I've never considered myself an athlete... maybe because I never really did anything athletic. Watching sports doesn't count, and that's all I ever used to do.
Even when I became active, dropped 100-plus pounds and took up running, I did not consider myself an athlete. And I still don't. I run, a lot, but I'm not an Olympian or anything like that, you know?
However, there is one thing I've heard athletes say over and over again that I now understand perfectly well.
Before large events, such as the Olympics or a championship game for instance, athletes will typically say something like "I've worked hard for this moment" or "The last four years have been in preparation for this."
The last several months have been in training for Sunday, for the San Francisco Marathon. But more than that, the last three years have essentially prepared me for Sunday. If I want to survive the race, I will have to use what I have learned throughout my running journey. If I want to perform well, I am going to have to reach deep down inside.
For me, the moment that will test me, that will threaten to knock me down and drag me around will be the final portion of the race. The wall.
Oh, there will be a wall. I can guarantee you that. The wall will say hello to me, probably somewhere north of 20 miles. I ran 22 miles on the Fourth of July in hopes that the wall will not appear until Mile 23 or 24, but that's only pushing off the inevitable of course.
What will the wall feel like? Physically, it's rough. Your legs weigh 50 pounds each, sweat is dripping down your face and has been for hours, your clothes drape on you and are begging to come off and your gears are set to slow, slower and slowest. Walking towards the end is glorious... for one second, when you realize that you are still in pain and that the longer you walk, the longer you will be on the course, and the more you risk not being able start running once more.
Mentally, it's much, much worse. You question your ability to complete the race, you wonder what in God's green earth made you ever decided to run a marathon and you doubt yourself on every little thing. It's a lonely, empty feeling, and it can last for years. Seriously. Some people run a marathon, finish it and never want to do it again.
When I hit the wall, whether it's been at Surf City or at other long runs that featured a wall, saying to myself that I only had two or three or four miles left has done nothing to lessen the effects. In fact, it's made it worse as I turn it around to fire back "I still have two/three/four miles left? How the hell am I going to finish?"
When I looked at the course map, I noticed several things: the start and finish line on the Embarcadero as well as landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf and AT&T Park. But what I did not see anywhere was LB's Wall.
As sure as there is a start and finish line, though, LB's Wall will greet me. That's not in question.
No, the only question facing me is this: Do I have the guts to scale the wall?