About two Sundays ago I was out for a morning run along the Promenade. It was three weeks away from the Cape Town Marathon and I was in the ‘Have I done enough? No, of course I’ve not done enough!’ phase of marathon anticipation. It was early on in the run as well, before all my creaky bits had warmed up, and so I was wallowing luxuriously in the ‘Of course I’ve not done enough’ segment.
It was one of those perfect running mornings: the sky was clear blue, the salty sea air was cool on my skin, the sun shone gently on my back and it was still fairly early, so the path-clogging crowds were still somewhere else, sipping their morning coffees and tucking into their flaky, buttery croissants.
I was trying to tell my ridiculous mind to stop talking me down from my not-yet-high-enough runner’s high, and not quite winning the argument. Then, heading in my direction I saw another runner. She was young and had one of those bodies that would inspire people to say, annoyingly, ‘You don’t look like a runner’. From the expression on her face I could see that her internal dialogue was probably sounding something like mine.
But what caught my attention was her t-shirt. She wasn’t wearing a typical running shirt – you know, wicking and tech and streamlined and all the other stuff you simply must wear otherwise you just can’t run. She was wearing a big, black, baggy t-shirt that at first glance looked to be one she had bought at a rock concert. But it wasn’t. Instead, in big Gothic print, white-on-black, were the words:
And something switched inside my brain.
‘Breathe,’ I told myself as I ran past her. Slowly, I took a deep, deep breath through my nostrils, and slowly, slowly I released the air through my mouth. ‘Breathe,’ I said, and breathed again. The nervous tension in my stomach seemed to melt.
I took another deep breath in. ‘Believe,’ I said. ‘Believe.’ I slowly expelled the air through my mouth as I started to feel more peaceful.
‘Receive,’ I told myself with the next slow drink of air.
It’s just so simple. Breathe. Believe. Receive.
Each time I lost my rhythm, ran a little bit too fast, felt out of breath, got distracted by thoughts from the Vanity and Ego Departments, I simply said ‘Breathe,’ and breathed in slowly and deeply. ‘Believe,’ I told myself. ‘You’ve got this.’
I’ve got this.
It’s going to be fun.
On Sunday morning some nice people will close the streets of Cape Town so that a bunch of us can run through it. Some guys will be super fast. They’ll be up front and all the cameras will be on them. They’ll be on TV. People will follow them in helicopters and in cars and on motorbikes. They’ll get gold medals and flowers and money and everyone will love them. For the next few weeks we’ll be seeing their triumphant smiles everywhere.
Somewhere behind them will be some other super fast but not quite as fast people. They won’t get quite as much attention but everyone will be very impressed with them anyway. And everyone will cheer loudly as they run past. Everybody wants to be them.
Then there will be the middle bunch. It’s a big bunch of all sorts of people. They’ll get even less attention. They’ll be out on the road for longer than the super fast and super, super fast people. The sun will bake down on them and they’ll feel pretty tired, especially around the 35 km mark and they’ll need to dig deep to find their positive selves. They might think of crying a little, or maybe even having a little lie-down at the roadside, especially when dark spots start dancing before their eyes and their bodies cry out to them, shrieking, ‘For survival’s sake, you fool, just stop!’
And then there will be the lot at the back – the ones who just want to make it across the line before the cut-off and those who just want to do the distance, whether someone cuts them off or not. People who are fighting the battle of the bulge and the war on time, survivors who are flipping the bird at that grim fellow with the scythe, people who are injured, and people simply making another tick on the bucket list. Anyone could end up here – even the fast guys could wake up on a bad day, hit the wall, and end up here, doing the zombie walk. These are the athletes who show real courage. Being out on the road, putting one aching foot before the other, over and over, thousands of times, for six or seven hours, and not giving up … that takes grit and courage.
And everyone who makes it across the finish line, whether in a record two-hours-something, or just a second before the cut-off, has achieved something immense. Everyone is a marathoner. And what a feeling that is! Just …
Breathe. Believe. Receive.
You’ve got this.