“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”
Dr. George Sheehan, runner and author
I celebrated my 65th birthday – and a week later lined up in the early morning darkness with thousands of people on a street in Columbus, Ohio. We were there to take part in a marathon. Fireworks, music and the roar of spectators started the 26.2 mile race at 7:30 AM.
Running with a pace group, our goal was to finish the course in 4 hours and 30 minutes. The weather was ideal and the long hours and many miles of preparation had me glowing with confidence. The estimated crowd of 150,000 strung out along the route were about to see a senior citizen glide his way to the finish line with the grace of a ballet dancer.
And for 14 miles the people watching me, I’m sure, were more than pleased with my performance.
For months leading up to my birthday, I had been telling everyone within the range of my voice how I was going to celebrate by running in this race. Sounding like Muhammad Ali, I boasted…
“I am going to shock the world.”
“I’m going to run ten minutes faster than the world record.”
“The army is going to name a bullet after me.”
“They are going to paint my picture on the next rocket to mars.
“And they are even going to dig up Ed Sullivan just so I can be on his show.”
Apparently my left foot and ankle, which had given me trouble in the past, didn’t recall any of my promises. They decided I had run far enough. And if I was going to finish this race, it would be without their cooperation.
Now my goal for the remaining 12 miles and 365 yards to the finish line would be to win the battle between the voice in my head and the pain shooting up my body. One voice was cheering me on and the other was urging me to hail a taxi.
I gimped my way to the next mile and then the next mile…looking back now and then to see if anyone was behind me.
What I needed I found at mile 18. Someone had posted a sign.
THREE MONTHS AGO THIS SOUNDED LIKE A GOOD IDEA
Suddenly, my face remembered how to smile. And now I was back in the race. At least from the neck up.
After all, marathons are designed to test our mettle.
Recalling some sage advice I had heard long ago from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking, “It’s always too soon to quit.” I gimped on.
6 hours, 11 minutes and 4 seconds after the starting gun – I crossed the finish line.
Just wait till next year.
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