Friday, May 19, 2017

Brooklyn, and the Seed of Self-Belief

The Brooklyn Half Marathon. The largest half marathon in the United States. And of the twenty-odd halves I’ve run, it’s probably my favorite . . . which is why I’m running it for a fourth time this year.

2012, first timer
Every year has been tremendously different. The first year I ran it, I hadn’t yet discovered coaching, or Garmin watches, or Gotham City Runners. I wore a cotton tank top and a wristwatch from Target. I had a blast.

The second year I ran, I was coming off of having run the Boston Marathon a few weeks prior. I didn’t even really want to run Brooklyn, but my coach convinced me that my fitness would pull me through to a PR. He was right. I was elated.

The third year—last year—was probably the best race I’ve ever run. I started smart, and when everything started hurting and the pace on my watch looked scary, I didn’t let the pain or fear win. The race photos are proof.

2016, barely standing
So now here we are. Year four. A lot has changed in the last few months. I went through some rough patches this winter, and despite miraculously PRing the B.A.A. 5k last month, I don’t feel like I’ve had the training season I wanted. It’s pretty simple, really: the miles in my training log over the past few months are not of the same caliber as the miles I put in at this time last year.

This concerns me.

I say “concerns” and not “worries” because I’m not worried. This race will turn out however it turns out, and I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.

. . . but, that’s not entirely true. I have to prove to myself that I am mentally strong when it counts. And that’s why I’m struggling with what to let myself feel, and what to force myself to think going into this race. Because us distance runners, we can’t fool ourselves. We can sing platitudes from the rooftops, we can psyche ourselves up at the starting line, but we can’t run 13.1 miles (or 26.2 or 50) on smiles and adrenaline alone.

What I need is a deep-seeded belief about myself. It must be one with roots that can’t be yanked out by one bad run or a scary weather prediction. But a belief needs many weeks of training—both mental and physical training—to grow, and I didn’t have that this season. Now, too soon, I’m in taper week, and I don't know what my belief is. And that’s why I feel so uncertain.

I know what needs to happen next, because I’ve done it before. I know that in the days leading up to the race, I need to coexist with this belief, whatever it is. I need to let it sit beside me and take the time to recognize it.

I know that when I reach the starting line, I need to lift the belief up to eye level and let it fill my vision. And then, the moment the gun goes off, I need to let it go. If it's real, it will take hold inside of me and become my strength. But if not, and I grab onto it and try to force it inside, I risk turning it from a belief into a demand. And demands are harsh. They’re unforgiving. They feed the voice inside that says “you could have, should have, would have.” They feed the idea of failure before the race has even really begun.

I have less than 24 hours until I step up to the starting line, and I still don't know what my belief is. I’m continuing to sit with it, attempting to identify its shape, its texture. I’m trying my best to be patient, even as time winds down, because I know that I can’t bully myself into running great race. I can’t even bully myself into running a “good” one. But I also can’t act like it doesn’t matter, because it does. I know that much about myself.

It matters, and so I will keep trying to find that belief. And when I do, I will run with it.

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