It was almost a decade ago but I remember the pain and feeling like it was yesterday. Trying to signal my brain to continue running but my Amygdala had very different plans. It was in full panic mode, doing its best to keep me out of danger.
I had just crossed the 20th-mile marker of the Columbus Marathon. 6.2 miles to the finish line. Simply continuing what I had been doing for the past 2 and a half hours I would finish the race in a time I had previously believed impossible.
Therein lied the problem.
My previous belief that it was impossible was the very problem I was facing at the moment.
I had only shown my mind and body in training that it was safe to run 20 miles. That was the length of the longest training run I completed just 2 weeks before the race. This new feat of 26.2 miles was unknown and potentially dangerous.
My body started to shut down.
Knees weak, Legs were heavy.
My mind wanted me to quit. My body wanted me to quit.
Quitting wasn’t exactly possible. I was in the middle of a marathon course with thousands of people around watching or running with me, not exactly the situation to hail a cab and head home. (Uber was only a Black car startup on the west coast at the time)
“OK, let’s just get to mile marker 21, there will be water and gel packs there. If I can do that even walking, I’m closer to home and out of danger” I thought to myself.
So that's what did.
That small success of getting to marker 21, carried me to the next marker at 22, 23, and so on.
Mile by mile I would find a way for my legs to carry me to the next break for water and sustenance, I did this for 85 minutes completing the final 6.2 miles of the race through the finish line.
For a long time afterward, I wondered how my training failed me, or why for that matter. It would take me years to understand why this had happened to me. Why my body shut down and moved to defense mode at mile 20 and how I worked through it to finish.
I had never run more than 20 miles continuously before so that was all my mind knew that I could do without risking danger. My mind believed that if I continued past 20 miles I would be in danger. I had no way of verifying this one way or the other, it was certainly a possibility, there are countless stories of people injured from pushing their body too far. The ability to have a safety net at each interval allowed the fear to be overcome.
In reflecting on that last 6.2 miles, I realized what I did was similar to what countless motivational business and personal gurus had been preaching forever. To do something insurmountable, start with small steps. I was able to break down the full 6.2 miles into single segments, with a break, cup of water, and gel pack of sugar at each interval. Each stop would build from the last.
As each last mile marker passed I could feel that confidence and ambition to finish grow, by the time I got past the 25th-mile marker I was back to running, even sprinting at times to get through the finish line.
Though at the time it felt more like survival, looking back and assessing from the lens of fear of the unknown and taking small steps has helped with facing many other obstacles. It’s a lesson I carry with me and will do so forever.
Whatever you are facing in life, no matter how daunting or insurmountable it may seem, breaking it down into smaller steps and completing them will build up over time to overcome it.