Every stride that I run after mile 20 will be a personal feat. While I have trained consistently for the past four months, every mile past the 20-mile threshold will be the farthest distance I have ever traveled by foot.
I’m just starting to realize just how far 26.2 miles is. In terms of congested Orange County freeways, I will be traveling a distance greater than the intervals of the 5 and 57 that link CSUF with my hometown of Mission Viejo. In traffic, this drive takes me an hour. In marathon time, I’m estimating that this journey will take me 3 hours and 40 minutes.
I will be starting this journey at 5:30 a.m. next week. The opening five miles will be a breeze of adrenaline and excitement. From here it will be gradual decline of morale and energy leading to an almost insurmountable obstacle that some runners have described as “the wall.”
Its portrayal in the Simon Pegg movie Run, Fat Boy, Run is dauntingly accurate. As Pegg’s character realizes that he has nine miles to go after 12 hours of running on a sprained ankle, he waddles into an invisible barrier. Manifesting itself as a two-story brick wall, he looks at it in disbelief, contemplating giving up.
I’m positive that mile 20 will be my wall. Moving with tired form and delirious from the miles behind me, I will see the 20-mile marker and realize that I’m crossing a critical threshold. At this point, the end will be in sight but without any experience going this far, my mind will doubt my body’s ability to go any further.
In many ways, mile 20 will be the start of my marathon. No matter how much I have trained, nothing will prepare me for this mental hurdle.
The first reaction will be panic. My mind will begin to doubt itself, leading to an immediate slowing of my pace. Every mile will go by slower. Every step will get a little harder. As the lactic acid continues to build in my muscles, slight pains will become noticeable. The balls of my feet will ache, forcing me to strike the ground with my heels first. My back will keel over and my form will begin to suffer.
I’ve thought through this scenario a hundred times, trying to prepare a reason or motivation to use in order to keep my body going.
My first counter attack will be to remember why I started running nine years ago. Frustrated and confused by adolescence, running gave me a release from the world. I wasn’t motivated by the pursuit of fitness or a healthy lifestyle, it was the escape from the world that I craved. By putting on running shoes, listening to music and escaping into the night for half an hour, I hit a metaphorical reset button on my mind, and was able to attack the tasks of the day with vigor and a higher spirit.
As the physical pain infests my body, I’ll remember the many years that I have been running and the peace that it’s given me.
Second, I will remember the horrible events at the Boston Marathon. I will remember the people who lost their lives and their limbs at the finish line. Those last six miles will be in their honor.
Brick by brick, the wall will fall. My pace will quicken, my back will stand straight and my eyes will be lifted from the concrete in front of me toward the approaching finish line. The negativity and feeling of pain will be rung from my mind like water from a wet rag with every widening step.
As I stumble through the finish line, delirious and more fatigued than I have ever been in my life, it will all be worth it.