This morning I met up with Martin and a couple of his running buddies, Don and Lawrence, for another kick at the 29km can. Coming off last weeks positive experience, I wasn't feeling too much anxiety as I ate my toast and peanut butter for breakfast. I felt like I had things fairly under control (snacks - check, water - check!) and having done the distance once already, I knew that I would definitely be able to conquer it again.
Before we took off on the trails, Martin challenged me to run 30km's today. "Why not make today another personal distance record?", he asked. My initial reaction: Gulp. My secondary reaction: It is ONLY one kilometre beyond what I did last week. And so, without too much hesitation or convincing, I accepted
I learned a very important lesson today about running when the wind is present. Whenever possible, you want to finish with it at your back. It's amazing how much more strenuous it is to run when you have the resistance of a strong wind heaving into your body. Your ears get colder too ;) The wind was blowing (gusting is probably a more appropriate term) east today, so we started out running 7.5km's to the east with the wind at our backs. After that, we switched direction and ran 15 km's west into the head winds. It was tough. Finally, we finished things off with 7.5km's to the east with the tail winds giving us a nice boost on those painful final strides.
At some point between kilometre 21 and 22.5, I had this surreal moment of clarity. All of the chatter in my mind slowed for a moment and my purpose surrounding this marathon quest became crystal clear. I realized that I am training for this race to increase my capacity to endure. I want to improve my ability to be with discomfort and to push through it. I want to notice my patterns when I face struggle so I can continue to learn new tools to cope. And I want to fearlessly commit to a challenge that I admired in others who had completed it, but on first consideration of actually doing it myself, believed it to be beyond my capabilities. Simple. Powerful. Real. True.
One pattern that I noticed today was that as I start to face discomfort, I get a little bit quiet. I'm a chatter box at the beginning of a run, but as my feet start to feel like the concrete they've been running on, I dial it in and narrow my focus to positive inner dialogue and safe running technique. I also noticed that I have the tendency to pick up the pace near the end when things are getting painful - firstly, because a quicker stride seems to hurt my knees less; secondly, because I have no control over the competitor in me when he says "pull ahead of the pack"; and finally because after 3 hours, I just want to get the shit over with as quick as possible! :) Today, with 6km's left, I broke off from my group and zoned in on my stride. I amped up my pace and it felt like my body had taken complete control while my mind just followed.
I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday night who was really intrigued when I mentioned my marathon training and how I'm seeking confirmation and evidence that my inner strength exists. She was slightly confused and asked, "well, didn't the fact that you won an Olympic Gold Medal and came back from two broken legs in gymnastics give you that confirmation?" Good question. And obviously one would assume that's the case, but I believe that courage and willpower are like muscles. If you don't flex them consistently, they start to fade away. It's been a while since I've taken on a challenge that seemed impossible...
It's very easy to get complacent in our society and world. It's remarkably simple to stop pushing yourself when you don't have a goal that burns deeply inside. Since Beijing, I had a really difficult time finding a goal that resonated with me. I tried things on, but nothing felt like it fit quite right. My life started to feel like it was slowly spiralling into a sluggish trap and indolence and apathy were becoming strong forces in my daily approach. This reality scared me a lot because I've never had much respect for those who don't seek evolution in their lives. I didn't want to join that team because I know that particular lifestyle doesn't suit me. But I felt stuck in the middle. Gymnastics always came so naturally to me. I was born for it and I believe it was in my destiny to be an Olympic Gold Medalist in the sport. But when I was done, I knew that I was physically and mentally done. My body couldn't take one more arabian double front and my mind couldn't take one more expectation being placed on my shoulders. But I had no clue about what came next...
I was not a natural runner, but there was something about running that attracted me. Maybe it was the fact that it didn't come natural to me. There would be no pressure and no expectation to be good. I could just enter races, train for them, show up, run, cross the finish line and feel great that I committed to a goal from start to finish. And that's kind of the path that my running life has taken. I started with a 10K two years ago, then slowly built up to a half marathon and now here I am, on my way to completing a full marathon. It was progressive and in no way easy. Hell, I used to run 24.65 METRES full speed towards a stationary object and flip over it backwards. Now I've built up my personal distance record to 30 KILOMETRES. That's huge growth and I've gotten to this point because of commitment, determination and action. Not because I was born to run.
As I sit here with ice bags on my knees and a stupid grin on my face, I can't help but nod my head in understanding. A no fail way to improve your sense of well-being is to pick a goal and fearlessly commit to it. To not let any excuse get in the way. To hold yourself accountable to taking action. Because the further you get along in your plan, the more invested you become. As you plug along, you begin to recognize and appreciate that you are where you are because of your effort. And that feels pretty awesome.
I'm really diggin' where I'm at right now. I'm feeling the momentum churn inside of my body and mind and getting to this point makes me believe that I have a greater capacity to endure. It makes me believe that I can be with discomfort and push through it. It's giving me new tools to cope with my patterns of struggle and I'm proving to myself that NOTHING is beyond my capabilities. I think I'd like to stay here for a while...