Running a Marathon: Mostly a Mental Thing?

Updated on December 10, 2018
Ron Grimes profile image

I have been running for over 40 years. I started running when I was 24. It wasn't until I was 54 that I completed my first marathon.

Nashville, Tennessee 2009

Marathon starting line next to the Nashville Parthenon
Marathon starting line next to the Nashville Parthenon

Change Someone's Life

You may have changed someone’s life by something you said.
A simple off-the-cuff comment can change a life forever. My life, especially as related to health and running, has been changed twice by comments someone made to me.


My Sister Changed My Life

The first life-changing comment occurred in 1978. I was living in a small town in Indiana and worked in a grocery store. I was married and had two children. I wanted to travel, and get an education, and I knew I couldn’t do both on a grocery clerk’s salary. I decided that joining the Army could help me reach those goals, and I knew I would be able to take my family with me along the way. Much to my surprise, my sister Faye joined the Army soon after I did. Faye went to basic training right away. I had a mobile home to sell, so I joined using the delayed entry program which meant I would leave for basic training in the spring of 1979.
A few weeks after Faye left for basic training she called me. During our brief conversation, Faye mentioned that she had run two miles. I was shocked. I said, “TWO MILES!” Faye down-played it by saying, “Well, just barely.” That didn’t matter to me. The fact that she had run two miles changed my thinking. My sister had run TWO MILES! I was so impressed and so proud of her. Before Faye told me that she had run two miles, I had not even thought about running at all. Faye’s two-mile run made me realize that I had to get in shape. I decided to start running right away.

Running: At First, it Made Me Sick

I had to leave for work around 7:30 AM, so I started out running at 6:00 AM. I started out running about a mile and then after a few weeks, I increased to two miles. For the first couple of weeks, I was so nauseated after each run that I had to lie on the bathroom floor. The nausea was overwhelming. I felt so sick that I couldn’t even sit up. If it wasn’t for the upcoming basic training, I would never have forced myself through that misery; however, since I was then an enlisted person, I was owned by Uncle Sam. I had no choice. I had to keep running.
After the first couple of weeks my nausea started going away, and within two months I could run 5 miles and feel just fine afterward. I remember my father-in-law was impressed that I was running 5 miles. He said that since I could run five miles, I wouldn’t have to worry about basic training. He was right. Being able to run made basic training a lot easier for me.

2012 Nashville Marathon

My 2012 Nashville Marathon
My 2012 Nashville Marathon

An Angel or a Demon?

The second time my life was changed by a comment, was about 20 years after I got out of the army when I was running a half marathon in Nashville, Tennessee. Runners parked at the finish line, and there was a bus to take them to the marathon starting line. I got on the bus, and a lady sat next to me. She asked me if I was running the half marathon or the full marathon. I told her that I was running the half marathon, and then I said, "I don't think that I could ever run a full marathon." Then she said something that changed my life. She said, "If you can run five miles, you can run a marathon. It's mostly a mental thing." Wow, that so impacted my thinking. Running five miles was easy for me.

Could I actually run 26.2 miles and complete a full marathon? I enjoyed reading books about marathon runners, but I had never thought that I would be able to run a marathon. The books I had read detailed the pain and difficulty involved in a marathon run. I did not think that I would ever put myself through that. This was my fourth half marathon. I had previously run three half marathons in Indianapolis, Indiana.

I Could Not Let Go of the, "It's Mostly a Mental Thing" Comment

The "It's mostly a mental thing" comment by the lady on the bus stuck in my brain. Later that year, I decided to train for a full marathon. The first time I ran 20 miles, was a real eye-opener. I did not take any water with me, and I must have become dehydrated. By the end of the run, I was having a lot of back and abdominal pain. I thought, "Wow, it hurts to run 20 miles." Later that day I had severe abdominal pain and ended up in the hospital with a kidney stone that had to be surgically removed.

I recovered and trained hard for the marathon. I ran my first full marathon in April 2008. I was 54 years old. That marathon was a shock to me. My niece, Heather, had recently run a marathon, and she gave me the advice that I should start out slow. Of course, I started out way too fast. By mile 17 as I headed up a long hill, I was ready to collapse. I had to stop and walk part of the way. As I ran the last few miles, my leg muscles were screaming at me to stop. I wasn’t prepared for how painful it was. Each step was excruciating pain.

After My First Marathon

The Nashville Marathon finish line was at the Tennessee Titans Football Stadium. The marathon was in late April, and it is often cool at 6:00 AM when we arrive at the start so we have warm clothes that we need to remove just prior to the race. We put the clothes in a gear bag and trucks take the gear bags to the stadium where we can pick them up when we finish.
After finishing the marathon, I could barely walk. I headed toward one end of the stadium to pick up my gear bag. Just stepping down from a curb onto the road shot pain through my leg muscles. I then had to walk through some gravel beside the stadium, and each step was pain filled. I finally got to the end of the stadium and there were no gear trucks in sight. I had left my jacket and keys in a gear bag. I found a security guard and I said, "Where are the gear trucks?" He said, "They are over at the opposite end of the stadium." My heart sank. I looked at him and said, "Oh God!"

How could I have been so stupid that I didn’t find out where the busses were before I went to the wrong end of the stadium? I couldn't believe that I had to walk that far. I didn't think I could make it. I thought about asking a policeman to give me a ride to my car, but then I thought that if I told him I couldn't walk to my car that he might not let me get into the car and try to drive home. I slowly made my way to the parking lot at the opposite end of the stadium. Along the way, I saw a grassy area and wanted to sit down, but realized that if I got down that there was no way I was going to be able to get back up. After many slow painful steps, I finally made it to the gear trucks and then to my car.

During the last few miles of the marathon, my mental chant was, "Never again! I will never do this again.” When I got home and told my wife how difficult and painful it was, I said, "I will never do that again." When I woke up the next morning, my first thought was, "I bet I can do better and run the marathon faster next year."

Some of My Running Medals

Over 40 Years of Running

I have now completed four marathons. Training for each marathon takes several months. To make sure that I am ready, I always complete at least one 20-mile run a few weeks prior to a marathon. So for me, a marathon is a lot of physical preparation. The "mostly mental" part for me, was just believing that I could do it at all.

I am not a fast runner. Initially, my goal was to run a marathon in 3 1/2 hours. I never accomplished that. Marathons always take me over 4 hours to complete. I let go of that 3 1/2 hour goal, and now I am just grateful that I can run at all.

The only time I was able to actually run every step of the 26.2 miles without stopping at all was when I had a hip injury that caused me to limp. The day before the race, I wasn’t even sure I was going to attempt it. I decided that since I had already paid for it I would try and see how far I could run. The hip injury forced me to follow my niece’s advice and to start out slow. When I finished, I was elated that I had run every step of a full marathon.

I often think of that lady on the bus who said that it was, "Mostly a mental thing." During each marathon, when I was experiencing excruciating pain, I would wonder if that lady was a demon. A demon sent to make me suffer. Had I been so bad that I deserved that much suffering? Or maybe I was just dumb to put myself through such misery.

Most often when I think of that lady on the bus, I think that she must have been an angel. An angel sent to change my life by making me realize that I could do more than I had ever imagined.

2012 Marathon Medal

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Ron Grimes

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      • Ron Grimes profile imageAUTHOR

        Ron Grimes 

        10 days ago from Tennessee

        Thank you, Liz Westwood. I appreciate that.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        10 days ago from UK

        Thanks for sharing your experiences. You give a great insight into the world of running.

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