Just over a month ago, I woke up at 4:15 a.m. to a dreary, rainy morning. Had it been any other Saturday, I’d have texted my running partner with a “sorry no can do, see YA” and then rolled over and gone back to sleep. That particular Saturday, however, I had a marathon to run. So, I got out of bed and prayed for clear skies.
Luckily, by race time the downpour had changed to an intermittent mist with a few blustering winds thrown in every other mile for good measure. Not an ideal day, but better than pouring rain. I was still sort of jacked up about the threat of bad weather as we crossed the start line. For the first few miles, I tried to both take in all of the sights and ignore them, effectively searching for my own “zone” for the race ahead. This is standard procedure for me at every marathon. While some athletes look to “get their game on,” I try to get my “head game on” and call upon my voice of reason that will be my cheerleader and coach. This routine is essential, because as a veteran marathoner, I know what might be in store for me on the 26.2 mile journey.
I know that on a good day, when I’m not plagued by injuries, aches, or stomach issues… the marathon gets progressively tougher. I also understand that running a marathon is similar to running with a time bomb strapped to your back… you never know when your world will effectively blow up. This trouble may come in the form of blisters exploding at mile 24 (been there), Achille’s tendons blowing out (done that), or a variety of minor disturbances in the form of physical and mostly mental “game day” grenades.
So, it’s logical that I always begin with a bit of nervous energy. On that particular day, during my early miles “ignore the fans/notice the fans” bi-polar phase, I saw a woman holding a sign, “May the Course be With You.” Might I note that nothing makes me happier during a run than clever, pop culture references. Who doesn’t love a Star Wars play on words? I laughed at the sign, gave the woman a thumbs up, and told myself that this would somehow make a great Runnerchica topic. I was sure I’d gain the inspiration along that run, and hit my computer the moment I got home and pelt out a new blog entry.
I set out then, at mile 5, in search of meaning.
Well, there was no Oprah “Aha” moment at 5.5, 6, or 7 for that matter. I ran through those miles, pressing my brain to bring meaning to that Star Wars quote. When nothing struck me as remotely moving, I threw inspiration to the wayside and instead got caught up in a head game of how much longer I had to run (always smart at mile 7). I wasn’t in any particular pain, but I was clearly headed down a dangerous mental path. My running partner, knowing me very well, called me on it immediately.
“Hey, are you okay?”
I really didn’t think my dismay was that obvious. In abbreviated marathon speak (long sentences don’t happen on these runs), I told her I wasn’t… but her calling me out on it had snapped me back into reality. I gave a cavewoman nod of thanks, and we continued, now in a relaxed silence. It was at this point that the half marathoners started on their journey back, which meant I could now be entertained by the people passing me in the other lane.
This is when it all started to come together… the inspiration, that is. As I studied each runner, I noticed that everyone had a slightly different expression- some looked miserable, others content, still others for some reason were animated and chatting it up. Yet all bore the look of runners out there determined to get’er done. That moment in time, while we all may have been in different “places,” we were all one with the course and all it threw our way.
It wasn’t until after the run, in the comfort of my warm, dry home that I made some observations about just what that marathon course (and all others) are all about.
Here’s the thing about a marathon course- it’s an entirely different beast when reviewed after all is said and done. It’s like a campground after a storm- nothing is as dark and ominous as it seems in the thick of man vs. nature. For example, after the run, I could fully appreciate all of the course’s resources- mental, physical, emotional and otherwise. Those resources came in obvious forms like the Gatorade, water, and gels. All of these were great for the physical, body fueling aspects of our run. Then, if those resources backfired, the course supplied us with porta potties. The volunteers placed throughout the course to guide us in the right direction and help with injuries or problems were also a big part of the course’s “force” designed to help as needed.
Fans along the way; from the clever sign carrying type to the 3-year-olds high-fiving to cars full of high schoolers who showed up at every mile mark blaring tunes, also contributed to the course’s positive ju-ju. And finally, the energy created from the field of fellow runners, each of us knowing just how crappy the other was feeling, definitely made up part of the force.
Most important of all, the force became apparent as runners approached the mile 25 marker, with just over a mile to go. It’s here that each runner realizes then that even though we had some help along the way to get us there, we were the ones in charge of our success. This milestone represents the fact that we could indeed accomplish great things- both on the course and off. We realized then, maybe not clearly at the time because mile 25 is also a delusional point for many, that while the “force” represents the Universe coming together in our favor, our real power comes from inside. It’s our inner force, guided and supported by everything that crosses our path, that drives us to reach our goals and do amazing things. It’s along the course that these two forces come together.
Perhaps Obi-Wan explained it best as he explained the force to Luke:
LUKE: The Force?
Obi Wan: Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
Or, perhaps we could call upon the wisdom of one of my 6th grade students who happened to be wearing a Darth Vader shirt the day I was writing this piece.
Runnerchica: You’re wearing a Darth Vader shirt. Are you a big Star Wars fan?
6th grader: Well, yeah.
Runnerchica: So… you know the saying, “May the force be with you.” What do you think it means?
Student: (pause) I don’t know, like, isn’t it religion? Like maybe God?
It seems then, that while exact definitions of “the force” vary, it all boils down to one thing. Whether you’re on a marathon course, or the course of life… you’re always surrounded by a force to get you through the tough times. It’s all about believing in it, in yourself, and then running with that feeling to the finish. Never forget that you hold the power to handle whatever the course brings to you.
May the Course Be With You!