I have a hard time coping on the first three miles of any distance race. For some reason, that first approximate 5K I completely doubt myself and my abilities. As my thousands of readers know, I have never admitted to being a super speed runner. I’m not built for running at all, but yet my love for it keeps me going.
Despite all my experience of toeing the (slow) line, those first three miles are somewhat akin to being tortured.
I’ve had more than one person tell me that I’m in my head too much. I fret, I worry, I over-analyze. And even though I’m a marathoner, and a multi-half-marathoner, when the starting gun/fireworks/flag drops I immediately believe that it is impossible I will finish.
Perhaps it’s because of the starting runners in a pack, whose faces blur and blend and whose bodies may look nicer in the running tights. Or the throngs of folks who crowd the start to cheer people on, and the fear I will stumble and disappoint them. Fact is most times I’m being pushed to go harder at the start, even if I go to the very back of the pack. And anyone who has raced knows you aren’t supposed to go out hard, because you might well pay for it at the very late stages of the race.
God forbid we start on an uphill. Because there is something in me that says that, even though I don’t run lots of hills, I have to be all bad ass and run this one.
In England running is a lot more hard-core then in the States. In my first half marathon, despite the two ice storms, people blazed ahead. I barely finished in front of a man in full head to toe motorcycle gear. You go from being in this wild pack to being alone quick if you are a slow runner, and there is this period of total desperation that makes you wonder for quite a while if perhaps they will close the course at some point leaving you fully alone.
But then something happens. I wish I could properly describe it.
I don’t know if it’s at the first water station, when the volunteers seem so relieved that they are down to their last few runners. Or if it’s at that point where I first pass someone, anyone, even the guy who is running with dumb bells on his ankles and bare feet. Somewhere along the line I get out of my head. I stop fretting, stop worrying about the fact that I’ve never managed to sit at a 10 minute mile for longer than a mile. I leave work things, home things, personal hang-ups behind me. I start getting all excited about seeing mile markers and thinking about what flavor of Gu I get to take in or if this is a Gatorade station for my next break. I may even attempt to calculate my pace, which, for anyone who has ever run with me in later race stages may be at a speed of A:Monkey:Pancakes.
And I finish. I always finish. Even if it is third to last and with a wobble.
I think it’s those first three miles that turn people away from running, because it really is hard to get going and to believe in yourself. No matter how fast, slow, chubby, skinny, talented or determined you are when in that crowd that moment when people blaze by you the inkling comes… that realization you should just give it up.
The hardest part it moving beyond it and realizing that in the end you are only racing yourself.
Despite my eight years of running it happens every time in a long race. Every, single, time. And I get over it.
I get over it because I keep going. I don’t stop, even though I want to stop. I don’t walk off the course, even though I know I’m finishing in the end pack. I don’t sit down and cry, even though I’ve wanted to many, many times. I’ve expressed my desperation to running partners, to relay teams. I bawled my way to the finish of my first half marathon.
Every time it’s a struggle, and somehow I get through it.
So, if you are sitting there reading this thinking you can’t – you can. You just need to get up and put on the shoes and go out there and do it. Push past the demons and doubts and know that when you cross the line they won’t take it away from you. The medal, the shirt, whatever they give you – that is yours. Get out of your head and go.
Take it from me, who has suffered through many a mile three. The pay off is worth it.