Finding the Fire in My [Runner]Belly

By November 6, 2014 culture No Comments

After 12 half marathon races in three years, I think I’ve finally discovered the race mantra that motivates me. I’ve heard and tried all sorts of motivation phrases over the years, such as:

  • Just keep running, just keep running (Dory’s song)
  • Pain is weakness leaving the body
  • Almost there, almost done
  • Just 20 more minutes (you can do anything for 20 minutes!)
  • Just get to mile 8
  • The body wants to do what the mind tells it to do

I’ve also employed mental distraction techniques, such as singing songs, repeating Scripture, or playing the alphabet animal game. All of these mantras and mental games have worked to some degree. But at the Indianapolis Monumental half marathon this past weekend, I think I discovered something that clicks for my noncompetitive brain.


sooooo very cold

The weather on race day was super cold—about 28 degrees. Now, I prefer cold over hot, but this was a bit much, even for me! The wind was strong, driving the real-feel temperature into the teens. Stepping into my start corral, I was shivering cold and plenty nervous, as my training had been sub-par due to travel, a new job, rainy weather, and general laziness. I decided to just give it my best, hoping I’d be under the 2-hour mark at the finish.

During the first miles, which took us straight into the wind, I employed my “just get to mile 8” mantra. The course was an out-and-back variety, so by mile 8 I would be turning back to the finish with just 5 miles to go. At mile 8, I was churning out miles in the 8:30 to 8:40 range, and because it’s math, I spent plenty of time trying to figure out if I’d still be under 2 hours if I could maintain my current pace.

By mile 10, I was feeling weary, ready to be done. But this thought kept me chugging along: I’ve already logged in 10 good miles. If I slow down now, I’ll ruin it. Don’t ruin it now.

“Don’t ruin it now” was my mantra for the final three miles, and it was a huge motivator. It reminded me how disappointed I’d be if I fell off pace and lost the investment I’d already put in. It focused my mind on how excited I would be to see a good time on the clock if I held on to the finish. And it worked! I finished with personal best of 1:53:20, beating my previous best of 1:55:17. I’d say a 2-minute record is something rather spectacular for low-key runner like me.

All week I’ve wondered why this worked for me. Maybe it’s because with my personality, my first impulse is mercy, my tendency is to be lenient. This doesn’t work well when you need some fire in your belly to run a better race—too often, I’ll give in to my aches and pains rather than push myself to dig deep and try harder. Telling myself not to ruin what I’ve already worked for gave me something to shoot for: finishing the way I started.

Only time will tell if this sort of thinking will continues to help me run better. Although the idea of “ruining” race doesn’t seem to line up with the grace of Jesus, I think, in this case, it’s His certain, all-encompassing grace that gives me the courage to even toe the line in the first place.

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