A couple of days after I completed running two marathons back to back as part of my 12 marathons in 2016 personal challenge, my sister asked me, “What kind of person runs like that?”
At first I laughed at her, asking if she was trying to prove that I was a crazy person. After all, at that time I was under a lot of stress from a situation where I was falsely accused of being “mentally ill and a danger to self and others” by my boss, and was put on a suspension of sorts to “get medically right”. It was a ploy to get rid of me (that much became increasingly obvious through the time). And I had to attend a lot of mental health evaluations.
I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think telling people that I willingly put myself through two full marathons in two days is a solid way to prove I’m perfectly sane*.
But she explained, “No. What I mean is, what kind of characteristics does someone who sets out to run two full marathons back to back have to have? Its not something that everyone is doing. There has to be more to it.”
Understanding, I started to list the things I’ve come to realize almost any runner (especially the long distance ones) tend to have:
Delayed gratification – You’re not going to run for a week and suddenly be an Olympian. You’re not going to train for a week and be able to expect to run a full marathon and do really well (That is, if you’re like me. If you’re some freak of nature who drinks beers all night, wakes up hung over and decides to just “hop in that marathon this morning” and you end up winning …. well… then I hate your face.)
Goal setting-mindset – You need goals to run. You need a reason. No matter what it is. You need something to achieve in the end.
Drive – when you have no motivation, but things need to get done. It’s this ability to zone in on your goals and go despite not wanting to or not feeling it this week.
Motivation – You have to want it and believe in yourself somewhere along the line.
Focus – It has to be on your mind. Maybe not all the time throughout the day, but a lot of the time, you have to be thinking, “I want this fitness. I want to be better. I want to be faster. I want that medal. I want to say I’ve done it. I want the end result.”
Flexibility – You can’t always follow the schedule or plan exactly as you wrote it out two months ago. You can’t always get the long run on Saturday. Things happen. Life gets messy. Funerals, kids sports, family outings, vacations, and even work get in the way. You need to be comfortable with moving the runs around, dropping the ones that can be dropped. Squeezing in the ones that can’t. Combining some speed work with the end of a moderate run. Adding in “2-a-day” runs…which always feels like committing more time to it.
Learning – Learning from mistakes and from advice from others – Some times your friends will know a better way, and being able to take that in will help. Knowing that not all runs are ideal and things go badly some times will help you too. It was the only way I figured out that I can’t have Gatorade while running. How I learned that I needed to stay hydrated more.
Dedication to the Task – Willingness to do what needs to be done, even when you don’t want to and when the weather isn’t at its ideal for that day – Sometimes it rains on race day (If you’re me, it usually rains on race day). If its your goal race, you’re not going to suddenly drop out just because of rain… but you need to learn how to run in the rain before race day, or you’re going to suffer. You need to run in the rain when you train. You need to learn where to put the anti-chafe cream. Yes. And. You should probably buy anti-chafe cream. For real. See the point above..about learning from mistakes and taking advice.
Commitment – You could half-ass your training for a big race. Sure. My husband pulled it off for a few races himself, one of them a full marathon. And, yeah, he finished. And he was proud of himself, just like I was of him, but he has also learned that it’s not about just getting to the finish line for him. He wants more fitness. He wants to fit in suits he bought 8 years ago. Half-assing the training and still getting a medal is one thing, but it’s not the ultimate goal. The fitness of running requires sticking with it. The races, when your goal is fitness, are just little treats and games along the path to break up the monotony of working out each day. If the race is your goal, then you’ll want to do very well. You’ll want to put everything out there. But you want to have more to give than the next person too. You can fake speed or strength for only so long. These things, especially for longer races, require constant building and training.
Support – Supporting players in life: the running group, family, even the dog – any one that helps you get out the door, and who applauds your work and skills. When I started running back in college, my only goal was to pass a fitness test to get employed. I only needed to run a mile and a half in 16 minutes. I didn’t have running friends, I didn’t know there was a running community. I just went out and ran (Along some scary as hell “holler” in the mountains near my university…at night…by myself. I was equally at risk of being attacked by a mountain lion as I was of being attacked by a crazed hill-jack protecting his drug fields in the woods).
Each day I called home and I excitedly told my mom how far I ran that day…and she’d be amazed ( if confused) and would celebrate over the phone with me about a new distance or a new speed. My husband, then boyfriend, would push me out of bed early mornings to run. He’d lock me out of the house until I went for a run.
I soon had friends cheering me along, even though none of them were runners… and then I was surrounded by people who wanted to stay fit, and who saw my accomplishments as a start-up runner as a big deal too. And then I had the running group.
You’ll always find support for your running. Just like you’ll always find people who would rather put it down. Running can be hard. It can be boring. It can get really frustrating. It can hurt. It will hurt. Having people behind you who encourage you through this will help you push through and keep on training – and you’ll be hooked and reaching goals before you know it!
Planning and prioritizing skills – knowing when something can be done, planning a full scheduled week ahead of time so that there is time for running, and knowing when to postpone a run for something in life that requires time and attention sooner rather than later. And, being able to know which runs should not be skipped (like the long runs or certain speed workouts)
Fearlessness – because sometimes you have to push past nerves and butterflies, or a little fear, in face of a big challenge (I had this before my first marathon, and again before my first 50k). You have to suck it up, tell yourself that things will be ‘safe’ or ‘fine’ or that you’re smart enough to keep things in check and not get hurt or die…(I have a strange head-game when my mind goes against me before a race. Its… sucky…and stupid… but it’s what I have to push through before races sometimes. Its the overwhelming fear that “I could die out there”. Or that my leg will break in half. Literally. In. Half. Surely, I’m not the only one?) You just have to show up, trust in your training, and go.
If you want to run competitively, or pull a fast time in a difficult distance, then you have to drop all your reservations and just go at it. You have to “get a little crazy” one of my friends once told me. You have to stop worrying about the bonk or the wall or that twinge of pain in your calf and just put it all out there. Its terrifying. Its rewarding.
“So? Basically, all those characteristics and skills your current boss says you can’t do and don’t have?” My sister commented smartly, her point happily made.
*An interesting point on my earlier comment: In the process of clearing my name (and my “mental status”) I was required to meet with many and various mental health professionals. During a meeting with one such professional, the question was asked, “How’s your motivation? Do you have trouble setting goals and doing them?”
I mentioned running a marathon a month this year, and then added, “two weeks ago I ran two marathons in two days.”
He stared at me a long moment and said, “I don’t see any issues here.”
I was given my fourth “clean bill” of mental health in as many weeks. So… I can honestly say that running two marathons in two days does not qualify someone as “mentally ill”. And that running has not made me crazy.
If anything – it was the proof of my sanity.