Elaine Doll-Dunn, Psy.D.

“Would you live with ease, do what you ought, not what you please.” Benjamin Franklin

Given our repertoire of senses with which to experience the world, it would seem enough to taste, smell, feel, hear, and see all that this incredible planet has to offer. But no, we also have a sixth sense! That intuitive, perceptive, intangible sense that is indefinable. For our intents and purposes here, it is the sense-of-self in the genre of wellness. It is the inner tool that monitors our training, communicates-- two directionally-- brain to body, body to brain; what and where and how we learn and grow through movement. We know what we have to do and how we have to do it; as we make the time to listen to our body and to our mind, the pursuit of perfection, at least physically, is on the front burner.

If you can accept that the marathon has become the epitome of a challenge/conquest, then think about the average runner and his/her degree of success at that activity. Two runners are introduced at a cocktail party. Within seconds the word “marathon” surfaces. Why? Because it is the zenith of running. If you are a climber it’s Everest, if you’re a thoroughbred, it’s Kentucky Derby, if you aspire to running, y’gotta do a marathon.

As a benchmark of obsession, the event has grown exponentially. Over a half-million runners finished a marathon last year, and some of those were 80 years old! So it has lost some of its mystic, it is still the ultimate challenge, the crowning achievement of every runner, and still elicits admiration from the novitiate. I have completed 105 marathons and I’m still impressed with myself every time I cross the finish line. (I also vow it’s the last one!)

Consider what the marathon really is. It’s a distance the human body is in no way prepared for. Human beings shouldn’t be able to run 26.2 miles (the distance established at the 1908 London Olympics). It defies our metabolic machinery, which can fuel only about 90 minutes of high-intensity activity. Training can push that limit to about two hours; afterward, the body relies on less efficient forms of energy. It eats itself. (A marathon truly is a race to the finish!) See why Phidippides dropped dead at the end of the first one? Ok, so that’s a different story, but the marathon is prodigious at whatever age, shape or talent you are.

So what does that have to do with a sixth sense? Well, as a runner, you acclimate to a distance. Racing is key in learning about yourself. Begin with a 5K, progress to a 10K, suffer through a half-marathon, and see if you have studied your body, mind and soul enough to take on the “Big M”.
As in training you learn how to push past tired, how to pace yourself, what foods to eat before and after (and during, if you’re into distance), and what workouts promote growth not just pain; this also do you learn from races. I learned quickly that the ‘blazing speed’ I exhibited in a 5K left me gasping half-way through a 10K. I also found that launching out of the gate to intimidate my opponents was a certain way to suffer oxygen debt. Understanding---gaining a sense of self---on the road and in real life situations has been instrumental in preparing me for longer races and more demanding terrain. You do develop a sense of what you have left, how to use it, and when your opposition is toast.

Surprisingly, the half-marathon is a killer. You think if you can do a six mile race, you can surely double that with training. And you can, but it isn’t quite the same. And a marathon is more that twice as hard as a half. Many times I have gotten to the half-way mark in a marathon and if there had been a way home, I would have bagged it there. But there is something about realizing you’re over half done, about hanging on to a goal, and about the misery of company. By that time the speedy ones have quit spinning by me and I am pretty much with my age/talent group….we support each other.
Developing and honing that sixth sense is an ongoing and growth oriented process. Just as in racing we learn what we can do in a given circumstance, so too, do we learn from other life experiences of what incredible feats we are capable. The internal and external learning that takes place during the “living” of life is directly transferable to other experiences and challenges. We may not realize it at the time, but having survived a traumatic experience, having run a marathon, or knowing you can complete what ever is currently a “long” run to you, is filed by that sixth sense and pulled up again in the hour of need.

So run long, live fully, and fear not. Your sixth sense will kick in when you most need and least expect it.

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