On Sunday I ran my second marathon. My second marathon. Did I really just say that? You see it hasn’t quite sunk in yet because it was just three weeks ago that I ran my first marathon. The one in Big Sur, California where I was reminded that “faster is not always better.” When I wrote about that lesson that I learned there in My First 26.2; Running the Big Sur Marathon, I really did believe it to my core. I still do. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to run my next race faster to prove to myself that my body could run a marathon the way my mind knew I could. On May 17, 2015, at the Rite-Aid Cleveland Marathon that’s exactly what I did.
I was feeling unsettled. Uncertain if I had made the right choice to run another full marathon just three weeks after my first. Had my body recovered enough to do it again? And faster than before? I had signed up for this race earlier in the spring as a sort of “back up plan” if something happened to prevent me from running Big Sur the way I wanted to. For the three weeks after Big Sur leading up to the Cleveland race I wavered. Standing at the start I was confident and excited, but my nerves were trying to let questions like, “Should I have run the half instead?” creep into my head. I knew if I allowed my mind to be weak for even just a little while, my body would NOT run the race I knew that I could.
I had put in the miles. I was running the full marathon today! Big Sur was like my long training run for this race. This was my chance to run a marathon the way I had intended to in California but couldn’t because the hills took too much out of my legs far too early in the race. Minutes before the starting horn sounded, the skies opened up on us. While I normally enjoy running in the rain and I would welcome a nice little shower later in the race , I wasn’t super excited about getting wet before the race even began. The rain subsided just as we began to run, leaving behind air so humid you could virtually cut it with a knife. Not a runner’s ideal conditions.
We began outside of Lebron’s home court at Quicken Loans Arena and the first few miles took us through the city streets of Cleveland through Playhouse Square and then passed The Indians’ Progressive Field heading west over the bridge toward Tremont. Throughout those first five miles or so I was feeling pumped up, yet still a little jittery and nervous about the enormous task ahead. I smiled at the groups of spectators scattered on various blocks, reminding myself to have some fun while I was feeling good.
I powered through the first several miles as we zig-zagged our way through the residential streets of Tremont and Ohio City. While I had reviewed the course map a few times, I lost track of exactly where we were and even what direction I was heading in. Checking my pace at each mile I was holding on to 8:45 minute miles or so and feeling very comfortable. The 3:55 pace group was just ahead of me and I was keeping up with them without feeling too challenged. I could have run faster, but wanted to conserve energy. I felt very strong into Mile 9, singing along with some low-key songs from Pandora’s Mumford & Sons station and waving to families watching us run by from their front porches or from the end of their driveway. In the back of my mind was the dreaded half-marathon/marathon split near Mile 9.5.
Finally it had arrived, the point where the half marathoners split off to head back toward the city to finish their race. The marathoners were directed to the left to weave through some more residential neighborhoods and then head further west up the lakeshore. Physically I was feeling strong. I was thinking back to my run in Big Sur when at mile 10 through 12 I was climbing Hurricane Point. The flat course here in Cleveland made the task seem simple… for a moment. Mentally those miles from 9 to 13 (the halfway point) were very tough. I was envisioning my friends running the half marathon who were about to cross the finish line, while I hadn’t even made it halfway through my race yet. Focusing on my music, the spectators and how great my body was feeling, soon I wiped those thoughts out of my mind.
THE SECOND HALF
In my first race I really struggled through miles 14 to 20. Here in Cleveland, these miles were some of my best. We reached the out and back straightaway on Lake Avenue that I had envisioned as our last stretch of road to the finish line. Beautiful houses lined the streets along with enthusiastic spectators smiling and cheering. My legs felt strong, minus a little bit of complaining from my knees. My pace had slowed to 9 minute miles, but that was what I planned to run in the first place. My lungs were like machines, not at all winded and in my “zone”. I’m telling you, if I could get my legs to cooperate, my lungs could run a three hour marathon. But I’m learning I have to slow down in long distance races to save my legs for the later miles.
Around mile 15 or so, the leaders were passing by going the other direction including some wheelchair racers. I found myself cheering for them and shouting, “Great job! Go Girl! Way to go!” This had me feeling positive. I was actually having fun, singing out loud and waving to spectators to say, “Thanks.” Here I began to think about a saying I love so much that I had it placed on a plaque for my husband to hang his marathon medals. It says, “The body achieves what the mind believes.” I began contemplating how positive thinking can completely shape the race you run. If you think about all the negative things that are happening to your body, your body will shut down. If you focus on what feels good, your body will indeed achieve what your mind believes.
It began to drizzle again, but I didn’t care. I love running in the rain. I felt empowered and refreshed. I kept powering through the miles knowing that the turn around would arrive soon at mile 17.5. Close to the turnaround my husband passed by going the other direction. We gave each other a high-five and kept running. As the turnaround approached it was raining heavily. I knew the remaining eight miles would be the most challenging yet, but I raised my arms as I turned celebrating the home stretch.
THE HOME STRETCH
Between miles 18 to 20 my legs were suddenly beginning to feel very tired. Yet compared to how they felt three weeks earlier in Big Sur I knew they still had enough left in them to finish the race the way I wanted to. My pace was getting closer to 9.5 and then 10 minute miles. At mile 20 the 4 hour pace group suddenly came out of nowhere. As they passed me I tried to speed up. Four hours was my “pie in the sky” goal, just as it was in Big Sur. Except today I was watching my watch and I knew it was actually feasible. I kept up with them for about a mile or so, but my legs just didn’t have it in them. I was worried that I would run out of gas if I went too fast. So at mile 21 or so I let them drift out of sight. Even if I didn’t beat 4 hours, I knew I would definitely meet my goal of beating my 4:41 time in Big Sur.
Miles 22 to 24 were VERY challenging. My legs were starting to shut down, but my mind and energy was still going strong. My smile had faded. One of the things I had beat myself up about after Big Sur was that I had to stop and walk and stretch. I told myself that this time, no matter what, I would NOT walk. So I didn’t. I kept running. Minus a few tiny steps through the last water stations just long enough to drink a few sips of water and not choke, I never walked the entire race. I wasn’t going to do it now. As we made our way on to the Shoreway the shade had disappeared and the sun was blazing down on us. I was virtually shuffling along, but I was not walking. I shuffled up the last hill. It felt steep, but compared to the mountains I ran up in California, this was nothing.
At this point I pretty much zoned out. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. There was virtually noone else around me other than one man who looked like his legs felt about as spent as mine. That last mile on the Shoreway seemed like an eternity. I reached the exit ramp and the police officer there shouted, “Only 300 yards and you’re there!” The finish line crowds began to grow bigger. Everyone was looking for their loved one, but I could swear they were only watching me. With a huge smile on my face, tears in my eyes, a quiver in my lip and a lump in my throat, I came closer and closer to the finish line. My heart was on fire with pride.
I could see the clock ahead and could tell that it had passed four hours, but it didn’t matter. I had run the race I set out to run. I persevered through the doubt and the discomfort. I didn’t walk. I ran the pace I wanted to run at (until mile 20) and I finished close to 4 hours (shaving 35 minutes off of my Big Sur Time). I ran with a smile on my face, a song on my lips, a positive mind and happiness in my heart. I didn’t let those moments of doubt creep into my mind, hijack my race and talk my legs into stopping. I kicked the negative thoughts to the curb and showed them who’s boss. I had succeeded at proving to myself that my body could run a marathon the way my mind knew I could.
THE BODY ACHIEVES WHAT THE MIND BELIEVES.
Positive thoughts feed positive achievements. It is a pretty simple, but very powerful idea. Not just in running, but in life. It can transcend the way you live. For me, it is a reminder that you can achieve anything you can dream, whether it is an athletic goal, a career goal, a personal goal or even a parenting goal. (Like, not yelling at your kids today, which may be an even more difficult task than running a marathon.) But, all joking aside, this is a life lesson I strive to teach my children and myself. Sure there are always obstacles in life; pain, logistics, time, money. But, if you don’t let doubt, uncertainty, negativity, fear or naysayers hijack your dreams and goals, you can achieve virtually anything your mind believes.
Right now I know some of my non-running readers might be thinking something like this, “Yeah, I know. You ran really far. Lots of people do it. Congratulations, but what are you trying to prove?” Or maybe you might be thinking, “I could never do that, nor do I want to do that. It’s not appealing to me. I don’t get it.” I used to have those exact same sentiments only a couple of years ago. Running isn’t for everyone. But here’s what I’ve discovered. I’m no marathon or running expert, but now that I’ve run two of them, I’ve found that, for me, running a marathon actually has only a little to do with the act of running. It has so much more to do with the journey through which you teach yourself to believe that you (your body, your mind, your soul) can achieve anything you put your mind to. Crossing the finish line of a race is actually just the beginning. Because once you understand this about yourself, you cross the starting line to a whole new world of opportunity. One where no challenge is too big. With that confidence you can live a happier life, share your gifts, create positive change and make the world a better place. But perhaps you don’t have to run a marathon to do that. You just have to believe.