Sunday, October 16, 2011

Struggling With The Unknown

On Sunday, October 30th, I will attempt the toughest physical challenge of my life, the Marine Corps Marathon. I will run 26.2 miles through the streets of Washington, past monuments dedicated to greatness and memorials honoring service and sacrifice.

I will be joined by thousands of men and women, each running for their own reasons. I will be accompanied by two friends who have each known me for more than half of my life. And we will start and finish together, even if we have to carry each other through our most grueling moments.

I have prepared for this. I have completed long runs from eight to twenty miles. I have trained through muscle cramps and blisters. I have discovered hip flexors and hamstrings. I have run treadmills and coast roads, park trails and city streets. I have run before the first light of day, in the heat of the scorching afternoon sun, and in the dark of night.

I have considered myself a newbie and been treated like an expert. I have felt confident and defeated, empowered and embarrassed. I have set records and missed milestones. I have been dedicated and determined, on-track and off my game.

I have been all of these things, because training for a marathon is an experience unlike any other. It offers countless hours of alone time, time spent mentally churning over every little thing. Running mile after mile means having all the time in the world to think about myself, my life, my choices and my actions. Ironically, all that running makes it impossible to run from myself any longer.

And that is my struggle. In the quiet that comes from hours alone, I have discovered that I am not happy with the person I am. I am not happy with some aspects of my life. I am not happy with many of my choices and I am ashamed of many of my actions.

This realization is unsettling. I have long considered myself a strong personality, a friendly force of nature capable of anything. I have walked confidently and with purpose. I am the man who can talk to anyone and do so comfortably and easily. I am the man who says yes. Yes, I'll run the Tough Mudder. Yes, I'll run the Super Spartan. Yes, I can do that job. Yes, I can stand up and give that speech. Yes, I can and yes, I will. And yes... I have.

So why the doubts now? Why has introspection and a long gaze inward caused such discomfort? Why am I falling apart emotionally?

I can't explain why I have become so frozen in place that I have spent the last week not training at all. My last run was ten days ago. And I have blown off tracking my food and am existing on junk food and crappy meals. At the time that I should be most dedicated to my training, I am in freefall.

Normally at this point in my writing, I am ready with all the answers. The words come easy to me, and I provide my own solution to my dilemma. Not this time.

The basics are there, of course. I need to track my food and be mindful of the fuel I am putting in my body. Over the next two weeks, every bite matters. The right choices will mean a healthier body, and the wrong choices will mean a weakened body struggling through every mile. I also need to lace up my shoes and hit the streets. I am in taper mode, but the miles are still important. Training now means a body stronger, leaner and fully capable of meeting the demands of a marathon. Not training means a more grueling physical experience and potential failure.

So the physical turn-around is easy enough. Starting today, I will get back on track and follow my plan. But what of the mental and emotional? How do I work through all of the garbage flying around in my head?

When in doubt, go with what works. In order to get through the next two weeks and the twenty-six miles, I am going to rely on a coping mechanism that has worked for me nearly all of my life. I'm going to just ignore it all.

I know that what I'm doing isn't truly helpful. And I realize that long-term avoidance is a bad idea. But right now, this moment, I don't feel I have the luxury of time to attend to my own drama.

This is about the run. This is about a physical and mental challenge that I am determined to meet. And afterwards, I'll need to take a long hard look at myself and sort out what is going on inside.

For now, I'm only seeing one thing, the finish line at the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington.

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