We all need encouragement, don’t we? You can be just doing the best job ever, but somehow it feels even better when someone else acknowledges our efforts or gives us a “good job”, or a “you’ve got this.” In fact- my favorite sign I saw someone holding while running the Marine Corps Marathon in October said exactly that: “You’ve Got This!”
I had a lot of fear going in to the marathon this past year, in spite of having run the Marine Corps the previous year, and also a half-marathon in between. My long twitch muscle fibers certainly knew what to do. However, I literally got one hour of sleep before getting up at 4am, and was getting over a cold with sore throat. I didn’t know what to do when I was sitting in the hotel room bathroom at 4am…stewing in physical misery. I thought, “Do I just not go?” That thought gave me chills. I’ve never been a quitter. I decided to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and just see how far that would take me.
(I had to really remember that when I took a taxi to the Pentagon at 5am and discovered I hadn’t brought any money… Ever seen an irate taxi driver?)
My friend and training coach inspired me by reminding me that all physical pain is temporary, and that you overcome pain…endurance is about mental strength. This year he was sending me some texts as I was running, and I was only at mile 10 when I wrote to him that my knees were really suffering, and my feet and ankles were throbbing. He sent back a poignant and simple response, and it reminded me of how I had even managed to arrive at mile 10: Just. Keep. Moving.
I think this is a great mantra to apply whenever we become paused by fear and doubt.
So, I did. I kept moving.
“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” – D. H. Lawrence
When you think about your fears and all those negative voices that have been programmed in to your brain over a lifetime, reflect on this idea of self-pity. When you steep yourself in your fears and your emotions and your doubts, you allow yourself to become a victim of life. Approaching life as a victim will halt you in your tracks. We are trained to believe that we are not the masters of our own destinies, but that is misinformation. There are many things we cannot control, true…but we always control our own perception of events, and our own choices in response to those events. (We’ve all heard the adage- “life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it”.)
Naturally I use endurance running as a metaphor because that is a force that drives me, personally, but these concepts apply to anything in your life that requires your endurance and perseverance. Anything.
To quote Eleanor Roosevelt – and this is something I kept reciting to myself on race day: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”
You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
It helps to have words or ideas to focus on when your mind starts obsessing over how you feel. How you feel is not a reality. Your emotions are not your identity. Emotions are transient variations on your perception of reality.
When I was only at mile 10, with throbbing feet, I could have said to myself “I cannot do this, it hurts, I should quit, how will I make it, I’m miserable, poor me…” (I’m not talking at all about real physical distress, which honestly forces a person to quit.) Instead, I got out of my head and started appreciating what was going on around me. It was an amazingly gorgeous day with a solid blue sky and a balmy breeze that was keeping my skin and clothes dry (in fact, I had dried salt crusted on my face and arms). Conditions were as ideal as they could be (especially since I have heard of past MC Marathons being run in 45F and rain!). There were wounded war veterans running next to me. There was a woman running on two crutches and with dragging feet that seemed to barely work. I saw, presumably, a wife hugging the photo memorial of her KIA husband. I saw runners pushing disabled vets in wheelchairs.
I was keeping step with two firefighters dressed in full gear. At mile 20 I commented to one that atleast I could count on him to carry me when I collapsed. He passionately replied, “No, ma’am!! I can’t carry anybody- I’ve got legs like Bambi right about now!” I was encouraged to know that I was in the same boat as the tough guys.
I saw the back of a man’s t-shirt that read: DNW->DNF->DNS/ Did Not Win trumps Did Not Finish which trumps Did Not Start.
I realized that everyone there had crossed the same barrier- the mental barrier- that I had crossed. Whether or not any of us thought we could actually do it, we had all taken the chance and showed up to try. We had looked fear in the face, and we were doing the thing which we thought we could not do.
Life is greater than any one thing. Do your best to put negative perceptions to rest, because they aren’t getting you anywhere. It’s okay to feel things- to feel bad or unsure. Remember that thoughts don’t have to stop you, though. You can have the thought or the fear, and then do the thing anyhow. That’s called courage.
Don’t worry about winning or finishing- just start.
Just. Keep. Moving.