OK, so after my last post about marathon training, I spent the next few days consumed with fear. I read other bloggers' accounts of the marathons they have completed with panic rising in my chest. I let my mind run wild with self-doubt and negative questions. What did I sign up for?! Why would I ever think I could actually do this? I don't even want to run for 26.2 miles!
But then, as these things tend to work out, the clouds parted and I began to feel OK again. It didn't happen immediately, but over a period of a few days I began to feel better. I stopped reading the race recaps on my favorite blogs with fear and read them with excitement instead. I began to talk to my friends who are also running the VT marathon, and I started to imagine myself crossing that finish line on race day. Then, last Saturday, I ran my 12 mile long run. It was pretty cold outside and very windy. I ran with three other women that I run with regularly, two of whom are also regsitered for the VT marathon. One is a first-timer like me and the other has completed two other marathons. So, we met early on Saturday and pounded out 12 miles. Seriously, we pounded them out. It wasn't overly difficult, even though the wind was brutal, and I didn't struggle with the run at any point. It was just a typical weekend long run. Later in the day, one of my running buddies sent me a text telling me that she felt surprisingly good after the run, and I replied with "me too!" And, that's when it all came together for me. Over the past 2.5 years, I have been building myself up as a runner. I have gone from running 1.5 miles with great difficulty to being permanently trained for a half marathon (that was my goal last year and I accomplished it). At this point, I can easily run 11 - 13 miles on a weekend long run and not even feel it. That's quite an accomplishment in 2.5 years. So, there's no reason to doubt my ability to run 26.2. Will it be tough? I'm sure it will. Will I struggle? I'm sure I will. Can I do it? Absolutely!
So much of half and full marathon training is mental. If you put in the miles each week, your body will be able to make it through the distance at the end. But, training is more than physically training your body. It's really about training your mind. Ask anyone who has struggled through an "easy" three mile run. There is so much doubt that creeps into your mind when you are training for something like this. There are so many moments on a long (or short) run when you feel like you can't keep going. When you doubt yourself as a runner. Those are the moments that we dig deeper and find something in ourselves that we thought wasn't there. There's no greater feeling than finishing a difficult run and knowing that you kept running even when you felt like you couldn't. Sure, there are plenty of physical struggles that runners endure - calf cramps, side cramps, knee pain, dehydration, bathroom issues, etc. - but the mental challenges are the ones that shake us at our core. Those are the challenges that require us to go deep inside ourselves and find something that will help us endure. That something is different for everyone, but the challenge is the same.
I know that I will continue to struggle through the rest of my marathon training. I will have bad runs and good runs. I will have days when I am terrified about the upcoming race and days when I can't wait for it to get here. I will continue to doubt myself and be plagued with negative thoughts. But, I will also discover a strength in myself that I don't always remember is there. I will push myself to the edge, and find a way to keep going. I will embrace my mental demons and find ways to overcome them. By the time I cross that finish line, I know that I will be better because of it...all of it...the good and bad. That's what running has done for me. It has taught me to persevere and face my fears head on. It has taught me that I am capable. It has taught me that the struggle is part of the journey and that it is up to me to carry on.