Wednesday, April 12, 2006


I ran track for a couple of years in high school participating in hurdles and the 4x200 relay. I thought I was a sprinter then, but little did I know that I was really a marathon runner. I loved practice more than I liked the meets for one sole reason… the meets made me nervous. Immediately after they would make the first call for my heat, my heart rate would increase and I would start to feel panic set in. I would sit on the football field, casually stretching trying to calm my breathing only to be interrupted by the sudden urge to use the restroom. I would walk myself over, go to the bathroom and begin to walk back to my stretching place. Before I would even get back to the track, I would feel like going to the bathroom again. This would happen 3 or 4 times before each race. Nerves. But I would get in those starting blocks and wait for the gun to go off, which was at times difficult to hear over the pounding of my heart, and I would race. At the end of the day, I performed well and felt relieved it was over although knowing the same routine would continue at the next meet.

The week before I did my first half-Ironman in Florida, the waves in the Gulf were uncharacteristically high, creating 5 to 6 foot swells. This would be my first real triathlon and swim of that length in open water. I was a little nervous. I remember driving by the ocean every day after work to see what the conditions were, which only made me more nervous. With each passing day, my stomach twisted into tighter knots and I found it difficult to eat. At times I felt like I was going to pass out. I had a hard time concentrating on anything that whole week and kept telling my friends that I was going to die. Nerves. I managed to survive that first half-Ironman… barely, and I have competed in several races since each time the nerves getting easier to handle.

I learned to play the piano when I was about 12 years old from a good friend of my family who lived on the next street up. I was quite good at sight reading, which I tended to do often because I neglected my practicing more than I should openly admit. I was perfectly content playing classical pieces that required no singing. I was not good at accompanying anyone for anything. I had to play in church a couple of times as a teenager, each time seizing up in fear because I am not a performer. Contrary to popular belief I do not like to be the center of attention. I do not like everyone focusing on me. I do not like to be in front of video cameras or on tape recorders. It freaks me out. I much prefer behind the scenes work. But I would fumble through the song trying not to make mistakes. You would think that I would get over that, but I am worse than ever. I was asked to play a solo in church earlier this year, which was ironic since I had made a New Year’s goal to practice more often. I consented but dreaded it for two weeks leading up to my performance. I practiced almost every night so that I would know the piece better than I ever had. Come time to perform, I began to turn red, the room got hot and I started shaking. I told myself to calm down and get a grip or else I would shake myself right off the piano bench. Nerves. I rested my hands on the keys watching them shake violently thinking there was no way I was going to be able to do this when my leg started shaking… not sure how I managed, but I did.

I run the Boston Marathon in 5 days. I have done a marathon before. I have done the Ironman, neither of which have killed me. In fact, I do not recall being very nervous for either of those major events in my life. However, I find myself getting more nervous as the long-awaited day approaches. My stomach has started twisting itself into familiar knots, my shoulders and neck are cramping up, and I begin to doubt that I can do this. But why should this race be any different from all the others? I have trained. I am ready. But it’s the Boston Marathon. I never really considered it a big deal, and I still don’t to keep my sanity. It’s just another long training day resulting in a medal and 4 days of pain. No big deal. It’s not like I am trying to win anything here. Everyone says I just need to relax and enjoy it. But really, how can I enjoy running 26.2 miles, especially when I am racing the watch on my wrist knowing that my ego has told me I have to beat 3:39:39 or something has gone terribly wrong. That’s a lot of pressure to put on myself. Thanks a lot ego.

Everyone deals with nervousness differently. There have been a couple of times in my life when I felt like I was having a heart attack but really it was just a self-induced anxiety attack. I can almost feel one coming on now. But normally, when I am nervous I do a couple of things. One, I bite my lip a lot and often pick at it without even being conscious of it, a habit which my mother has spent my whole life trying to break. Two, I play with my hair. Three, I bite my cuticles off my fingers, which typically results in unattractive fingernails, blood and pain. (I wonder if I have some weird fascination to self-inflicted pain because I keep doing these endurance events and experiencing pain like never before.) And four, I bounce my leg, which I am sure is something that I got from my mother. In some strange way, these habits help to calm me down when the nerves and anxiety seem to take over.

So in the coming days, if you see me with a raw lip, my leg bouncing and my hair wrapped around my bloody fingers, you will know why. It’s just the Boston Marathon.

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