What is Toughness Anyway?

I spent years beating myself up because I believed that somehow others were able “dig deeper” or push themselves harder than I could. I believed that other women were just tougher than me and that’s why they could run faster.

I had the pleasure of finally meeting my Skechers teammate, Kara Goucher, at the Skechers Showroom in NYC a few days before the marathon this November. And while discussing the possible members of the 2017 World Marathon Team and my upcoming performance at the NYC Marathon, she casually slipped in “but you’re so tough.”

It took me a second to realize she was talking to me. And as someone I admire greatly in the sport, Kara’s words meant a lot to me – so much that I am still thinking about that simple statement almost 6 months later.

So when I was finalizing my goals for Boston 2 months after that conversation, I added this to my mirror:

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I know I’ve met others who have questioned their toughness at times. Maybe it’s because we find it easier to imagine that the walls of our limitations are built with lack of toughness – something we believe we control, instead of our lack of talent – a much harder pill to swallow.

So that’s why honestly one of the proudest moments of my Boston experience was hearing Dot McMahan tell me that she and her teammate, Danna Herrick had discussed my apparent state in the later stages of the race. It was like listening to someone tell me how I was behaving when I had a few too many drinks at the party last night. She told me that Danna was convinced when she caught me that I was moving nowhere but back. She said I was swerving across the road and assumed I had to be close to dropping out.

Now, that could be because she was having an incredible day and moving up in the field so quickly. It also could be because the moment where she caught me was probably the roughest in my race – just after Heartbreak Hill.

But it could also be because I was starting to fall apart. Just hours after the race, I struggled to remember exactly what had happened during the second half of Boston. Luckily I’ve got some photos to jog my memory.

Dot&Es

 

Don’t let my smiling grimace (or grimacing smile) deceive you. Anybody who knows what a fast runner looks like knows from this picture that I was struggling. Just look at that hip drop!

One of the few things I remember from the 2nd half of Boston, was that I made the very conscious decision to take off my hat at the point in the race where humility had set in. I had lost sight of all of the race-day goals I had set 17 weeks before. And by the time I took off my hat, I only had one goal left – I simply had to be tough and finish as strong as I could.

While it was also scary, I was extremely grateful to have so many women so close behind me (3 within 22 seconds by the finish) because their looming presence held me accountable and challenged me to hold true to the only goal I had left to cling onto – just to stay tough.

 

I wrote Kara a message after I posted that index card on my mirror. I told her how much her words had meant to me, but then followed it up by confiding that I’m not really tough. I’m just terribly risk averse. I explained that I listen to my body early in a race in order to avoid pain at all cost – the pain of a body running out of power, the pain of losing ground against my competition, the pain of shameful positive splits.

But since that confession, and especially after my experience at Boston, this is what I’ve learned:

Toughness isn’t a look of pain on your face. Toughness isn’t screaming when it hurts. Toughness isn’t in the blood, sweat, tears, snot or drool spent on a race. Toughness isn’t even intrinsic to running super fast times.

Toughness is coming face to face with your limitations, whatever they may be, and having the courage to acknowledge them and still keep going.

I might not be the toughest competitor out there, and I’m certainly not the most talented, but I am proud of my grit. I’m proud of my ability to learn from my mistakes and make every experience, good or bad, an opportunity to improve upon myself.

On to the next! Whatever that will be…

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