26.2 miles. A distance that requires just as much mental strength as it does physical strength.
Everyone has mantras, music, mental tricks, and signs, that help get them through a marathon. Maybe you have certain “power songs” cued on your iPod. Perhaps you’re a runner who dedicates each mile to a different person in your life. Or, if you’re like me plodding along in the back of the pack doing anything not to cry at mile marker 23 knowing all your friends are done and drinking beer at the finish line already, you’re trying anything you can think of to put one foot in front of the other.
Next weekend I’ll be reaching for motivation again. And there’s one mental trick of mine, picked up at the start of marathon #2, that I’ll be carrying with me.
At 5:30 a.m. at the Las Vegas Marathon in December of 2006, I found myself huddled around a woman holding a stick with some balloons and a cardboard sign. Our pacer. And a few moments before the fireworks and Blue Man Group performance started, she decided to give us a piece of wisdom during the run.
“Listen, I want you to remember one thing and one thing only. 18 miles is your half way point.”
…wait, what? I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all, but 26.2 divided by 2 is not-
“Look. This is a mental battle as much as it is a physical one. You have to get it in your head that mile marker 18 is your half way point. If you think you’re halfway there at 13.1, you’re in for a tough journey ahead. Miles 18-26 are going to feel as mentally hard as miles 1-18. When we get to the 13.1 mark, everyone is going to be cheering we are half way there. Ignore them. Mile marker 18 is your mental halfway point.”
Knowing what was ahead, I decided to listen to her. 13.1 miles in, while everyone around me was cheering, I ignored the “Halfway There!” sign. 18 miles in I finally allowed myself to breathe a sign of relief. I was mentally halfway there.
A mile later I hit the wall. It was awful. My iPod died. It was windy. I felt broken. But I was prepared to stick it out through this entire “second half.” Prepared for it to mentally take as long as the “first half.” And it worked. I sucked it up, and I finished.
And every marathon since then, right before we start, I tell myself 18 miles is my halfway point. And every time I get 18 miles in, I finally allow myself to breathe a sigh of relief.
And start my second half.