“Running on the Edge of the Western World”
Elaine Doll-Dunn, Psy.D.

Fourteen days is two weeks, or in “Shakespeare”…a forte night. Recently I did a forte night experiment; I ran the More Marathon in New York on April 10th and then two weeks later traveled to Monterey, California to run the vaunted Big Sur Marathon down Highway One. Advertised as the most scenic and most difficult marathon in America, it far exceeds its reputation on both counts. Or as they say in their literature, “The worst time and the best time you’ll ever have!” Right on. Out of the redwood forest onto the coastal highway along the wave breaking Pacific over the famous curved and columned bridge past the “Piano Man” (who for 20 years has serenaded the parade of runners with haunting strains of classical music; his grand piano a polished foil to the rugged cliffs and smashing waters plunging below). Then up, up, up the serpentining pavement to the summit of Hurricane Point. (Having trained in the hills was helpful, but no panacea!) Seals barked at the trespassing troops, an occasional whale breached in the misty deep far from the sand scoured rocks, and a breeze out of the north eased the dancing dozens down (and up!) the 26.2 miles to ‘Marathon City’ havened in Carmel. It was an incredible journey.

Two weeks, fourteen days, a forte night….is not enough recovery time for marathoning. Especially not for an “elder” who had completed a challenging course in week one then faced the epitome of difficult courses in week three. Never sell motivation short. There was a beautiful hand crafted medallion for everyone finishing in under 5:30. I had survived New York, struggling, in 5:51, so had little hope of a better time on a tougher course. Yet with almost no rest time, I ran a 5:23! (I really wanted that medal.) I can only attribute it to total focus, terrific crowd support, strategic aid stations, and the energy generated from doing something I was told I couldn’t handle. But, hey, it was just another run. As aren’t they all? Isn’t anything we do? Tackle small portions of the impossible, then pile up the portions.

The expo the day prior was fun, too. Forest Gump, complete with white suit, pants too short, bow tie snugged up to his chin, and a box of chocolates…reassured the crowd that, “the marathon is like a box of chocolates, you just never know what you’re gonna get ‘till you bite into it….” He alone was worth the price of admission. Well, that and the chocolate….

We were bussed to the start at 5:30 in the morning, and dropped off in the redwood forest where 3,000 of us shivered in line at the porta potti’s, shed our warm-ups at the “sweat truck”, found our spot in the line-up (an honor system, go to the group that runs about your pace. Saves getting spun around when people pass ya.) and watched the white doves flutter above the redwoods while the sun rose over our forest rendezvous. As the final strains of the National Anthem wafted into the clouds, the starting gun signaled the beginning of another odyssey, another reality check and another adventure…and, off to Carmel.

So this is about what happens in your head. Conventional wisdom dictates that rest is imperative after that much energy depletion. However, the lure of a gorgeous course and of limited rewards can be the carrot that overcomes reality. The mind is a powerful athlete. At each aid station a young volunteer read off our time and the projected finish at that pace. As I wearied, the vocal reassurance that I was still in the game was enough to keep me pushing for one more mile on target. Amazing how the fatigue can be held at bay by words. Not that it got easier, and not that I didn’t want to just pack it in and walk on the beach, but a steady dose of “atta girls” kept me at the task.

The last mile is up hill. How cruel is that? As we broke over the top, I could see the finish line clock, knew I could make it under the time limit, and dredged up a faltering sprint to the finish. Pathetic as it may have looked to an Olympian, it was Herculean to me, and that medal placed around my sweaty, sun seared, salt sanded neck---was the Hope Diamond. Motivation is key.

Think about that. You may have to orchestrate your own cheerleading squad, but the mind doesn’t know the difference between a real and imagined event, so fool yourself into fitness. Picture yourself where you want to be physically. Expunge negative, “I can’ts”, from your head, and polish your program. We are what we think we are, we are the problem and the solution, and we can do more than we think we can. Go for it; in less than a “forte night” you’ll see and feel the difference. Celebrate your own, “running on the edge of the western world.”

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