Thesis: doing something that is hard, sets up a mental battle between my True self and my quitter self. Accomplishment feels good. The conscious experience of the battle is what I try to describe and analyze here.
To set the scene, I signed up for a double marathon. A double marathon is running two marathons in two days. The location of the race is an eight-hour drive from my home. The races are on a short course that is eight laps plus an out and back to make 26.2 miles, a full marathon. This is a small race with only about 100 people, including half marathoners. Many of the full marathoners will be walking the whole way. The event is very non-competitive. It is designed for people who complete many marathons per year or who want to try a multi-day event.
I have been to this event several times. In the past, I have sometimes failed to complete full marathons each day. Sometimes, I don’t even go because I think the weather will be too bad. Sometimes, I quit halfway through because I’m worried about the long drive home. Or sometimes my brain comes up with some other plausible excuse for quitting. The worst is when I quit because I can’t remember the point of why I am walking around in a circle while my feet hurt. I just get in the car and leave. Halfway home, I might remember that I wanted to complete a marathon, but then it is too late. At one point, I only signed up for courses that were out and back, because I knew I’d finish them since that was the only way to get back to my car.
Marathons are usually not physically difficult if you do them as slowly as I do. They just require patience since they take a while. What I am wanting to dig deep into is my mental battle. What I am trying to do, why, and how. What is the deep purpose of completing a double marathon on some dinky course, slowly? There is no grand glory of a personal record or first-place award. The only thing is me, whatever pain is in my feet and my brain that is arguing for quitting.
This time, I vowed to complete the event period. I even booked a hotel room partway home to prevent myself from leaving the event halfway through the second day. This excuse was eliminated because I already paid for the hotel room and I wouldn’t have an eight-hour drive ahead of me. The weather looked dry if a bit cooler than I wanted. No excuse there.
The drive down to Dallas was uneventful except for the inevitable traffic jams at Oklahoma City and the North Stemmons Freeway in Dallas. But my mind was mostly full of resentment about work and a desire to tell them to eff themselves and stomp out the door. I wanted an excuse to quit (another essay). It was ugly up there in my brain. But the push of my brain to quit a situation that has some complexity and difficulty is applicable to my marathon quitting problems. How the heck is it that I can complete something I have decided I want to do?
So, I made it to Dallas. I checked into my hotel. I picked up my packet. I ate. I laid on the bed. I woke up at 4 am and got up at 4:30. Plenty of time to get ready for a race that starts at 7. Driving to the race and parking were easy. Day 1 of the race, my head was filled with quitting. No really. My feet were hurting a bit, but not enough to stop. Maybe I should drive home a day early, hotel room be damned, because it might be snowing near my house the following day. Is there some way I could get out of this activity without anyone knowing? Or, I don’t remember all the things my brain had to say, but it was not pretty inside my head. I finished a full marathon on day 1 and went back to my hotel. That evening I had to tell myself, “keep going no matter what.” We are seeking something, a reality that is beyond quitting. Keep going even if you have to walk a lot. The voice of the quitter can be identified and disobeyed. Train your mind to do what you want, not what it seems to want, like quit. I want to do what I want to do and not what my brain is yelling about.
Early in the morning of the second day, I was sitting in my hotel room contemplating the upcoming marathon attempt. By chance, I caught this podcast featuring Sally McCrae and 507 miles, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_j71s_dwRQ&t=49s. Sally is a very famous elite ultra-runner. She did this running project for her reasons, but what struck me was her mental attitude. She self-decided to do a thing and was self-motivated to complete it. It hurt but she kept going. Could I get my mental act together? Can I decide to do a thing and do it even though my brain is yelling about quitting? That is my dilemma.
I realized that I really wanted to feel however I would feel on the other side of the event. Sally said, “Hope carries you up and over a mountain.” My hope was to get the emotional boon on the other side of my mental marathon mountain. I asked my Inner Strength to support me, to be my crew, my pacer, and my cameraman.
Day 2 of the double marathon was surprisingly easy. Despite feeling a bit sore and tired, I actually went faster on day 2 than on day 1. I didn’t fight with myself at all. I somehow got into a mental space that was beyond my typical brain, a zone of sorts. My quitter voice wasn’t heard or even considered. I like feeling accomplishment, A LOT. Finishing day 2 felt great. This personal victory felt great. It opened the door to future racing. Hope shines forth for more great feelings.
Why did I succeed this time? I honestly believe it was because a) I took away some of the excuses and b) firmly decided that I would finish. I wanted to feel finishing more than I wanted to feel quitting and I was willing to remember this.
There is a cult of “do hard things” present in America and on YouTube. Hard things build character, yadda yadda. I’m 64 years old. I should be done doing hard things. Right? For me, hard things range from getting out of bed in the morning to going to work, to running an ultramarathon. A hard thing is anything that requires grit, resilience, or perseverance to accomplish. “Hard” is a mental state. Hard is getting out of your head and doing what you want to do. Old folks especially need to do hard things. I have to get some help from some Higher Self to do this. If I ask, the help comes. But I have to receive the help. Being in receiving mode instead of quitting mode is where I get lost. I forget. I fail. Doing a hard thing is somehow vital to my life, to feeling good about my very existence.
There was no snow at all on the drive home. A complete success.