Inch by Inch

Marathon-1-2-2014

The time is nigh. Tomorrow before daybreak I’ll be at the Pelican Ball Field with hundreds of other people waiting for the BOOM that signals the beginning of the Myrtle Beach Marathon and Half-Marathon. Before that, we’ll sing the National Anthem and stand around making small talk and listening to the conversations around us.

I’ve participated enough in these events to know that there will be people who are at the top of their game and ready to take off running. They’re at the front of the pack, stretching and checking out their competition. Others, like me, will be feeling a bit anxious as they wonder what it would be like to come in last. I’m not too good at statistics, but I’d say about half of the participants will be coming up excuses about why they aren’t going to do as well as they’d like. Sometimes it’s weather, and often it’s work, family matters, or sickness. Whatever the reason, I understand their motives and fears.

I wish I were faster. I wish I could finish with no discomfort. Nothing’s certain, though. The only thing I know for sure is that I’ve put in the miles. I’ve walked downtown in residential areas, along Ocean Boulevard, at the local track, around our neighborhood, beside busy highways, and down less travelled roads. I’ve pounded the pavement in all kinds of weather, even a little snow and rain. When it would have been so much easier to sit back and take the day off, I remembered Nike’s advice to Just Do It.

Still, I’m a little anxious, and when those moments of doubt or fatigue come, I’ll remind myself of another platitude: Inch by inch, life’s a cinch; yard by yard, life is yard. I’m going to take my husband’s advice and put one foot in front of the other and keep on keeping on. I often remember my first full marathon.

It was in Alaska in 1997, and I went with 40+ people from the Myrtle Beach area who were part of a Team in Training group. All of us were committed to our united cause of raising money for leukemia research. One of my favorite images is of a female lawyer from Myrtle Beach who walked steadily and resolutely all the way to the finish. She didn’t appear to be overwhelmed by the distance the way I was. Alternately walking and jogging, my technique didn’t work as well as her steady, consistent gait.

One of my favorite psychological terms is self-efficacy, the belief that you can make something happen, the knowledge that you have what it takes to be successful. Interestingly, psychologists feel that perceived self-efficacy can be more important than a person’s actual ability. This is true in many areas, but on Half Marathon Eve, I’m only concerned about walking 13.1 miles. I think I can. I hope I can. I know I can.

As I get to the end of this post, I’m thinking of a line from the Beatles, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” I love the support, the numbers of people who come out for these events. They throng the sidewalks and cheer us on. Some offer water and Gatorade, and others shout cheers or play music. No one is negative. Every single person says something akin to, “You can do it!” or “You’re almost there.”

I’ll be looking for the cheering sections on the route tomorrow as I “just do it.” I know that if I take it step by step with the confidence that I can finish, I will.

 I’d love to read of other people’s advice, stories, or experiences with any kind of walking, jogging, running event. Did you have any special challenges? Did you find that old proverbs or clichés helped you? 

I Can Do This

I have little Brooke on my mind this morning. It’s amazing what you can learn from a 6-year-old.

In need of a grandchildren “fix,” I recently drove to Rincon, GA to see one of my daughters and her family. Since their parents couldn’t seem to get much house and yard work done with the four older children around, I volunteered to take them to Dairy Queen for lunch and to the local park for fun. Energetically, they ran from one end of the park to the other and from one piece of equipment to the next before congregating around the monkey bars.

Brooke stood on the platform, poised and ready to reach out for the monkey bars. Her little face was a portrait of concentration. Twice already, she had attempted to cross over from the small platform to the one on the other side, and twice she had struggled right in the middle.

Then a little girl, a stranger, came along. Without appearing to even think about it, Vanessa reached out her right arm, grabbed the first bar, and continued all the way across until she landed safely on the other side. Brooke and I both watched her and noticed that she had a certain swing in her maneuvers. Rather than just reaching for one bar and then the next, Vanessa turned her little body from side to side, motions that seemed to propel her forward. She made it appear effortless.

Soon tiring of the monkey bars, Vanessa scampered away to find other equipment to play on, and Brooke once again ascended to the platform.  Standing at the ready, she said, “I can do this.” I couldn’t help but smile, loving her determination and confidence. Again, “I can do this,” this time a little more assured. “That’s my girl,” I said. “You can do it.”

After reciting “I can do this, “ once more, Brooke grabbed the first bar, and imitating Vanessa’s swing approach, she quickly reached the other side. Almost giddy with the sense of accomplishment, she tried it again. After watching her older sister have several successful attempts, Emma clamored up on the platform. I got a little tickled as I heard her say, “I can do this.” Her face scrunched up with determination, she repeated the phrase another two times just like her older sister had done. Since Emma is  younger, shorter, and not quite as coordinated as Brooke, I wasn’t quite as certain of her success. Truthfully, her little arms couldn’t even reach the first bar. She was so resolute, however, that I knew I had to help her to succeed.

“Want me to hold you up?” I asked.

“No. Just put me close enough to the first one so I can grab it,” she said. “But don’t hold on to me.”

“Want me to stay close?” I asked, knowing that if I weren’t right there, she’d likely fall to the ground below.

“Uh-huh. And put your hands beside me, but not on me until I tell you to,” she demanded.

I followed Emma’s instructions, and although I pretty much participated 50/50 in the short distance between the two platforms, she did it!

Hands down, my favorite psychological term is elf-efficacy, the belief a person has in her ability to accomplish something. This belief is reportedly more important than a person’s actual ability. If Brooke had had low perceived self-efficacy, she wouldn’t have made it across from one platform to the next despite her physical ability. While I’m on the subject of lessons, Brooke also demonstrated the power of a good example. Because of her determination and success, little Emma gave it a shot. Hmmm. And Emma taught a lesson too: people need support. People need others close enough to catch them if they fall but not too close.

 The more I think about that afternoon in the park, a half a dozen situations and their inherent lessons spring to mind. I’ll save them for another day, however. Today, thanks to my granddaughters, I’m working on my self-efficacy.