“What’s a couple minutes of agony for a lifetime of glory?”
-*Willie, age 12
I’ve been running marathons for almost eight years now, long enough for my family and friends to finally get it that I’m not going to stop anytime soon. And while my dad, the doctor, continues to tell me that “I’m beating the hell out of my knees” (or something like that), I still have visions of running marathons in all fifty states, and running well into my 70’s and 80’s. These are among the crazy goals I’ve set since I became hooked on running.
Another of my goals has been to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Now, I thought of this goal right before my first marathon, when I was naïve and green, and didn’t even know what time I needed to get in order to qualify. I didn’t even own a running watch for crying out loud. Somewhere around mile 12 of that marathon, I set the more realistic goal of just making it to the finish without dying, hurting someone, or having a complete mental and physical breakdown.
Well, I made it through marathon #1 and signed up for another, this time knowing better than to even consider Boston. I didn’t know jack squat about strategy or speed work, and I still didn’t have a watch. Instead, I just continued to run, happy to be doing marathons. After marathon #5, I had heard enough people talk about Boston, and I did my homework to see what time I’d need to qualify. It still seemed way “out there,” but not as remote a possibility as it originally did. I decided that someday, come hell or high water, I would run Boston. I’m happy to report that 11 races later… I did it! Yes, last Sunday, on a crisp fall day, I laced up my shoes and knew in that weird psychic kind of way that one really can’t explain, that when I took those shoes off again, it’d be as a qualifier.
Now, while the excitement of this feat has tempted me to tell everyone from the clerk at Walgreen’s to the McDonald’s drive thru gal, I’m not using this column as a way to brag. (Really!) Rather, I want to use “my Boston” as a reminder that those goals we set for ourselves… the “I really would love to do that someday, but I’m not sure if I can but sure would like too…” really CAN happen. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to seal the deal.
For me, reaching my goal occurred when a number of things came together at precisely the right moment; it wasn’t an accident or a fluke. Boston happened for me because I considered the following:
1. Make a goal: It’s one thing to be dreamy and say, “Oh, yeah, it’d be great to quit my job and start up my own business someday.” It’s quite another thing to say, “I’m going to work at my current job for X number of months and then I will make a change.” For me, it took changing my thoughts from “Boston would be a cool place to run” to “I will run in the Boston Marathon before I die.” I literally changed the synapse pattern in my brain from that of “what if” to “only a matter of time.” Whatever your goal, make it clear and concise so that your brain and heart can be on the lookout for signs of it coming to fruition.
2. Preparation: It wasn’t an accident that I qualified; not a fluke like getting discovered while walking down Rodeo Drive in Hollywood. I didn’t cross the finish line, look up and gasp saying, “Oh, my, it just so happens that my time will qualify me for Boston…” No, it happened because, quite frankly, I worked my butt off. I ran my heart out, did Bikram Yoga until the cows came home, and tried to eat relatively well all summer long. The main thing, though, is that I prepared on my own terms. As I trained, I heard stories of people doing multiple runs of 20 plus miles. Almost all of my friends did a 22 mile training run. My running partner and I had sights on doing this as well, but time (and body) restrictions left us doing probably 2- 19 milers. I didn’t sweat it. Instead, I felt like I was doing what was right for me and continued about my business. Whatever your goal is… figure out what you (not everyone else!) need to do to accomplish it, and then comfortably and confidently proceed from there. As they tell me in Bikram when I’m staring at myself in the mirrored wall during class, “Look into the eyes of your teacher.” Your teacher knows best.
3. Signs & Help along the way: I am 100% sure that I would not be writing this column had it not been for the fabulous fans (pre, during, and post race) that I met on my marathon journey last weekend. From the adorable 90 year old woman who was standing outside her house, clapping her hands saying, “You can do it. You can do it. You can do it.” to my husband with pretzels at mile 20, and my family with their gigantic sign at 22, everyone gave me words of encouragement to carry when the going got tough. We all have people like this in our lives who say things to us… sometimes directly, “You’re doing a great job, I know you’ll accomplish your goal soon” and sometimes indirectly like the woman in line at the grocery store who talks about a random event that encourages us. There are messages everywhere… learn to recognize them.
4. Self Talk: Fans are great, but they are only there for seconds at a time. Then, you are left with your own thoughts, which can turn dark if you’re not careful. I decided that I was going to be my own best fan, and repeat some of the greatest hits I heard along the way. So, from mile 22-26.2, I repeated the following over and over in my head, “You can do it. You go, girl. You’re looking good.” I added some of my own material is well, “Boston. Boston. (Then, during a particularly rough spell…) Just don’t die. Just finish this &*#@ing race without dying.” During this particularly bleak moment of pain and perhaps ultimate despair, a spectator interrupted with, “Girl, you’ve GOT this one.” Now, she had no idea of what my goal was or time was for that matter, but she served as a great reminder (see #3 above) to keep it going. I proceeded on, telling myself over and over that I was going to “get it.” When it comes down to it… the only person who can make you do something is that person staring back at you in the mirror. And if the stuff coming out of that person’s mouth isn’t nice or encouraging, then really… how are you ever going to accomplish your goal or anything for that matter?
5. Breathe: I have to again take it back to Bikram Yoga. The day before my marathon, I was in yoga and noticed the logo on my instructor’s shorts. It said breathe. Coincidentally, this particular instructor did a lot of talking during class about breathing, and the importance of it in everything we do in yoga and life. He said things like, “When you just breathe and trust the process, amazing things can happen.” He also said that by learning how to breathe in yoga, we could learn how to relax our bodies in other situations. I thought that sounded like a good thing to try during the marathon. When my body screamed in protest at mile 12,14, 15, 22 (basically throughout the run, who am I kidding), I kept reminding myself to slow things down internally, and just breathe. It worked. My final advice to you, in whatever you are trying to accomplish… is to simply breathe and trust that things have a way of falling into place when you are ready for them.
Whether you’re headed for Boston or Timbuktu, friends, may all of your dreams come true.
by abbey algiers
*Willie is my running partner Marianne’s son. Marianne told me Willie’s wise words as we were approaching mile 19. Thanks, Willie for keeping us going with your wisdom!