To play any sport well, you need to train your mind as well as your body. As well as legs that can go the distance, you need to be able to deal with the doubts that can creep in when the going gets tough. We say this to the people who join the Eagles beginners’ group. Many of them, after the first session of mixed running and walking, wonder how they will ever manage to run continuously for 30 minutes. But somewhere over the next six weeks as they run more and walk less, they begin to trust what their body has done and expect that it can do more. Their internal ‘I can’t’ turns into ‘Wow – look! I can!’ and a runner is born. Adharanand Finn has spent time with both Kenyan and Japanese runners and in his book The Way of the Runner about running in Japan, he contrasts the self-motivation of the Kenyans with the way Japanese runners often have to be forced to train by their coaches. He says, ‘Being self-motivated has another advantage ; it makes you more self-reliant in a race. When the crunch comes, when the pain inevitably kicks in, the drive to push on needs to come from deep within. As Ghandi said: ‘Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.’ If you’re not used to digging down to find this will, you’re unlikely to suddenly unearth it at the end of a race.‘
You need that mental strength in a race of any length, but I most need it in a marathon. The first half is fairly straightforward because I’ve run this distance quicker many times, and usually the task is to stop myself going too fast. But around mile 16, I start to think ‘how can I carry on at this pace for a whole ten more miles?’ And what I say to myself is, don’t worry about the next ten, just do one more mile. And at the end of that mile, just do one more. And so mile 16 becomes mile 18 becomes mile 20 and so on. My will is not indomitable and so inevitably I slow down towards the end. But rather than being daunted by the next 10, I know I can do one more mile.
Tomorrow I’m back in hospital for my fourth treatment out of six. It’s the equivalent of mile 17 in a marathon, and the pain is kicking in. The last treatment was tough and I feel like I’ve not had much respite. My friend Richard, an Eagles coach, has been having treatment for cancer a few weeks ahead of me. His advice was not to think of all the treatments at once. He says, ‘it’s like four reps in intervals. Always focus on the next one and worry about the others after the rest in between.’ These are wise words. So while my inner toddler has her arms folded and her bottom lip stuck out, while she is stamping her foot, red in the face and shouting ‘but I don’t WANT to go,’ my grownup self has lined up her chemo run companions and is telling her that it will be all right; we can do this. One more mile.
(The picture above is of Paul Northup heading out for the second lap of the Palestine Marathon this year, to do another 13.1 miles of hot, dusty hills)