runnerâ€™s body experiences a level of physical exhaustion that is (nearly?) impossible to work through.
In my first marathon, I realized what a formidable opponent the wall can be. I ran a fantastically fun half marathon, hit the wall at mile 14, and had 12.2 miles of what would probably best be described as a Greek tragedy. To keep running (running/walking) when my body was sending me insistent signals that I had to stop, and when I was feeling a kind of exhaustion Iâ€™d never experienced before, was challenging. But I hardly remember how I felt physically because the mental battle was far worse.
Iâ€™d set a goal. I wasnâ€™t going to meet that goal. How could I find the strength to keep going with the utmost certainty that I was going to fail?
I did finish that marathon. I finished it, not by having some brilliant epiphany, but by simply turning off that part of my brain that evaluates, analyzes, and judges. Instead, I focused all my mental energy on simply moving one foot in front of the other.
For those final miles, I wasnâ€™t a slave to the tyrannical perfectionistic side of me â€“ a side that I think lives in all of us in some capacity. I wasnâ€™t completely free either, as I had to continually fight it and shut it down every time I had to walk, every time my pace slowed. But it didnâ€™t win.
In the month leading up to this yearâ€™s Boston Marathon, I had a decision to make: Do I set an ambitious time goal, or do I just let myself enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime, emotion-filled experience?
I decided to go for it. To be all in. To crush it.
And shortly after making that decision, I realized: I am no longer afraid of the wall. Any time you decide to really push yourself, you risk finding your limits. In running, it means you risk hitting the wall.
That is a beautiful thing.
You can live your life safely, only setting goals you know youâ€™ll accomplish. Or you can truly go â€œall in,â€ accepting that if you do find your limits today, youâ€™ll have the opportunity and the strength to keep pushing them tomorrow.
There are many ways to win a marathon. In my previous blog post in this â€œmental taperâ€ series, I told the story of Shalane Flanagan, who is admirably â€œall in,â€ single-mindedly focused on coming in first in the womenâ€™s division of the Boston Marathon. For others, crossing the finish line, regardless of time, is winning, and this is just as admirable. Phil recently wrote a post about his decision to make this marathon a â€œpersonal bestâ€ by high fiving every kid along the course and every student at Wellesley and BC, and taking it all in. That is a beautiful goal too.
As for me, the moment I looked “the wall” straight in the eye and was genuinely unafraid, I won my own laurel wreath. I’ve been running this marathon my entire life.
Even though Iâ€™ve decided to lay it all on the line and go after my time goal with reckless abandon, itâ€™s possible that I could hit the wall and not make it. But what Phil wrote is true of me as well: If you see a time slower than what you would expect from me, it may still be a personal best.
Iâ€™ve already won the marathon, because I am not afraid of the wall.