The world is full of runners who are just like me. People who started running casually or maybe with a goal to do a 5k. Once the 5k is in the bag, many people want to tackle the half marathon. This natural progression makes sense. The half marathon is a good medium-distance run. It requires commitment to train for, but not an excessive amount. It requires preparation (things like nutrition, hydration, etc) but again, not an excessive amount. In short, the half marathon is the perfect race because it requires you to get uncomfortable…but not too uncomfortable. But for some people, there is never enough. After a few half marathons, I was ready to push harder. I was ready to tackle the marathon!
My marathon failures, however, have been very well documented in previous posts. After several half-hearted attempts, I hit my low point the first weekend of September. I was racing a small marathon outside of Chicago and I had put so much pressure on myself to perform that day that I totally imploded and had my first ever DNF. It was somewhat strategic in the sense that I had another marathon a month later, so when the first was going poorly, I pulled the plug and decided to save it for the next one. But what could I do to make the next one better??
After talking with Annie about it, I came to a stark realization. I had no faith in myself. I didn’t believe that deep down I was good enough to run a 3:07 marathon (which is what I’d need to qualify for Boston). Now the aggravating thing is that my times in all other distances (5k, half marathon, etc) all line up nicely with a 3:07 marathon. But without the confidence or belief in myself, there was no way it would happen. So how do I fix this? As usual, Annie had the answers. The key, she said, was to harness the power of positivity.
This is a spiel that’s been written hundreds of time in thousands of self help books. And frankly, I always felt like it was bullshit. It’s easy to tell yourself great happy things when you’ve written a book and have nice checks coming in from it! But when you’re an average guy, positivity is hard. Or so I always felt.
Annie made a rule after my DNF. Every single morning I had to send her a text message of something I was grateful for. They could be big things (I’m grateful I can travel the world and explore new things) or little things (I’m grateful I remembered my umbrella because it rained today). The subject didn’t matter. All that mattered was starting out my day with a positive thought. Part two of this was even trickier though. Every morning I also had to send her a text that stated I would qualify for Boston….and why! The why was the kicker and the why is what I had been missing. I could easily say I’m going to get that BQ. But when there’s nothing behind those words, deep down I was still telling myself i wasn’t good enough. Words spoken out loud mean very little without conviction. So every single morning for three weeks I had to come up with a reason why I would qualify. And by God, after a few days of that, I started to believe it!
This simple exercise had unlocked a huge mental gate for me. I would never run the 3:07 until I believed I could. And finally, I was starting to believe it. So at the Lakefront Marathon, i went to the start line feeling differently than I ever had before. Gone was the silent “sizing up” of other runners. This is a classic sign of insecurity by the way-if you can tell how fast someone is based on their shoes and singlet, you are a psychic! Besides, my goal was never to be first place or anything like that. My goal was to BQ, so what the hell did I care about other people in the race?! I could run a 3:07 and come in dead last…I’d still BQ. So I wasn’t paying attention to anyone else.
I also made a concerted effort to focus on my nutrition and hydration while racing. This has been a big weak spot of mine, and it’s no shock that when that is lacking, my late race performance went into the tank. So I told myself no matter how great I felt early on, I’d stay on my gels and get water at every aid station. This made a huge difference as well!
But the key was believing in myself. On Sunday i truly believed that i was strong enough to run the 3:07 I have been chasing for nearly two years. It was time to get out of my own head, get out of my own way, and let my body do what it seems to do best: run.
So what happened at Lakefront? I ran a 3:10. Missed the BQ by three minutes. But this was not bad news! I cut a full 17 minutes off my previous marathon personal best. That’s 45 seconds per mile, for 26 miles. No matter what pace you run, that’s not an easy jump to make! And I made that jump because for the first time ever, I truly believed I was capable. At mile 20 when things started to get really hairy, I was faced with a choice. My old instinct would be to stop and walk for a bit to get comfortable. But this time, a new voice was there that shouted out the old one. The new voice was telling me to keep going. To remember that even if the BQ didn’t happen, I was on the cusp of a massive improvement. And I kept going. It was a bit slower for sure, but I kept going.
Annie always tells me that I did the work. But on Sunday, she was instrumental in my success. Her simple request that I text her in the morning and show her that I learned to be positive and believe in myself set the stage for the next level of my running life. I have no doubt that Boston is in my future. To be certain, the marathon isn’t a joke. All the prep in the world can’t prepare you for everything, and the marathon will bring you to the brink. But it will only break you if you let it. If you believe in yourself, and you have put in the work, you can achieve anything. Running, relationships, work, school, you name it. All you have to do is believe you can. There are no limits to what I am capable of, and there are no limits to what anyone else is capable of either!
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