Yesterday I ran in the inaugural Stirling Marathon. I had hoped to write today about how to use negative experiences for good – I expected that at somepoint during the race I would draw on my ‘personal worst’ training runs or races with the logic of ‘if i can get through that, I can get through this!’ There was a little of that yesterday; with four miles to go I remembered the time I ran 8.5 miles in Auckland humidity with no planning or fuel other than water at mile 7. And with 3 miles to go I reasoned “it’s just a normal parkrun…” Except, a normal parkrun comes with fresh legs, not 23 miles behind you.
It turns out there was another, and far greater, lesson in store for me: sometimes you get empty and you need someone or something (or both) to get you through. It is during those times that you can not rely on yourself.
I had been on target until about mile 16. I had been doing fairly well pace-wise, but I had been feeling rotten since the start and this feeling was only getting worse. Early on in the day I had a sense that nutrition was going to be an issue during the race, and this proved to be the case. By mile 20, as much as I really needed it I could not force down another energy gel. Eventually the doubts took over and slowed me to a walk for mile 20, and then an even slower walk at mile 21 – with stops and inner questioning to ask if actually today just wasn’t my day and whether dragging myself to the end was really worth it. I had given my all, and it wasn’t good enough. I really was not capable of finishing, as my back and forth with my wife showed.
I was in the kind of place where no-amount of self-talk would have helped me. I remembered my personal worst but that was a totally different situation – I bonked in the middle of nowhere and still had a couple of miles to get back to the car. With neither money nor food I had to get back to the car, where-as I didn’t have to finish the marathon! I tried phrases from Don’t Quit lady, so-called because she had those words pinned to her back. We had met a few miles back and ran for a couple of miles. But “I am fast, I am strong, I am powerful” didn’t work when I was alone because I was listening to my own voice.
This was three miles of just getting through it. Mrs H encouraged me to think things through. Which I did. Badly. All my thoughts were negative until it eventually clicked that this was the way it was and I just had to bear it. The question then became how to bear it. At length this led to more productive thinking. I realised what I needed and asked for it.
When I saw she had a cereal bar waiting I was able to quicken my steps into a power walk for one more mile, and receive that welcome gift! Before she had even handed over that granola bar, Mrs H had lightened my load. I am 99% sure that if she had not been there I would have given up.
I feel like this has a parallel with healing from depression. At points, you cannot do anything for yourself. Even though you’re thirsty you don’t have the energy to pour a glass of water. Your own will-power, positive self-talk, reminders, phrases simply do not do the job. In this instance you need someone and possibly something – medication, counselling, exercise – to help. I tried going to the doctor many times, but eventually just needed to be taken. I overtook Don’t Quit lady on lap 2, which I was running (my fastest miles were miles 25-26.2!), and repeated that phrase aloud to her, which perked both of us up. We somehow found each other after the finish line for a massive hug!
So in those times when you feel like you are running on empty I encourage you to keep moving. Somehow. Don’t quit. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you feel like you ought to be going faster and hate the slow pace. Just do your best, and shuffle on. In time you will be able to pick up pace again. And when you do, you will be proud that you kept going. But the struggle is a heck of a lot easier if you ask someone to be there for you. Because like it or not you need that person.