As I sit at my desk, pondering all of the things I can write about as I sip on my morning cup of coffee, I cannot shake the overwhelming thought that has been constantly been permeating my brain over the last few days. What’s that you ask? Well, in less than a week’s time, I’ll be running the longest race I have ever run in my life.
By the time you read this I’ll have packed my bags and headed north to western Michigan, to participate in the nation’s largest 25K. Over 21,000 people from around the world will attend this event, and it’s one that I’ve had my sights set on running since early on in my running journey. Being that it’s hosted in my hometown, there will be something very nostalgic about running a race in the city that holds so many memories for me. And since my adventures with running and fitness did not begin while I still lived in this northern state, I’m looking forward to introducing my new life to an old, familiar place.
And so, on Saturday May 9th at 8:20am, I will embark on a fifteen and a half mile journey through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids.
Distance races can be daunting, even for seasoned runners. They are challenging, both mentally and physically, and have the ability to make a runner feel invincible, or completely discouraged, based on how the race itself progresses. I myself have only run a handful of distance races races, both obstacle and road, and each one has brought with it a distinct memory of either triumph or failure. Some races I’ve excelled, felt strong, and gained a personal record that I was elated to have earned. Others I’ve learned a hard lesson due to either beginning too fast, having to deal with pain or discomfort, or struggling through due to lack of proper nutrition or hydration. These factors left me yearning for relief, as I mentally switched from seeking a personal record, to instead simply praying for the finish line to come quickly. I do believe though, that it’s these difficult races in which I learn the most from, that keep me wanting more, and that provide me the resolve to continue improving.
But it’s not just distance that can be frightening to people. The current events that provide me personally with apprehension are the ones which involve higher mileage. For some, a 5K sounds impossible, for others contemplating an obstacle race is daunting, as the threat of failing obstacles can be a crippling fear. Each race brings with it it’s own set of challenges to overcome, but when it comes down to it, racing wasn’t meant to be easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. People wouldn’t prefer to stay on their couches, watching the world go by, too afraid to try. Racing is tough, it tests your mental grit, and forces your body to complete a task that your brain tries to convince you that you cannot do. But it’s in overcoming these demons that helps push people past their comfort zone into realizing what they truly are capable of.
So how do you overcome these fears? I’m sure that each person reading this today can come up with at least one concern that eats away at their psyche with regards to racing. Some people let these concerns deter them from ever trying, they simply give in and tell people, “That’s not for me, I could never do that.” But the thing is, they can! They just have to get out there and give it a try. There are a myriad of examples of people who have missing limbs, debilating disabilities, and major physical handicaps completing amazing feats in the racing world on a regular basis.
Take the example of Todd Love, a Marine who lost his legs while deployed in Afghanistan. He has heroically completed several Spartan Races, refusing to let his disability hold him back. His girlfriend, Amanda Sullivan, was involved in two serious car related accidents in 2009, which left her with severe spinal injuries and damaged her right leg to the point that it does not function. With the use of forearm crutches, she has also completed several Spartan Races, and with a smile on her face, has positively influenced so many people to get out and try to achieve physical gains they did not believe they could make happen.
You are blessed with a body that has the potential to achieve amazing things! No matter what physical obstacles you feel that you may have, it’s the mental obstacles that will hinder you most. Three years ago I was unable to run a full mile, but by changing my way of thinking about what I had the ability to accomplish, I slowly but surely worked my way toward running that mile. I distinctly recall the very first time I ran three miles without stopping to walk, I was elated! I felt on top of the world, so ecstatic that I had just completed something that not long before was a feat that seemed impossible. If you start slowly, and believe in yourself, you too can experience these physical gains, and the progess you make will aid in giving you the confidence you need to continue on.
Now, as I prepare for my longest race yet, I still feel that twinge of nervous excitement. I have high hopes that I’ll finish this race feeling empowered, yet I know that I could just as easily finish feeling deflated. Distance running takes precision, strategy, and the resolve not to give up. And this 25K is just the beginning of a string of longer distance events I’ll be completing, as I plan to finish two Spartan Beasts and a full marathon within the next 8 months. I’ll be honest, these are events that scare me a little. They make me nervous, they make me question my ability, but it’s this small amount of intimidation that gives me the resolve that I must do them. I’ve changed from a person who says “I can’t”, to a person who resolves “I will’, and as I evolve as a runner I strive toward testing myself in new ways.
I challenge you to be this person as well. Be the one to make a change, to get off the couch, to lace up your shoes, and to get out and get healthy. And please don’t get discouraged or give up, real change takes time. It took me nearly a year to lose the weight that I needed to, two years before I began racing competitively, and I’m still growing and learning each day. I know I’m not yet the best that I can be, but I know I’ll never give up and I’ll keep working toward bigger achievements.
Not sure where to begin? Be sure to set a reasonable goal for yourself. I recently spoke with a friend of mine who had just begun running, but he was having a hard time staying motivated. I recommended that he sign up for a local 5K, something several weeks out, and train with that event in mind. Many times the knowledge that an event is approaching will create a resolve to train. I think it’s good for runners to sign up for one event a quarter, as this will maintain a constant goal to work toward. We, as humans, tend to have a desire to improve each time we complete something, so once your 5K is complete, find another to sign up for and work toward a better time. Once you feel comfortable with a 5K, it may be time to flex your running prowess and try a longer event. The same goes for obstacle races! Although I jumped in head on and chose a twelve mile event for my first mud run, there are so many events with varying distances, so start with something that makes sense for you. Spartan Race offers three distances of races, the most common being the Sprint, which is typically 3-5 miles. Once you’ve completed your Sprint, you can then decide if you’d like to try another Sprint to see how you’ve improved, or maybe then you will be ready to train for a Super, or a Beast! It’s truly up to you as to what you can conquer, but if you keep in mind that much of the roadblocks that we encounter with regards to running and racing are mental, you’ll be able to find ways to surpass that self-doubt and complete the unimaginable.
So as I sit here contemplating the distance I’ll be tackling this coming weekend, I want you to know that you too can take on grander distances than you think! Whether it is one mile, a 5K, or a marathon, just remember to take it slow, set some realistic goals for yourself, and never give up. You can gain results that will astound you with dedication, commitment, and metal grit. And perhaps someday you may just find yourself looking in the mirror at someone who no longer cringes at the idea of a mile run, but to someone who can run so many more than that. You too can go the distance.
Holly Joy Berkey