10 weeks down, six to go.
Believe. It’s a loaded word. One that is used and abused in popular culture, in religion, in politics, in all the areas of life where what we want to be true may not always be, and what is true is not always pretty. As humans, we have a unique ability to delude ourselves. And yet, we continue to believe any number of things for any number of reasons, some of which are worth believing.
Running isn’t any different. Every runner has a different set of beliefs: that stretching is good or bad, that running with headphones is helpful or a hindrance, that tackling an ultramarathon is sane or insane, that we’ll actually be able to achieve our running goals.
I began to question my beliefs during my last week of training for the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7.
It happened during a 9-mile run. I met two of my teammates in Central Park, and we chatted as we ran along. One of them was telling us about the course description she read on the ING New York City Marathon’s official website. She thought the description made it sound like no one scores a personal record in New York and no one should try to score a personal record in New York; she started doubting her belief that she could. I reminded her that I have PR’d in New York, her husband has PR’d in New York, and based on her one and only marathon time from years ago, she will likely PR in New York—probably by an hour or more.
The thing is, my running partner is not alone. We all doubt what we can do from time to time. During that same run, I was having my own crisis of faith. After 7.5 miles, I could barely speak and was sucking more wind than a vacuum. And our pace? Um, it was about 35 seconds slower than what I was planning on running for the marathon.
During my cool down, the most doubtful thoughts were rushing through my head.
As usual, I got into a lengthy debate with myself:
“Karla, if you can’t even run 9 miles at a 10:15 pace, how do you think you can run that in a marathon?”
“Well, it was really humid today, and I only got 6 hours of sleep last night. Maybe if I sleep well and it’s not humid, it’ll be easier.”
“Easier? Easier? Running a marathon is never easier! Nope, no way.”
“Yeah, but I ran a half-marathon at a 9:42 pace! So what if I did 9 miles at 10:50. It’s a training run. It’s not supposed to be fast.”
“Right, but it’s also not supposed to feel so hard. Comfortably hard, but not really hard. And that was really hard.”
“Yes, it was. It was really hard. But I know that I ran 13 miles at a faster pace than that. And if I did it once, I can do it again.”
And with that, Believing Karla silenced Non-Believing Karla. I decided to believe that I can run a marathon in under 4 hours and 30 minutes, even if I had an incredibly difficult 9-miler this week. The reality is if I want to do it, I have to first believe it.
Anyone who has run even just a few times knows this feeling. Running is as much a mental game as a physical one. Sometimes it’s a matter of believing, and sometimes it’s a matter of playing tricks on yourself. I’m a big fan of that. I pretend I’m a lion hunting gazelles as I pick off runners in front of me. I pretend I’m a gazelle being chased by a lion as I sprint into the finish. That’s the magic of the mind, the power of imagination—for a few moments, I’m actually able to believe the fantasy is true. It’s what kids do when they play “Pretend” and what actors do when they inhabit a role.
I used to do it all the time when I was on swim team as a child. I’d pretend a crocodile was chasing me, and for a few meters it worked. I’d kick much stronger and pull much harder because I was able to believe that it was true. I knew it wasn’t true, of course. I knew there was no crocodile in the YMCA pool. But for that moment, I really believed it.
There’s a famous quote from John Lennon that I’ve always loved:
“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now? Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
Indeed it does. My reality is a broad mix of the knowable and unknowable. I choose to believe a variety of things all the time: that the earth is round, that some notion of God exists, that ice cream is good for me, that I can run a sub-4:30 marathon. Some of these things are true, some may be true and some are not true, but I believe them just the same.
At least I’ll have the chance to prove that last one is true. But before I do, I’ve got to believe it.
Karla Bruning is an award-winning journalist and running nerd. She has completed three marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning. To listen to an interview with Karla, check out The Marathon Show, available for streaming or download on BlogTalkRadio and iTunes.