On Sunday I ran my third half marathon, which is 13.1 miles in length. For those of you who have managed to maintain your sanity better than I have and thus have never attempted this grueling task, I would like to offer you a glimpse into the progression of thought that occurs - at least for me - during those 13 miles.
Miles 1-5: "Maybe I should run a full marathon!"
Miles 5-8: "This is the hardest part, I just have to get through this part."
Miles 8-10: "Why in the hell do I do this to myself?"
Mile 11: "I'm going to die."
Mile 12: "This is the longest mile in the history of miles."
The .1 Mile at the End: "I'm the BEST!"
Or something like that.
Distance running is as much mental as it is physical, if not more so. That's one of the reasons I enjoy the sport: it is a constant battle with yourself. You mind will quit long before your body will, so some part of you (maybe your heart or soul or spirit) says, "Keep going. You can do this." It often helps to come up with a mantra or two that can be repeated during a long run. Which one depends upon your specific challenge and how you are best motivated. I don't know how other runners do it, but I don't typically "plan" my mantras ahead of time. I let the run dictate them, since I feel like every long run is hard for different reasons.
Now I want to share with you the phrase that came to me on Sunday during my half marathon:
Allow me to share a bit of background regarding the phrase itself. "Retreat, hell" is the motto of the 1st Marine Division, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment based out of California. If it is sounds familiar, you may have heard it in the not so great sci-fi flick, "Battle: LA", which features the 2/5 Marines in combat with alien invaders. Though that movie was fiction - and also pretty bad - it at least got this little bit of history right. The aforementioned 2/5 Marine Regiment fought in World War I and it was during this time that Capt. Williams - one of the Marine officers - was advised by to retreat. He famously replied, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!"
Why would this come to mind while running 13.1 miles? To be honest, the entire 2 hours of running blends together quite a bit. One does not spend a lot of time retaining specific moments. I believe I started thinking "Retreat, hell!" somewhere in mile 8 or 9. This is really the part that is the most difficult mentally for me, because I've already run so far, but yet feel like I have so much further to go. I feel so tempted to start walking during this time and, during training, I often will. However, during an actual race, I strongly refuse to let myself walk. In three half marathons I have fought through burning leg muscles; sore, tight shoulders; and my own desire to quit. I'm proud to say I've never walked once. After all the training I have done and all the work I put in, to walk would feel like a defeat. So as I ran, I started thinking, "Retreat? Hell." As in: I worked hard to get here, why would I give up now?
DON'T GIVE BACK THE GROUND YOU GAIN
If you haven't read my stuff before, I'll let you know that I have PTSD. I live with depressive periods, some anxiety, hyper-arousal, and all that other fun stuff. After I finished my race yesterday - and took a nap - I was watching football and thinking about how the race went. Like I said perviously, I don't remember many specifics of the run. (Except for one GIANT hill that was in mile 11. That's right runner friends, MILE ELEVEN.) I couldn't help but notice the parallel - as you probably have by now - between the struggle to complete a half marathon and the battle for mental wellness.
A popular treatment for PTSD - as well as a wide variety of other mental health problems - is something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The general idea is learning to recognition negative thought patterns and effectively "cut them off" before they can get too far. I have undergone a significant amount of CBT and, for the most part, I know when my depression is creeping up on me. As you might imagine, this can be very frustrating. It typically comes after a series of days during which I have felt good or, at least, felt even.
But now, when those times come, I have a new mantra; another tool in the CBT toolbox. Like so many others, I fight hard for my mental wellness. In the last year several years, I have committed to being healthy. I am leaps and bounds better than I once was. I have fought and gained a lot of ground. And I have no intention of giving it back.
Maybe you haven't run any long distance races and maybe you don't have depression, but I'm willing to bet you have felt like quitting before. You have pushed for something, worked for it, made sacrifices for it. You've battled everyday to gain ground in one area, only to feel like you're losing it in another.
I doubt I will blow anyone's mind here, but it's a fallacy that there is a point in our lives when the challenges stop coming. Adversity is inherent to the human experience. It's not a question of how to avoid it, just a question of what you will do when it comes.
So the next time you face it, I invite you to remember two simple words: