That Dreaded Mile 18

Photo via Unsplash

My pulse quickened even as I felt the knots in my stomach coil approaching that next mile marker. Mile 18 — the dreaded wall of every marathon runner. Worse yet, this was my first time.

A few weeks back I had already sprained my ankle pushing a little too hard on one of my long weekend runs. We were just coming towards the end of running 20 miles, and my partner encouraged me to push it for the last 100 yards.

Something felt off, but I ignored it and figured that the more experienced marathon runner knew better. I was wrong. For days I had to take it easy on that ankle. Worse yet, I wondered if my months of training had just been tossed down the crapper.

But somehow.. someone was watching over me. Here I was on the final third of 26.2 miles..

All around me were others running the USMC marathon. Some looked like they were just out for a Sunday jog. Most were like me — focused, determined to simply finish.

I remember years ago admiring the other midshipman from our ROTC unit that had trained enough on top of their demanding studies at our engineering school to run this race. Someday I’ll run that, I quietly vowed.. someday..

And here I was 17.7 miles.. 17.8.. 17.9.. 18.0 — so far, so good..

18.1, 18.2.. 19.. 20.. 21 miles..

Whoa — I’m.. I’m almost done!

Trying not to get too excited, I focused on my breathing.. on keeping the rhythm of my stride steady..

A month or so ago a high school buddy was in town. His visit coincided with the Army 10-Miler, so we decided to run it together. This brought back memories of many after-school runs to soccer practice. Mostly I remember seeing the back of my friend as he slowly faded into the horizon day after day.

But something was different. I only realized that this something was me as I not only pulled ahead but continued to accelerate UPHILL! Afterwards the friend laughed and remarked that he didn’t think he would ever see that day coming. I agreed.

For most of the course of the “People’s Marathon” there were scattered crowds throughout the city of familiar monuments. If you’re going to run one marathon in your life, this is the one that I’d recommend.

Photo: rihaj via Pixabay

Mile 18 is known as “the Wall” because often this is where even the hardiest runners suddenly cramp up and get so sore that every step after that becomes an agonizing plea to stop the pain. Often many just drop out after that.

Some runners hit this before; some, after. That’s what I figured would happen to me anytime now. 23 miles.. 24..

Ahead I could see more people and rising above them the Iwo Jima Memorial that marked the finish line. Steadily, I continued my uphill progress.

Then, it happened. I was across the finish line.

For a brief moment I savored the stream of endorphins rushing through my body — the “runner’s high” that nature rewards us since the dawn of time when we’ve survived a fight or flight encounter with a predator.

As one of the volunteers wrapped me in a space blanket and another donned my finisher’s medal, I had a bittersweet moment of elation and regret. Suddenly, I realized that although felt proud of finishing so strong, I hadn’t run my “best.”

Because I was so afraid of hitting that wall, I held back.. and held back.. until it was too late to give it my all.

How often I now wonder that we do that? Rather than putting it all on the line, we hold back — we play it safe.. for fear of getting hurt — for fear of failing — for fear of looking bad.. for any number of things that we’re afraid of?

In Chariots of Fire one of the main characters says, “If I can’t win, I won’t run.” To which his girlfriend replies, “If you won’t run, you can’t win.”

Sometimes I’ve had this attitude of “why bother?” But other times I‘ve allowed myself to holding things back. Either way we’re letting fear drive our lives.

Fear is to be respected. It may just be that we know our bodies best, and pushing harder will result in injury. But other times fear is really like that acronym — False Evidence Appearing Real. That’s the mystery we’re meant to uncover. It’s not a race but a marathon that we’re all meant to run for the rest of our lives.

But guess what? Fear can be your secret weapon for success!

This is Day 16 of #My500Words challenge.

For more on facing your creative fears and the challenges of entrepreneurship visit Butterfly Formula. To join other Indie Creatives who won’t let you fail join us on Blab, or to follow my food travel and digital nomad journey visit Tango Vagabond.