I trained for all those wicked hills, and was inspired by the signs encouraging Don’t Let This Hill Own You!, or Hills Bring Out Your Inner Beast! and even heard my high school soccer coach, Coach Ellis, whispering in my memory, “Those hills are laughing at you girls! Stomp on them. Don’t let anyone laugh at you!” I survived the numerous spectators in the San Francisco neighborhoods promising one after the other that this hill is the last one; it’s all downhill from here, when they clearly hadn’t studied the course elevation map. So after I had truly conquered all those hills, I thought the rest would be easier.
It was my mind that did me in. Without the challenge of elevation changes to keep my thoughts focused, I started to drift, questioning my ability to finish 26.2 when my longest training run was a 22 miler that left me walking home an additional 1.5 miles barefoot with blisters. (I took my shoes and socks off. I don’t run barefoot.) I let all the hype of Lake Merced seep in and sow doubt. Even before I gave myself a chance to be defeated by this section of the course, I gave up. I stopped running, I felt the rising tide of emotions grow up from my belly and spill out in choked breath and sobs. I tried to take a few running steps and stopped again. It was heartbreaking.
Luckily for me there was a spectator in the crowd, a stranger, still stranger in name but forever a part of my running family, who saw this sudden transformation. He stepped out of the crowd near me, looked in my eyes, pointed a determined finger in my direction, and said, “Come on girl! You got this! Now, get your head in the game and get back in there!” I meekly replied, “Okay,” but did what he demanded as if I was compelled by the running gods and goddesses.
I’m not saying I ran the entire rest of the marathon, but I kept believing in myself over and over again, kept replaying his face and words everytime my mind made my body stop. And I crossed the finish line only 3 minutes over my goal time. After getting my finisher necklace and finisher tee-shirt and marching zombie-like through the finisher shute where volunteers put food and beverages in my hands and steered me in the right direction, after reuniting with my husband and my mom who traveled to support me, only then did I truly let it all go. I cried and laughed at myself through my snotty crying.
So, while my friend was out there running his first marathon, I laced up my running shoes and headed out for my own long run. I let my mind wander, to his race, to what I would say to him if I was a spectator in the crowd, and whether it just might be possible to send encouragement and vibes across the country via a sort of runners version of reverse telepathy, a RunnerRePathy.
(Of course, when I thought of this idea I had telepathy and telekinesis mixed up, and RunnerKinesis has a much cooler sound than RunnerPathy. RunnerPathy seems to imply a kind of empathy and this is much more active than empathy. And telepathy isn’t really accurate, hence the reverse telepathy and now RunnerRePathy, pronounced runner-rep-a-thee. My mind really does wander while running.)
A litte mantra formed in my thoughts as I was trying to send runner vibes to Knoxville--strong mind, strong heart, strong body—because really, no matter what else is going on during a run, be it hills or trails or a new distance or a PR or just trying to finish, these three things are essential and connected. I can think of my kids or family or runners who inspire me or the crowd or the beer at the finish line, even if the finish line is my house, to keep me going, but all those motivators and everything else I might dream of, come back to mind, heart, and body while I run.
I repeated strong mind, strong heart, strong body as a new mantra and hopeful wishes for my running friend, over and over that day. I’m not sure if the RunnerRePathy worked, but I’d like to believe it did, and that even when we are far away we can support other runners out there chafing the dream.