My first marathon was the San Francisco in 1997. I trained with the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society’s Team in Training because I knew I was much more likely to go the distance if crossing the finish line meant benefitting another.
There’s a lot I could say about the lessons learned while training for an endurance event. I learned to discipline myself to a demanding schedule. I learned to eat and drink like an athlete. I learned to take really good care of my feet.
More than that, I learned to listen to my body. I found my heart and breathing rates were the best way to assess my conditioning relative to stressors. I discovered my brain would start producing endorphins on each run at about the six mile mark when my mind would become clear and relaxed.
When the scheduled distances increased to over 16 miles, the challenges became more mental than physical. My mindset evolved - “How do I train through whatever might show up?” - because I was committed to crossing the finish line.
All valuable lessons. And, on the day of the run, I appreciated every one of them. But all of them pale in comparison to the lesson I learned the day of the marathon at mile 24.5.
Mile 21 was “the wall” - when my body exhausted all it's chemical energy in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver. I remember thinking, “I’m running on pure determination now." I was fueled exclusively by the energy of will from that time on, because there was simply nothing physical left to draw on.
At mile 22, my Dad joined me to run the last few miles - not clear, very fuzzy, something about the top of my head being very hot. Basically, delirium.
And then came mile 24.5. We were on a small rise on a road in Golden Gate park leading toward Kezar Stadium. I could just hear the band music playing at the finish line. I turned, spontaneously to my Dad, threw my arms in the air and chirped “Here’s where we show what we’re made of!”
I had reached the ‘zone’, when all that was left was the next step and a sense of my Self I never knew I had - a Self that transcended whatever obstacles remained in my imagination. My awareness could not have been more potent or more present, because there was nothing else left - no past successes to refer to, no inflated ideas about the finish - just me, my Self, and the moment.
All that training. All that effort and focus, and it wasn’t about the finish line. Of course, if the finish line hadn’t been the goal, I never would have discovered ‘the moment’, but finishing was a given. The actual gift was totally unexpected. The real gift was the unencumbered moment, the experience of finding out what I was truly made of.