Anytime something new is started in our lives there is a combination of excitement and anxiety. It’s there, every time I step up to the starting line of a race–an exhilaration of the possibility of what’s to come combined with the fears my mind brings up. In the beginning of my running career the fears were louder in my head. Voices telling me that I won’t be able to reach my goal, that I’m not going to be able to complete the distance, that I don’t belong on this line. I felt the same fears a few years ago when I started a my very first weight training program. I remember walking into the gym, armed with my exercise journal, listing my exercises, reps, weights and rest. And yet all of that foreknowledge couldn’t drown out the fears my brain was listening to.
In Dave Griffin’s book In the Distance he describes fear as a “self made emotion, a product of our apprehension. If you want to do something, achieve something, or become something, fear is the first obstacle that you’ll have to overcome.”
Being overweight for most of my life these beginnings related to exercise really ramped up the fear factor. There were constructs I had made to protect myself from experiencing failure. What I hadn’t realized is that it also kept me from trying. I remember those feelings of failure came to a head one night early in my training. I remember struggling towards the end of the workout and texting my coach telling him that I wasn’t able to do what he asked, that I was no good at it, that I didn’t belong. I remember him telling me that he believed in me; if he didn’t he would not take the time to work with me. I let the words of his text sink in, breathed in, breathed out, and finished the workout as best I could. When coach and I got back together he told me that the workout he had prescribed that night was a “fight or flight” workout, and he wanted to see how I responded to it. He told me he was proud of the way I fought through even though I may have kicked and screamed on the way there. That night was my turning point–the night I knew that the workout wasn’t the real obstacle–my fear was.
I was reminded of that earlier this week for two reasons. Firstly, my 13 year old daughter, Leah, is training this summer for cross country. She is following a running plan and today she was to do 3 miles. Monday was only the third time she completed that distance, and as she came through the door I could tell that the July heat and humidity had coupled with her fears of failure to mess with her head. “That was hell,” she said flatly, with just the hint of choked back tears. She began to tell me about how hot it was and how she kept getting cramps. Each excuse delivered with a heightened sense of anxiety. At first my response was firm attempting to snap her from her heat-induced delirium. After she had a drink and calmed down we talked about what was going on in her head during the run. She described a fever dream of doubt and discomfort that made her feel like she wasn’t good at this and didn’t belong doing it.
Her words resonated in me as we stood there and talked. And then I told her that I had those very same fears, not that long ago. It’s incredibly comforting to know that someone else has had the same fears as you–especially someone who has overcome them. Overcoming fears though, I told her, is something that you will continue to do in this life.
I had to laugh as the parable of my life played out reminding me about my own fears that I have not completely overcome–the fear of failure. In my short running career, I have raced all types of distances from 5K to marathon, and have covered almost 5000 miles, but I have never had a good, or what I would call a successful, marathon. Each of the 3 out of the 4 times I’ve completed them, my mind had succumbed to my fear, and that mental collapse led to a physical one causing me to walk far more miles than I had planned and even crossing the line couldn’t expunge the feelings of inadequacy completely.
So last week while on vacation, my wife and I were discussing a marathon for the fall. And all those residual feelings of doubt started to resurface. As they rose up they combined with my larger feeling of failure that has been whispering in my ear lately. Because I know that once you commit to a goal it becomes real–tangible–and no longer a theoretical idea that you can kick around some more in your brain.
But I can’t kick this idea around anymore–I want to run the Boston Marathon. Let me rephrase, I want to QUALIFY for the Boston Marathon. There’s something about that race….ask anyone in the racing community, there’s an air, a mystique that draws you in, hypnotizes you and makes you feel like you can accomplish anything. Except I always felt that qualifying was beyond my grasp. That was before this last year of running, where something has clicked in me and I’m running better than I ever have before. It may not be enough, but it is a kernel of confidence that could blossom into belief.
My goal is a long range one. In 3 years I will be 50 years old (ugh….when did that happen) and the qualifying time should be somewhere in the ballpark of 3:30 min. Truth up front, my closest marathon time is 69 min away from that goal. So I have quite a bit of ground to cover on the road to Boston.
My first stop on the journey this year is the Philadelphia Marathon. I have a love/hate relationship with this race. The city of brotherly love was my first marathon, and you never forget your first, but just a year after that it was also my worst marathon. My goal for this race is to improve my race time by 30 min. I feel like this will be a solid foundation upon which to build or if I am unable to accomplish this task, I will know that perhaps the marathon is not my distance.
Perhaps the most important part of this journey is what I’m doing right now–sharing it. Something I learned in my own physical transformation was that I could not do it alone. I need to be accountable to someone or in this case a community of friends. So please comment, follow, or share this post as I plan on blogging weekly to hold myself accountable and share accomplishments and pitfalls along the way. Because there will be some days where it will be great and others when I’ll feel like my daughter and describing it as “pure hell.”
There’s a lot of miles from here to Boston; I hope you join me on this journey!