We’ve all been there before. It’s the run that takes away nearly all of your hard earned confidence in a matter of minutes. It’s the run that makes you feel like the slowest, sluggish, most out of shape person that has ever attempted to run. In a single word – it’s excruciating. The first question that comes to mind is what’s going on. A runner’s brain tends to be logical, methodical, and usually operates within a definite have a problem, find a solution mentality. But sometimes, into the most logical part of that brain sneaks the black could. The black cloud is powerful; it can overtake even the most self-assured runner if the conditions are just right. It seeks out fear and doubt and amplifies it in your mind. The black cloud makes you feel like a failure before you’re even done trying and before you’ve even had the chance to fail. The black cloud is not above shaming you for every decision you’ve ever made and for every failure (legitimate or not) that you’ve ever tried to bury and forget about. Yes, the black cloud sees it all and uses it all to hand out its harsh judgments without mercy.
Welcome to the deep, dark recesses of my mind just last week. It was Saturday morning and 24 miles were on the schedule. I am training for my very first 100 mile ultra marathon in September. I am not a stranger to the ultra marathon but this 100 mile race will be by far, the longest I’ve ever attempted. Anyhow, back to Saturday morning: less than 2 miles into my 24 mile run and it became clear that this was going to be one of those excruciating runs. The black cloud pushed its poison into my mind immediately and didn’t let up for the next 22 miles. The black cloud wiped out every accomplishment I’ve ever had. The black cloud brought shame and guilt with it and told me if I lost these last 20 pounds, it’d be much easier to run. The black cloud went for the jugular, taunting me for being selfish and for spending so much time on running when I could be at home with my kids and judging me for spending so much money on running shoes when I could be setting it aside for my son’s medical expenses. The black cloud was sure I would never, ever, in a thousand years, be able to finish 100 miles. I mean, I was struggling terribly just to survive these 24 miles and I wasn’t even a quarter of the way there. When my resolve was weakened and I was truly wondering if I’ve gotten in over my head, the black cloud mocked me “Let’s just leave these kinds of feats to the real athletes, shall we?”
I put on my angry face, gritted my teeth, and obsessively watched my Garmin move slower than I thought was even possible. At one point, I took it off and jostled it around a bit, sure that it was broken. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily for me, it wasn’t broken; I was just going that slowly. I scolded myself, I threw myself a big pity party, I got good and mad about not being able to do what I wanted to do, and yet I didn’t give up. I dug deep, I held on, and I pushed through it. As my driveway came into view, I was overcome with emotion. I started to cry from sheer relief at being done and also to be rid of that hateful black cloud. Once I was done running and thinking clearly again, I realized with some embarrassment that the hateful black cloud is me. There is no escaping her. Secretly (or not so secretly anymore), I’m afraid that I can’t do it. I’m afraid that I’m not good enough, not fast enough, not thin enough, and not disciplined enough. And I won’t ever be able to stop that voice in my head until I can give myself some credit for the past and believe that I really can do whatever I set my mind to. A friend gave me a wonderful magnet from Fellow Flowers that says “And when she realized she was brave enough, everything changed.” It’s a great reminder about the power of our own voice.
Running has a way of bringing out the very essence of life in each mile like that. There’s no escape from who you are and what lies beneath the surface. So this is what I want you to do if the black cloud comes for you. Just for right now, just for this run, and just for today, shut down that black cloud. Be proud of yourself even if you are not where you want to be. Be proud of what you can do even if you aspire to do more one day. Remember where you have come from, what you have survived, and what you have done in order to get here. Believe that you have done the best that you could given the circumstances, know that you have made mistakes but learned much from them, and realize you are always progressing towards something better. We choose what the voice in our head has to say to us – make it something worth listening to.