CONQUERING A MARATHON IN A DRESS
On 1st December 2013, I ran the Singapore full marathon (42.195km) wearing a pink dress. I was driven by "Do It In A Dress", an organization that captured my heart. It runs to provide young girls from the West African country of Sierra Leone (one of the worst countries to be a woman) the opportunity to attend school by fundraising from people who “do it in a dress”.
Through my supporters, we raised $1,800 (see my fundraising page), which will provide 6 girls from Sierra Leone with access to education. This initiative is driven by the “One Girl” organization, which sent me this personalized video.
Now, many friends asked me to share what it was like to run this first full marathon. So I wrote it down. It’s a long one so those of you who’ll read this please bare with me.
GET FIT AND VISUALIZE THE FINISH LINE FROM THE GET-GO. 20%.
At roughly 3:00am, I got up, ate my bowl of plain pasta (a ritual I have prior any race), and I gathered with another ~55,000 runners at 4.00am in Central Singapore. Most people were already sweating from the high levels of humidity, temperature and excitement. Most of us were all about to visit most of this fine and clean city within the next 4-5 hours (well, some super humans with super powers will plausibly accomplish it within 2:15!). I was happy enough to run. Well, happy probably still isn't the right word. Truth to be told, I wasn't all that keen on it at that point. I am very much a sports person (I enjoy adventure racing, triathlons, team sports), and every time I have tried road or treadmill run I very quickly came to the conclusion that long runs are boring and not nearly as much fun as other more “diverse” activities.
However, I certainly felt excited about getting it DONE. I had spent so much time preparing that I actually couldn’t wait to cross the finish line! Over the past 3 weeks, I had specifically invested my time to build the “right mindset” in order to make sure that I was ready for the grueling mileage left to conquer. I had visualized myself getting through this tedious challenge km by km. I had planned my fueling strategy to avoid hitting the wall. I learnt to understand my body mechanics and how to reach a sense of “Zen” or flow while running in which you feel you’re in full control of your breathing, blood circulation and muscle movement. I couldn’t wait to reach the ultimate goal: the finish line. That helped. A lot.
GIVE YOUR MIND FULL POWER. 40%.
Crowds Cheering. Many blue shirts. A zillion Asian faces. One girl wearing a pink dress. It’s gunshot time!
4km. 9km. 13km. 17km. 20km. 22km. I’m just over halfway. I got this.
28km my knees start to complain... A bothersome feeling. That’s when I know my body is refusing the dose of extreme physical exercise. My body’s telling me there is no justifiable reason to continue. It’s out crying: “I won’t allow you to hurt me anymore, so I’ll make you suffer and make you stop this. What’s wrong with you - you idiot!” This is not that you’re feeling unfit. It’s just the accumulation of shocking terror you’re punishing your body with. Just like you’re not supposed to wear super high heels (sorry ladies) for too long because they will harm your spine; as a normal human being you’re not supposed to treat your body this way! But I can take it. After all, I merely have an hour or so left to run.
Until I couldn’t.
The next km were boundless. They were increasingly getting longer, and longer, and longer. 29km……………………30km………………..…………………31km……………………..……………………………
At km 32 I met my masochist-self. A voice in my mind spoke to me in the most aggressive, obnoxious yet provocative manner. I was being challenged by my own inner enemy and quickly realized my only competitor was myself. It was harsh, but I was not going to let that voice demoralize me. I was going to prove that bugger I will cross the damn finish line, with pain and with pride. I repeatedly reminded myself that “Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.” Positive thoughts came to my mind as I was stubbornly ruling over my inner voice and felt alright running at a good pace again.
Until I wasn’t.
DO IT FOR A PURPOSE. 40%.
At km 35 I felt agony in my legs. They felt they could break at any moment and the cramps were so severe I couldn’t wait for the next water stop. I knew my only recourse was to call on my spirit once again which fortunately functions independently of logic. This time the thoughts that came to mind were about suffering that other people were feeling while I was running... I thought of that amputee I saw at the start line and wondered what he had gone through. I thought of the blind guy racing. I thought of little girls being raped, wives being beaten up. I pictured it all in my mind so revoltingly and so clearly. I thought of the “Do it in a Dress” cause. The accumulation of such thoughts made me not focus on my own “ridiculous” pain from something I had deliberately signed up to do. It gave me power that led me to stop feeling sorry about myself - all from that brutal state of mind. Likewise, the power of your imagination is similar to concentrated energy through a magnifying glass – it can set fire to paper. It’s incredible. I see it as a natural, healthy drug.
I reached km 37. Only 5km left, and I’m done? Wow! A huge smile seized my sweaty face and I switched my gears immediately. I ran, and I ran fast. I overtook many folks. I counted them, building up momentum. Knowing I just had 30min to go motivated me in an exponential way. I reached 42 km. Oh, 195 meters to go, dammit! I gave it all and smiled at the camera :), relieved I had survived the torture. Overwhelming joy.
Understanding your purpose may compel you to take on challenges that will stretch you as much as they inspire you. “Doing it in a Dress” linked my motivation toward a compelling goal that affected my commitment to getting it done even when the challenge got tougher. With a cause to honor, your mindset empowers you through a belief that you can accomplish whatever you set out your mind to do.
This experience taught me that in order to conquer a marathon, it will take at least 40% mental power, 40% sense of purpose and 20% physical performance. Provided that you’re physically fit, your mindset power combined with a clear sense of purpose enables you to focus your efforts on what matters most, compelling you to go beyond what you expect and push forward regardless of the tough path.
The marathon surely is exhausting, and painful and time-consuming. Be it gratifying or gruelling, pushing the boundaries and continuously testing one’s limits is quite exhilarating to me. Some of you may still be asking “But why run a marathon?! It sounds terrible!” and I guess the way I’d sum up my drive is by comparing a marathon to life. Life involves long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments of glory in which we are given the opportunity to upgrade ourselves. Thus, after this it will get a little bit saner without any marathons or challenges for about 18 weeks, by which time I hope to complete Ironman 70.3 (half of the Ironman) in April 2014 with a few friends. Now that I can call my husband a real “Ironman”, I’ll be satisfied with conquering half of this challenge. But perhaps not in a dress this time… Though I’m open for ideas that drive purpose and make real impact.
Whoop Whoop! Thanks for reading. And thank you to my supporters for caring! :)
$1,800 raised. 6 girls will be wearing a school dress in Sierra Leone.
Thank you! Merci! Gracias!