Every sport is difficult in its own way. Every sport requires a lot of physical training and athleticism. They all require you learn and perfect a certain specific skill set in order to be successful. In most cases, I feel this is accomplished through extensive and repetitive training to develop a sort of muscle memory that can, in turn, be used to speed up your thought processes during a game. The difference with endurance sports is that you’re not trying to rely on muscle memory for quick thinking. You’re not trying to think quickly at all. You have to train your mind to be as steady as a rock the same way you have to train your muscles to stand up to the many miles you put on them.
In any other athletic arena I’ve experienced before, my focus had always been trying to see the entire field of play to adapt to my surroundings in order to complete a pass or make a defensive play, for example. However, when you’re staring down 26.2 miles there’s nothing to focus on but yourself. It’s difficult to describe in words, but it’s almost as if you want to separate your mind from your body in such a way that you almost become two people. That “second you” is your coach, your personal trainer, and your motivational speaker. He is the only one around to tell yourself, “You can do this.” He can’t feel your pain or your fatigue. He doesn’t feel boredom (in regards to the scenery). You have to train yourself, “both of yourself,” to look at a 20 mile run the same way you would look at a 6 mile run – without doubts.
I’m feeling doubts. I started taking my running seriously 13 months ago and now, for the first time, I’m having doubts. I’m doubting my training. I’m doubting my preparation. I’m registered to run my first marathon in only 6 weeks from now and just yesterday I admitted aloud, “I don’t know about this whole marathon thing.” My last five weeks of training have not gone well for me. Five weeks ago, I injured my right foot while subsequently failing to finish a half marathon. That led to an entire week of workouts missed. Three weeks ago, I barely finished a 16 mile run and felt absolutely awful at the end of it. I lost another full week of workouts after that to intensely cold temperatures. This past week felt very good to me up until yesterday.
I set out at 7:30 am with an 18 mile goal. I made it though 10 miles and had to stop because I needed a bathroom and felt that I couldn’t make it to the nearest one which was two miles away. That wasn’t the only thing, though. Yesterday’s run felt bad from the start. Maybe I pushed myself too hard in Friday’s workout. Perhaps it was the 9 °F weather I was running in. Maybe it really was just the toilet that was too far away. Right now, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve now experienced failure in some way or another in 4 of my last 5 weeks of training. What do I have to do to get past this?
A major part of being your own coach and motivator is the search for inspiration. One thing I’ve started doing is looking back at everything I’ve accomplished over the past 13 months. I’ve lost 80 pounds. I bought a house. I ran a half marathon. I’m not yet out of the running for making the Phoenix roster. If I could do all those things, I should be able to do this, right?
I’m reminded of Joseph Campbell’s paradigm of the hero’s journey. Every hero, at some point in time, encounters a setback or a road block, if you will. This often involves a serious blow to his self confidence. It requires the use of all the knowledge and skills he’s gained throughout his journey so far and probably will also require a good bit of innovation in order to overcome said road block. I feel that’s where I am right now. Cassie keeps telling me she believes in me, and I really appreciate it. The thing is, though, I don’t believe in me right now. After such a long stretch of struggles I need to start seeing results again. I’m beginning to run short on time for preparing myself for this race. I’m also putting a lot of extra pressure on myself to improve ultimate frisbee skills as much as possible over the next two weeks leading up to the next Phoenix combine. This is adding up to a good deal of stress right now, but both of these events are very important to me so I need to push through. I need to get my head straight. This next week of training (which I’ll be starting tomorrow) is, by far, the most important week of my entire 18 week training plan so far. I’m scheduled for a 20 mile run next weekend. If I can’t do it, if I fail again, it’ll be devastating to my self confidence. I don’t know how I’ll be able to come back from that. On the other hand, if I succeed next weekend I could very well be back on my way feeling invincible again.
In the words of my good friend, Eric, this is everything.