So I completed the inaugural Race Across Durham Trail Marathon, last weekend. My third marathon, but my first true trail race of this distance. It was a great day overall; the course was awesome, the volunteers were amazingly supportive, and the weather was perfect for spending the day on some technical ass trails. My awesome pals, Amy and Liz, and I just kept stepping and sharing encouraging thoughts with another. We made jokes about how slow we were moving. We celebrated when there were cookies and Pepsi at the aid stations. We pushed past a barrage of crazy feelings along that soul-crushing course all the way to the finish. The race was a lot more challenging than we expected, and we all had to keep the positive mental attitude strong to get through it.
The truth is this: for moments in the race, I was absolutely lying to myself. For only the second time in my amateur “I-like-to-run-for-long-periods-of-time” career, I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to complete the race. Parts of the course I could barely hike without tumbling ass over ankles, much less run. I didn’t know if we’d ever make it out of the woods. I was in way over my head, but acknowledging that uncertainty would only make matters worse. I had to make a choice to banish my doubt and pretend it was going to be perfect. I had to monitor my inner dialogue and speak only kind words of encouragement aloud to Amy and Liz. I crafted lie after lie so I could stay focused and be supportive of the process.
When we finally stumbled out of the woods six hours later, it was revealed that my friends and I experienced the same exact thing. Each of us had doubts and worries and concerns, but we all made a silent vow to keep it positive for every step of our 26.2 miles. It is truly amazing that three completely different people can-without talking about it-get on the same page. Trail running is not really a team sport, but on 12/3 in Durham, it absolutely was.
As a person who subscribes to an “honesty is always best” policy, I have to admit that the lies we told ourselves last Sunday were absolutely necessary. Honestly, I did not KNOW what would happen. I had to hope for the best and believe we would get through it. I’m reminded of Henry Ford’s famous words:
This has always resonated with me. I believe that the mindset you have going into a situation informs it’s outcome. Think about it for a moment. When we look forward to something with excitement, we are usually a little more forgiving. Maybe the caterer mixed up an appetizer order, but the party was still great! Maybe our best friend’s incoming flight was delayed, but there was no traffic on the way to the airport! When we are hopeful, we can overlook some of the imperfections and idealize reality.
Conversely, when we are full of dread and anxiety, when we are fearful or doubtful, there is a snowball effect. I know we have all had days were things start off bad and progressively get worse. Without fail, if you are already running late for anything, there will be some traffic situation to delay you even more. And then you will probably spill your coffee everywhere and leave your lunch at home on the kitchen counter. Is the universe out to get you? Probably not, but it feels that way.
Why does this happen?
It happens because negativity, even a kernel of it, can send us down a spiral of doom. It begins to color the lens through which we see everything. When we start expecting a hot shitty mess at every turn, our brain will do everything it can to make that a reality.
It takes great effort, and sometimes a little creativity to be positive, but it’s worth it. The little lies we tell ourselves, the little uncertainties we smooth over, they help us to stay focused on the task at hand. They keep us moving forward so we don’t get stuck in the spiral.
So remember, next time things start to get a little dark, try with all your might to look at the bright side…even if it has been created with artificial lighting 🙂