Sometimes Positive Thinking Isn't Enough to Cross the Finish Line

Sometimes Positive Thinking Isn't Enough to Cross the Finish Line
I'm in the middle, spitting out mud after the Warrior Dash in June. I hope it wasn't my last race of 2012.

My whole body is covered in perspiration, glistening in the morning sun. Each muscle aches and contracts, stretched to the absolute limit and begging for a relief I will not give. I see my kids holding homemade signs and cheering for me at the finish line. And I push forward...

I've visualized finishing my first marathon so many times that I sometimes confuse my fantasy with reality. And now, my fantasy must sustain me for another year.

On September 16, 2012, I will not be running the Fox Valley Marathon in St. Charles, Illinois.

It started with an allergy flare-up. I popped some Benadryl with my daily Zyrtec and started running with tissues stuffed into the waistband of my shorts.

I would come home with swollen eyes,  red nose and occasionally some wheezing. I read the warnings about the high mold count and, intellectually, I knew that I needed to be careful with my allergies and allergy-induced asthma. But I was cocky. I was too emotionally invested in my goal.

Nothing would keep me from that finish line. I chastised my moments of weakness, the failed runs, the doubt which would interrupt my sleep at night. Mind over matter, I chanted in my head.

I took a big swallow of the positive thinking potion and refused to give up.

I thought that I needed to visualize that moment of ultimate triumph more clearly to make it real. So I wove additional details into my imaginary story. I pictured my daughter's dark, skinny jeans and  black and cream striped shirt.I envisioned my middle son's quick smile of pride when he watched me finish. I could hear my youngest son's cheers and feel my husband's embrace.

And I kept running, focusing on that moment. On the days when my coughing and dizziness stopped me from running even one mile, I added to my fantasy. I envisioned more friends and family at the finish line.

Running is such an integral, vital part of my life that I just couldn't stop. I couldn't admit defeat. I started running to lose weight and continued running when I found it was the only way to cope when my child was diagnosed with a chronic illness. And I just couldn't give it up.

I lived in a surreal world of denial and fantasy for weeks, even as my body failed me. I questioned my commitment. I blamed the late-start to my training program. I convinced my delusional self that I needed new running shoes with custom inserts, a new running playlist, different brands of refueling supplements. I made plenty of excuses for my stunted progress and I refused to consider the alternative.

Until I stopped meeting my training goals. Until I couldn't deny it any more.

After several long-distance training runs plagued with dizziness, coughing fits and nausea, I finally collapsed at mile 14 of an 18 mile training run on Sunday. I didn't attend the organized training run hosted by the Fox Valley Marathon because I was too embarrassed by my slow shuffle, my cough, my stops to walk and catch my breath, and I honestly feared that someone would see me struggle and tell me that I couldn't run. I had invested so much time, energy, positive-thinking and self-promotion into this one race, and deep inside of me I knew that I was done.

And so last Sunday, I was alone. I was alone, sitting in the grass, wheezing and coughing and trying to figure out how I was going to get home. And I finally admitted that my 2012 marathon dreams were over. It was a long, depressing walk home.

In the doctor's office this week, she confirmed that which I already knew, prescribed four medications and ordered no running and no exercising until... She couldn't give me a concrete time frame, nor a magical calendar date to program into my cell phone. Just until my asthma is controlled again, until my lungs clear and I can find the combination of medications to control it.

I have to accept it now. I have to accept that no amount of positive thinking can fix this, can get me to cross that finish line this year.

As any Cubs fan will tell you: There's always next year. I hope.

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