Sunday, October 3, 2010

Plus One, Minus One Wall

This marathon story isn’t ending in Philadelphia. That’s just the beginning.

In 2011, I will run the New York Marathon through the nine plus one program offered by New York Road Runners. Nine plus one, means that I must run nine New York Road Runners Races and then I must volunteer for one more race. So far, I’ve run six races and on Saturday, I took care of my “plus one.”

After a rainy and humid week, the last thing I wanted to do on the first cool and sunny day in a week was watch other people run. But I did it anyway, because I want to run New York more than I want to sleep. My primary responsibility was to keep the tourists, recreational runners and bicyclers from getting in the way of the race. My secondary responsibility was to cheer for the runners. I’m not kidding. That is actually what we are supposed to do.

The race was a half marathon and I was stationed at the five mile and eleven mile marks. I was so excited to be stationed at mile eleven. I couldn’t wait for the runners who would be feeling just like I felt at my half marathon last fall. I had big plans for them. When they came by, I wanted to yell and cheer them up and give them the hope they could finish the remaining two point one miles with strength and speed.

I waited and waited. I stood there for over two hours, but I never saw one person who looked like they were suffering. There were tired ones, sweaty ones, focused ones, ones who were bopping their heads to their music, and others with crazy costumes, but every single one of those crazy running fools looked like they were having a great time. Not one of those expressions read, I don’t want to be doing this.

I know exactly how it feels to run and to race. I know that pain that settles into your hamstrings and doesn’t leave. I know what it’s like to spend twenty seconds bending each knee after three hours of running. I know that certain pairs of my shoes just won’t fit after a run, and that I shouldn’t use my sea salt scrub because chafe marks that won’t show up for a few hours will sting instantly.

What I didn’t know: it doesn’t look as bad as it feels.

Seeing those marathoners reminded me that this crazy adventure is really about the strength of one little muscle: my brain. That’s why the best marathoners in the world aren’t twenty-two; they’re thirty-five. Maturity makes for a stronger mental fortitude. Physical strength and endurance is necessary but each time I’m out there putting the miles on feet, I am putting them on my mind too.

Now that I’ve figured out the magic ingredient, I finally have a response to those nagging doubts. More than another run or carbohydrate, I needed to believe that I can run a marathon. I’ve gotten so hung up on the pain and the threat of the wall that I’ve started to suffer from a serious case of self doubt. But if seven thousand runners don’t look like they are about to fall apart at the very moment that I felt that way, then the only real wall I need to be worried about is the one I’m building up in my head. And I can tear down that wall at anytime, because it’s only a figment of my imagination.

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