Sometimes you beat the race; sometimes the race beats you. Running is a mental sport as much as it is physical. Whether you run one mile or 100 miles this is constant. I’m a pretty competitive runner, you could say. I’ve been running as long as I can remember.
But my first marathon was in spring 2015, when I decided to tackle the Blue Ridge Marathon. This alone is enough to make some people cringe or question my sanity, but I was ready for the challenge thanks to plenty of training. But then the one thing I did not quite expect happened, and it changed everything. Race day was exciting and I went off from the start way too fast, but I was feeling great and could feel the pack of nearly 2,000 runners behind me.
Then there was just one other guy and me. We ran uphill and downhill neck-and-neck. It was a dead heat of sorts; maybe it looked somewhat like a horserace to spectators because we were so close to one another and so far from the rest of the pack. All I could hear was the sound of him breathing right behind me.
But then something bizarre happened. The breathing stopped. He just stopped running and was stretching at the top of Mill Mountain. That’s when the idea first crept into my head: I just won the Blue Ridge Marathon. I kept running and did not look back. I even waved down a volunteer or two to check on him. Could he have been injured or in need of help?This is that moment that happens to almost every runner at some point—call it a runner’s high or whatever you like—but you feel on top of the world because you are having a great run. You pick up the pace just a bit. You smile.
And then you realize there are still plenty of miles to go. That’s about the time I heard footsteps pounding behind me. It didn’t quite register at first because I was near River’s Edge (which was pretty busy with non-racers as well), but there he was just a few steps away. At that moment, I was mentally broken. It happened so fast, and all of the jubilation from a few miles back was gone. How did he catch back up?
Clinton Timothy went on to win the race. I finished second in a race I’m still trying to tame. That day was a lesson that every runner knows all too well. It’s not about how fast you run, or what shoes you wear or who is cheering along the way; it’s about you. Running 26.2 miles is a lesson in mental fortitude and those little conversations you have with yourself along the way can make all the difference.