Over 50,000 runners took part in the New York Marathon in November 2018. And I was one of them. I had decided to participate the year before, selling myself the event as a sightseeing opportunity: “You’ll see parts of New York you haven’t yet seen!” That was good enough motivation for me, because to me New York is the greatest city in our modern world and – well, I just have to see it.
The most intense months of training were September and October and I flew to New York in November determined to finish the race.
Everyone says that running a marathon is physical and mental. It became apparent as I was running how important it was to manage and control the little voice in my head to keep it on my side and help me get the race done.
I began the event on an emotional high, jumping out of my friend’s car and walking to the check-in point. I ran into other marathoners who were walking there and I resonated with their buzz and excitement.
The starting gun went off and I started running down the bridge looking across the water at the city skyline. I saw the Empire State Building in the very, very far distance and thought: “Hm, I need to run all the way up there – and then some.”
The Brooklyn leg of the race was all novel and exciting. Still emotionally high, I ran at my usual pace and took in what was around me. People were lining up the streets and cheering the runners. I thought: “Wow, how nice of everyone to come out on a Sunday morning and support runners they don’t even know!”
I spent a good part of the race reading up the signs that they were holding up – some of the funniest reading that “Toenails are for losers!” and “If Britney made it through 2007, you can make it through 26.2 miles!”
And so I ran happily all the way up to Km 20 in the hipster part of Brooklyn. Past that point, I started to feel tired and my initial excitement turned into doubt. The voice in my head began muttering: “What have you got yourself into?”, “Maybe you should go home”, “I think I would like to stop for brunch.”
I hit the notorious runner’s wall crossing the bridge from Queens into Manhattan. I had so much lactic acid in my legs that my calf muscles felt like exploding and I wondered whether or not I would be able to use my legs or keep any toenails post-event. I was pissed off for signing up and I wanted to throw a full-blown tantrum – in the middle of a bridge! – but I said to myself: “Keep going you idiot, you haven’t come this far to stop.”
I suffered all the way to the Bronx (roughly Km 32). Gatorade gels, frequent pit stops, several songs on my iPod and the signs that the crowd were holding up kept me through phase. The one that cracked me up the most was held by this guy who had a pint in one hand and the sign in the other – it read: “I’ve turned up because they said there would be beer.”
Finally, I got to the final 7 Km. I most likely ran the way Elaine in Seinfeld used to dance by this point, if you remember her moves. This lady on the sidewalk handed me a fist-full of salt, which I gulped and which saved my life. “God is a marathon runner”, I thought.
The final 5 Km were the most emotional. No matter how much I ran, I still could not see the finish line and there was always another left or right to take. Finally, I saw the end stretch and dragged myself past the finish line.
I learned a lot from this experience. The most important thing being that if you prioritise your final goal and coach yourself through highs and lows, you can get there!
*Delivered as Speech 6 at Toastmasters London Business School, 13th March 2019.