Commentary: Marathon preparation requires mental toughness

On May 11 I received a compliment that, until now, I've kept secret.

Reminds me of a wrapped present handed to me at a 1948 kindergarten gift exchange. All around me, 5-year-olds ripped into their bounty. I took mine home, wrapped.

At 69 1/2, I still keep precious gifts to myself for private contemplation.

Now I'll unwrap the compliment for this commentary.

Last Saturday, Jake, Elizabeth, Catherine, Jim and I jogged along the Upper Bay path at an easy pace.

Elizabeth asked, "Carrie, are you thrilled with your time at the OC Half?"

I thought a second. My goal had been to finish in less than two hours, but I came in at 2 hours, 41 seconds. (Seconds matter.)

My hesitation gave Jim a chance to say, "Didn't you come in at 2 hours, 1 minute?"

"It was 2:00:41," I shot back. (Half seconds count.)

Then I answered Elizabeth, "Considering I lost the two-hour-pacer at five miles, Dover felt like Kilimanjaro and Irvine Avenue felt like Everest, I'm happy with my time."

At that moment I received the compliment that nearly dropped me on my Nikes: "You are one of the most mentally tough people I know."

Jake said it.

I ran on quietly, heart full.

I admire mentally tough people. They take higher math, read and follow package directions, figure their own income tax and find their bearings quickly in new surroundings.

By my reckoning, I'm not "mentally tough."

Jake's former assessment of my character was "an undisciplined runner who makes beginner mistakes." Training for the Portland Marathon, I did not follow his plan of increasing my weekly mileage and went out too fast, tiring at run's end.

Finding it easier to see myself as "undisciplined," I pondered the "tough-minded" comment.

Running means pulling my weight across terrain, against the forces of gravity and lethargy. I start out stiff. I'm behind the other runners for the first half mile because my feet, knees and lungs are rusted solid. When I warm up and catch up, I speed up, then wear out at the end.

Key words: "The end."

Maybe Jake means that I persevere through psychological resistance, physical fatigue and whatever the weather dishes out. Anyone can. Road running is the supreme democratic sport.

Shoes. That's all one needs and the persistence to keep moving one more step, one block, one mile, or one marathon.

By the way, Jake was off-pace at the Boston Marathon, half a mile slower than his projected finish time — or he would have been right in the blast.

"I went out too fast," he told us.

We were thankful he did.

Back to Jake's comment about "tough-mindedness." It's not important whether I see myself as mentally tough. Jake, a guy not given to idle chatter, does.

When he thought I was undisciplined, I ran Portland hoping to prove him wrong. In my last commentary, I was dismissive of his scientific approach to mileage.

Now that he's called me tough-minded, I will email him weekly mileage, increasing as he directs, determined to prove him right.

CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is a frequent contributor to Daily Pilot's Forum page, where she committed to try for a first place at the LA Marathon, 2013, when she will be 70 years old.

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