The reality began to set in around mile 13. While the ultra-distance running event seemed by nature to attract friendly folks who smiled, waved and offered brief chats on the course, after two hours, I started to elicit comments about how strong I looked.
Usually, those comments are met by a voice of doubt in my own mind I call the diminisher.
"Looks can be deceiving," the diminisher would say. "Don't forget your legs are starting to really hurt."
And the diminisher would also usually point out that the comments came from my friends who, by some contractual law of nature, had to say nice things to me, probably just to help their own karmic cause.
So I would brush off those sincere compliments and encouragements.
On Sunday, that started to change.
My longest run ever took place at the Buffalo Philharmonic Athletic Club 6-hour Classic. And while my ankles are still sore and my thighs a bit unhappy at life, I am starting to see the possibilities of the marathon.
The race was done on a 3.25 loop on part of the Amherst bike path by the Pepsi Center. The race is considered an "ultra" event -- a title given to any race where you run further than a marathon (26.2 miles). In this race, runners went at it for six hours and whoever covered the most distance in that time won the race. But while it was a nice introduction to ultra running for some, for others it was a perfect venue for a long-run since you could run as much or as little as you wanted.
Some did just two laps. Others went for distance.
I went for time.
The first 2:30 was to be at an easy pace and my coach wrote, in bold all-caps, not to deviate from the plan. This was a major increase in my time and to avoid injury, we started slower. The final 30 minutes was to be at my marathon pace.
I held my paces. My final easy lap was the slowest, probably because I knew the tough stuff was coming. Once that final 30 minutes, I picked it up. And it was hard. But I kept that marathon pace for the entire time. A few of my fellow runners commented that I was really moving. They told me I looked strong.
And suddenly it started to click.
There are plenty of things I won't be able to control on race day -- like the weather for example. Perhaps I can't even control how my body feels physically or when the pain really starts to settle in.
What I can control are my thoughts.
So instead of letting the diminisher have a field day in my head yesterday, I decided that indeed I was strong. I was stronger than I thought I was. Didn't necessarily make my ankles hurt any less but it did make the discomfort seem not so catastrophic.
Because at this point, it really is all mental.
I have two more long runs before the marathon, including a 3:15 dandy this weekend.
My physical preparation has been solid.
Now, finally, the mental preparation is starting to catch up as I finally start to ignore the doubts and fears in my own head and fess up to the fact that I will not only finish the marathon, but likely be able to do quite well.