Training for a marathon? Use guided imagery and succeed. I love challenges and enjoy pushing my boundaries to the limits and see how far I can go. The year 2000 brought the idea to celebrate the new millennium with the special challenge of running a marathon. My routine had consisted of three miles, which I ran three of four times a week.
December 1999 I began a half-year training and followed the first timer training program suggested in Marathon – The Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon. Sunday mornings I ran long distances, while during the week I gradually increased my daily mileage. My first long run was seven miles and I amazed myself by the successful completion, but still doubted that I could run any farther. I increased my mileage to ten, then 12 and 15 miles and decided that the seven-mile run was easy.
I ran in snow and in rain. Overcoming mental comfort zones turned out to be the biggest hurdle. Pulling myself out of a cozy warm bed on a Sunday morning only to face hours of running in icy cold weather with snow flurries lashing onto my face, tempted me to quickly return underneath warm covers. The German expression innerer Schweinehund, translating into inner bastard or literally inner pig-dog, seemed to be the appropriate description for my state of mind.
I had to overcome my inner bastard many times and forced myself to get out into the cold, while trying to single-mindedly focus on the glorious end result. Only the first steps were the most difficult ones. Once I ran the initial couple of miles I reached the famous runner’s high. I got into a mode of blissful ecstasy which carried me mile after mile, without getting exhausted or worn out. I was focused on the present moment and felt connected to a boundless source of energy.
I had a special curiosity in understanding how visualization could assist me during my training. An article about Jacques Mayol, who in 1976 broke the world record for free dive, sparked my interest. Mayol’s feat later inspired director Luc Besson’s epic film The Big Blue. Equipped with only flippers, nose plugs and goggles, Mayol dove to the depth of 105 meters, or 346 feet. This accomplishment was astounding because until then scientists believed it was impossible for the human body to survive such underwater depths.
Let’s understand how Jacques Mayol was capable to achieve his world record: Before every dive he sat on the planks of his boat, with his eyes closed he breathed slowly and deeply while meditating on becoming a dolphin. He focused his thoughts until he felt one with the dolphin. This shamanic technique is called shape shifting.
Determined to experiment with this method I applied it immediately. Instead of dolphins though, I visualized strong and powerful horses. I ran together with a herd of horses, surrounded by their power and energy. Still, my legs became heavy when running up hills and I shifted my focus and visualized gliding on feathers while gentle waves effortlessly carried me up the hill. My mental efforts worked and my legs felt lighter. Every evening, before bedtime, I envisioned crossing the finish line effortlessly and smiling, while the spectators applauded. Focusing on the outcome is a well-known practice for athletes and Olympic medalists, who envision holding their gold medal and sensing with all their senses the euphoria and excitement of the future event.
Marathon day arrived on May 7. 2000. A predicted temperature of 86° Fahrenheit promised a hot and humid day in Pittsburgh, not at all ideal for running long distance. I joined the 4:45 Heinz pacing team, which provided pacers, experienced runners, who assisted first timers with guidance.
The race started and the hilly landscape offered an overwhelming view of thousands of runners ahead. Being part of a crowd of 5000 runners filled me with tremendous excitement as we all moved in unison beneath the high-rise buildings of Downtown Pittsburgh. I saw the same joy expressed in the happy faces around me.
The first twenty miles were easy. I ran at a comfortable pace while engaging in brief conversations with my running mates. We exchanged stories why we were here. A middle-aged woman of Indian decent impressed me the most. Her long black hair was tied into a ponytail; her voluptuous body gave testimonial to the four children she had birthed. She wore short pants and T-shirt in bright red and orange colors. Her eyes beamed with every word, “I never thought I could do this. But then I said to myself that I would never know if I wouldn’t try. I have been there for everybody else. I raised my children and I am a good mom, but there wasn’t much time for me. I want to know who I am and what I can do. Running this marathon will prove that I can do the impossible.”
Spectators cheered the runners, chanting: “Looking good.”
“You can do it.”
People handed out bananas and orange slices. The historic neighborhoods of Shadyside and Bloomfield celebrated with big street parties. Loud music roared, bands played, hundreds of spectators lined the streets and while drinking beer and Bloody Mary’s the audience sprayed the runners with cold water from garden hoses. The enthusiasm was contagious.
Then suddenly I dropped from the highest high to complete exhaustion. I had passed the 20-mile mark and hit the wall. My body had burned up its carbohydrate reserves and began metabolizing fat. My legs turned heavy as rocks, incapable to take another step. My feet ached with agonizing pain. Depleted of energy my head began spinning. Dark thoughts circled my mind like prey.
“I can’t do this.”
“I need to stop right now.”
“There is no way I can run another six miles.”
“I am done. I’ll end it now.”
The pain increased and I felt certain to give up when I realized the mind trap I had fallen into. I gave myself a loud wake up call: “Hello Dorit! Mind over matter! Remember the essence of what you teach! Change your thoughts! Change your reality!”
I forcefully expelled my negative thoughts and fixated on the goal. I forced myself to change my inner mantra to “You can do this.”
“This is easy.”
“You can do this.”
“This is easy.” Quickly a joyful melody accompanied the sing sang inside my mind. The pain and exhaustion in my body didn’t cease, but I continued. I visualized running with powerful horses, I saw myself shape shifting into a strong horse, flexing its muscles as it galloped with ease. Vibrant energy recharged every cell of my body. The pain washed away and I mastered the last few miles. I had overcome my innerer Schweinehund and not fallen into the trap of negative thinking. I switched to positive self-talk and saw an immediate change in my body, a powerful tool that is available to all of us and beneficial in any life circumstance.
I finished the race in four hours, 57 minutes and 20 seconds. The Indian woman whom I had talked to at the beginning waved to me and smiled, when she crossed the finish line. Also she had successfully run her first marathon. The year 2000 started with a special achievement, demonstrating that with the power of our minds we can make the impossible possible.
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