Mantras. We all have ’em. They are always changing and a new mantra can hit you just like that. It can perfectly describe the four months of marathon training and it can make the difference between a good run and a bad run. I’ve got myself a new mantra. It came to me, just like that while running last week. A new mantra though is really only a product of previous mantras. Running is all about growth and the journey and so are the mantras that go with it. So here’s my mantra journey and a new one to carry me through the streets of Boston and 26.2 miles on Patriots Day…
As a college athlete I talked myself through a lot of races, a lot of pain, a lot of heartbreak and a lot of victories. I ran cross-country but my motivation to be fast was really based out of the sheer desire to crush our captain and be the fastest girl on the team. See, we both skied together. I happened to be the faster skier and she happened to be the faster runner. Once she told me that running was “hers” and skiing was mine. I’m the ultimate competitor, and was never going to concede that running was “hers”. I was determined to beat her not once, but every time. By the time cross-country started our senior year I had lost about 10 pounds and taught myself how to run fast and strong. She was always fast from the start, I was slow from the start but would blow it open by the end. I could always see her ahead of me and would always go after her. Once I passed her it was just a sheer determination to get to the finish as fast as possible because I’d have more time on her that way. I guess you could say my mantra and mental thoughts were all about being the fastest and best on our team, and to beat her. Like I said, I’m a fierce competitor.
Skiing though was a little different. I was often the fastest in our Division III league and didn’t have much competition. When I raced Division 1 I wasn’t trying to win, but merely trying to finish respectably and give each race my best while competing among the likes of future Olympians. My senior year I was fast and was placing in the top 20 for Division 1 races. For a Division III athlete this was a big deal. There were a few Division 1 coaches who were rooting for me and would give me splits on the course and advice, and my parents were always there. Often I’d hold those words yelled to me in my mind. Sometimes it was the words of a coach telling me to be strong and smooth over a hill and get the girl in front of me on the downhill. Sometimes it was the words of my Dad telling me I was 30 seconds up on so and so and had this. Sometimes it was my own words telling me to slow my breathing and recover my breath and push through the pain in my legs or it was myself screaming at me to get me to pass 3 girls before the finish. The mantra went something like this, “You got this, push it. Recover your breathing. Push it. Your almost there girl. Push it.”
After college I took on the marathon. When I was training for New York my mantra was much like my college mantra. It worked. Until it didn’t. I hurt my IT band because I pushed it too hard. I pushed the number of miles too much and the pace too much. My IT band was inflamed, my knee hurt and I was getting shots of Synvsc every 6 weeks just so I could keep running. I went to PT three days a week, wore a compression knee brace and fought through the discomfort because I was going to finish this marathon. My mantra became something else. It became gentler. It was the words of my mom telling me I was strong and could do anything and it was the words of myself asking my body to give me this and thanking myself for all the wins in college. My mantra was my mind pleading with my body to just give me 26.2 miles.
Last fall when I ran Chicago Marathon by body was stronger, my injuries from NYC were healed and my running was at it’s best. For four months I was able to follow my training plan exactly as it was set. Every long run, tempo run and track workout was at or faster than the set pace. I was motivated and excited for every run and was determined to make the marathon “mine”. Chicago would not beat me. The marathon itself was “easy”. I didn’t even need a mantra until mile 20! The first 13 miles I ran with Michael and we took in the city, the crowds, the sites and the time flew by. As the number of miles grew I knew I was almost there, I started to mentally countdown. 7 more to go, 6 more to go, get through these next 3 and you’ll have 3 left, 2 miles to go. When my legs were tired, and I was sore and hot I told myself, “Keeping going, you own this.” I kept telling myself to own Chicago, own the pain, own mile 25. The theme and mantra of Chicago was definitely to own it. Without even realizing it my mantra had changed and the days of telling myself to “Push it” were gone. There was no more mental pep talks with the words of my parents to echo it. I owned the Chicago Marathon.
Fresh off Chicago, I was on a marathon high. I needed another one like it was a bad drug and couldn’t stop thinking about the marathon. More so, I wanted Boston. I signed on with Team in Training and was amped. Another marathon to make mine. Then November came and it was cold and dark. The idea of raising $4000 was overwhelming and scary. I asked myself, “why are you doing this?” And then I did what I always do, dove head first into it and started running and fundraising. I made fundraising my business and was going to make that deadline if it killed me. January came and it was time to get serious with running. It was time to follow my plan and keep fundraising. And so I did. By mid-February though my Chicago Marathon high was gone and my motivation was low. My legs were tired and sore. My mind kept saying “I can’t wait for this to be over.” I wallowed for a few weeks (well, as much as I can actually wallow), I took a week and a half off from running and focused on yoga and spinning. I started running again hoping I’d be recharged and feeling awesome…but I wasn’t. And then the last three weeks happened. I’ve started feeling better on my runs, hitting my pace on tempo runs, speed workouts and long runs. Running started to be easy again and I was getting motivated again. I fought through a 16 mile run in 30mph winds, I ran in the dark, I ran in a snowstorm at 5am and rocked 13 miles in the pouring rain. I didn’t care, running mattered and was doing what I love.
Last Thursday I had a 6 mile run on tap, 4 miles at 7:50min/mile tempo pace. I planned to run at night because the high was supposed to be near 70 and I wanted to wear shorts. I got home from work and realized I didn’t plan for 30-50mph winds. Michael called and said I should run on the treadmill because it was so windy. I got changed, put on my shorts and listened to the wind howl. I decide I was running outside. Wind? I can beat that. As I set out for my run along the Charles River the wind was crazy, blowing me everywhere. The waves were crashing on to the shore and garbage and leaves were blowing everywhere. The wind was loud and the sun was setting. I didn’t care. I felt strong and powerful. I felt at PEACE. Then it hit me, there was chaos everywhere the wind, my life, my busy schedule. While I was running though I felt calm, like I was the eye of the storm. I felt strong and fierce. My Garmin beeped, time to get the tempo going. I flew through that tempo run. 7:50 pace? Psshh, I killed it with a 7:24 pace. The wind gusts in my face? I was stronger than them. And then in the chaos of the wind and the challenge of a tempo run I realized I had a new mantra. The mantra of the Boston Marathon has become, “You are Strong, You are Beautiful.”
Training for Boston has made me stronger. I can run through anything. Wind, Rain, Snow, Darkness. I can fight through tired legs and lack of motivation. I felt strong in making the choice to alter my training plan. Fewer miles doesn’t mean you’ll be less successful. I felt strong after taking time off. I feel strong and capable raising over $5000 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I feel stronger these days in making choices in my life for me. I feel stronger going after what I want. And all of this makes me feel beautiful! So on Marathon Monday I’ll be making myself 26.2 miles stronger, one more marathon stronger, fighting disease stronger and making myself beautiful once more inside and out! Repeat it with me on April 16th and every run until then, “You are Strong, You are Beautiful.”