My sister Natalie called me a month ago and said "I'm thinking of running a marathon." This was surprising considering I once convinced her participate in a 5k race with my Cross-Country team in high school and when she finished all she said was "That was stupid." She looked genuinely pissed off as she traipsed through the field after the meet, huffing and puffing the whole way home. Point being, she hates running.
Naturally I am shocked when she tells me she's considering a marathon. She starts listing reasons why she shouldn't do, bla bla bla, I listen quietly on the other end of the line while rolling my eyes. Finally she says "I mean, is this really even good for me? Am I going to wreck my body?" I immediately identify this as yet another cop-out masked as concern for her own physical well-being. She's gotten really strong through CrossFit over the course of the past year and she's acting like she doesn't want to run a marathon because she'll waste away, kill her joints, and lose all of her strength. This is pure B.S. I gently remind her that CrossFit Endurance (which I have been training and coaching for over 2 years) is not about high volume running and eating buckets of pasta at every meal. Don't worry sister, you'll still be deadlifting and back squatting with the best of 'em. I stay calm even though I am boiling inside. She already knows this, she's just looking for a way out of this marathon that, I remind her, was HER idea in the first place.
Clearly, the actual running of 26.2 miles is not the aspect a marathon that has my sister contemplating signing up. I am not event going to attempt to convince her that she will come to love running or that that she will enjoy the track work that I prescribe. She'll probably hate it. We both know that. But the fact that she invited the possibility of running a marathon into her brain tells me something. She wants to prove something to herself. She wants to be challenged. She wants to invite fear and uncertainty into her life... and she wants to crush it.
And I want this for her too. In fact, if there is one thing that I want in this life it is to help people like my sister realize their own strength and conquer whatever fear stands in their way. I don't want to paint a picture here that my sister is weak and needs my rescuing. Far from it. She has faced things much worse than a 26.2 mile run, things she did not "sign up for", and she has proven her strength over and over again. And I know she's not actually calling me so I'll agree with her and say "Yea, you probably shouldn't run. You'd hate it. Just keep CrossFitting, you're good at that." She is calling me because she knows I will not let her talk herself out of it. And as scary as a marathon is to her, and as much as she wants to run away from it, she is calling because she wants someone to help her run right into it.
I had just finished reading The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. There is a section towards the end featuring Brian MacKenzie, the founder of CrossFit Endurance. It's been a while since I've read the book so I am paraphrasing here but Ferriss basically describes a conversation he had with Brian regarding whether or not ultra distance running is "healthy" or "good for your body". Granted, they are discussing a 50 mile run but I think their conversation applies beautifully to the one I am having with Nat at this moment and to so many people contemplating a challenge. Brian's response stuck with me and I am grateful to have read his words prior to my sister's phone call. I relay his message to her:
Is running 26.2 miles good for you physically?
No. But you will recover. And I promise, when you finish that marathon, you won't be the same person you were when you started.
There is silence on the other end of the line. I wait. I start to smile. I know this silence well. It's the "I-have-no-excuses-left" silence. When she finally responds she is no longer defensive or anxious in her tone. She no longer reminds me of the pissed off high schooler who's big sister just forced her to run a 5k. She is calm and composed and simply says, "Well, I can't really say no after that."
I remind her that I did not ask her to run a marathon. She asked it of herself. She's not saying yes to me or to anyone else. She is saying yes to herself. This is very important. She is speaking directly to the part of herself that harbors doubt, fear, and anxiety. She is telling that part herself that it is not in charge any more, and YES, she will run a marathon in spite of it. I can tell the marathon monster is already starting to slowly shrink under the shadow of her growing confidence.
Nat is about four weeks into her training program. Last weekend she ran a 15k race (a little premature but she signed up for it months ago). She ran it roughly 10 minutes faster than last year. I'd say we're off to a good start and I can't wait to watch her cross the finish line.
Post Marathon Update from Natalie:
"For so many people, life gets grind-y really fast. In college I was super fit and craved competition. Then as I got older my life changed to work, family, kids, which is nice but sometimes that looks like traffic, dinner, dishes, repeat. Training for a marathon forced me to make myself a priority. Myself. That person that is the first to get lost in the grind. On weekends I had to run and be alone and not only did I get the chance to exercise but it also gave me a chance to think, reflect, and remember that I am not just a teacher who grades papers or a mom who packs lunches, I am an athlete too." -Nat