The first time I ran a marathon, I hit the dreaded Wall at mile 20 like a ton of bricks. By mile 22 I was ready to give up. Under-fueling played a role in this, but I also struggled to believe that I could actually finish the race. I found myself uncomfortable, isolated and unhappy. Why on earth was I doing this to myself??
Around the 24th mile my boyfriend found me along the course and said I was doing amazing, which was an instant mood booster. Not long after I could start to hear the cheers of the crowd at the finish line. A mental switch flipped, and suddenly I felt excited and happy. I picked up the pace and smiled all the way to the finish! I was elated to have run my first marathon and all of the misery of the last few miles faded away. I was not less tired than I was a few miles back, but optimism and a stronger mind pushed me to the end.
If you have ever run a long distance race, you know that running is just as much a mental feat as it is physical. Looking back, I didn’t entirely understand what I was getting in to. I had completed a 20 mile training run, so what was 6.2 more miles? Now that I understand what it truly means to hit The Wall, I’m hoping to be a little more prepared when I run the San Francisco Marathon next weekend.
Last year at the SF Marathon expo (I ran the half), I picked up a flyer from the JFK University School of Sports Medicine entitled Breaking Through The Wall, which addresses the mental aspect of running and suggests strategies to help cope with the trials of a long distance race:
I loved the advice it offered so much that I kept the flyer, and it has definitely helped me with the mental prep for my upcoming marathon. I read through it every so often to remind myself how to mentally handle the Wall and keep myself moving forward.
“When you feel fatigue during the race, the first step is to accept it and try not to fight it”
Truth. Trying to fight the fatigue causes unnecessary stress on the body and mind. I fought fatigue tooth and nail in my first attempt at the marathon, and it caused me to feel let down by my abilities and discouraged. I KNOW the SF Marathon is going to be hilly and difficult. I KNOW there may be a moment when I will question my decision to sign up for another marathon. I KNOW it will probably hurt to run at times. Relax and respect the journey!
“Exertion pain means you are breaking into new territory”
Endurance running is not just about exercise-we runners seek something more. We need excitement. We need to explore. We need the challenge. We push our bodies and minds to the limit, and the rewards-that NEW territory-can perhaps only be understood by someone who has completed a long distance run or race.
Next week I will run my second full marathon, and be once again faced with the challenge of upholding a strong mind in the face of adversity.
Nothing in this world worth having comes easy