7 miles and ping pong

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Two things that came to mind when I woke up this Sunday morning: did we make cold brew last night? Today I am going to run seven miles.

Fast forward through a Sunday that was a mix of productivity, Netflix (my newest obsession, The Crown), the ever present thought of the seven-mile run circling in the background, and now here I am, walking out of the apartment doing some warm-ups while trying to decide if I should start this long run with the mile uphill climb to the park, or walk the 20 minutes to get started. Knowing the inevitable is near, the uphill start wins out, and now it’s begun; that early Sunday morning thought of a future run is now a reality as my legs start to warm-up and my lungs try to find a rhythm.

The question crosses my mind, why am I running seven miles? There is no coach, no team rooting for me, no work out that has been predetermined by another entity, no running group, no paid trainer.  Why am I determined to run seven miles, today? What is it that keeps my legs moving forward as my heart, my lungs and that one inner voice try to convince me that I don't really need to go through with it, there is no one depending on me, nothing riding on this one run, right? So why not just walk, that doesn’t hurt anything does it?

Let’s rewind for a bit, back to when I went online and paid to register for a spot in an upcoming half marathon this October. In that one moment one inner voice whispered “you can always decide not to do the race”, almost simultaneously there was another voice that said "we will see about that whole not racing bit, won’t we" and here I am, currently finishing my second mile of this long Sunday run. This internal conflict I believe is present in daily life, down to the smallest and most mundane tasks, but I feel and contemplate it’s role during these longs runs because, well, how else do I finish a seven-mile run? How else do you push through the burning lungs, the tired legs, the overwhelming sense from body and mind that you just can’t finish the hill, the third mile, the last mile? Where does this inner voice find its strength, its confidence, its forward momentum?

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This question takes me back to one of my earliest childhood memories with one of my three older brothers. In our basement we had a ping pong table and I wanted to practice, probably to try and keep up with my older brothers, so I went on down hoping the table was ready and not folded up against the wall. Of course, my luck as it was, there was the table, up against the wall. Off I went in search of a brother to help. I asked my brother Mark to help me and surprisingly he said okay (if you have older siblings you know this is very unusual!) We get all the way to the basement right up to the ping pong table when he says, "okay, now go ahead and pull out it out." I remember looking at him, saying out loud, but I’m too little! He looked at me and again says, "if you want to play, move the ping pong table, it’s that simple. Good luck." He then went off to play on his own.

As a young three or four year old I must have sensed that this wouldn’t work, but I was determined to prove to my brother that I could do anything he could do, so I continued to try as hard as I could to move that ping pong table. It felt like an hour but I’m sure it was more likely five to ten minutes in which I pulled and pulled and tried to find a way to move that table, but of course nothing was working. I tried again and again and again, and at the last moment before giving up, the ping pong table moved an inch.

Now, I did not succeed in playing ping pong that day, but I did learn a valuable lesson, a lesson that would later be distilled to three simple words; mind over matter. 

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I think of this progression even now as I have completed five miles and have two more to go, as my arches begin to hurt, mind over matter, as I get a side cramp, mind over matter. How can I apply my mind over the matter at hand? My arches hurt so I try to focus in on my form, even if that causes me to pace myself for a bit. My side cramp isn’t getting better, so I turn my mind to my breathing, trying to take deeper breaths, more even, until I can work out the cramp, mind over matter. This one phrase has taught me over the years how to self-assess, to tap into the inner voice that chants “I can do this, I can do this”, the inner voice that grows stronger with each step I take in this seven-mile run, even though the most vulnerable part of the run is now, when I am so close to finishing my goal, and yet, all the more tired for being so close. And yet in these moments when I am the closest to giving up, every step uphill somehow gives me more energy, and the inner voice begins to drown out the one of doubt, the voice that is begging me to give up, and I block everything from my mind except the voice pushing me forward, mind over matter, mind over matter, mind over matter.

There will be frustrating moments when you may want to give up, there were moments when I wanted to give up, but each time I heard the voice of doubt, I had to turn to the voice that whispered mind over matter. It is in these moments we find what we are truly capable of, pushing against our own voice of doubt with the voice of determination and grit.