Resilience Under Fire: 5 Pathways to be Marathon Strong

Marathon runners

We are now living and leading in an invisible firestorm that surrounds us. Some of us have been socially distanced or isolated and are fairly protected. Others of us less so, and many others are in the direct line of fire. All of us need to pull on what is the best in ourselves. Right now.

A recent survey in the Boston Globe reveals that about 20% of us are more frightened than we have ever been in our lives. Another 20% report they are extremely fearful. The virus has a contagion of around 50%. Fear is nearly 100% contagious. But it is also something we can manage. Don’t think, however, that you can just make it go away. You begin by aiming to reduce your fear five percent. Then another five percent.

As we seek to work with our fear, we might draw inspiration from an unexpected source – the marathon runner. Marathon runners in cities across the globe have shown us the art of endurance.

Boston is famous for its marathon and for becoming “Boston Strong” after the horrific experience with the bombing April 15, 2013. How can we all be Marathon Strong now? It’s a journey we can take together.

Who finishes a marathon? It isn’t the most physically fit. Research shows us there are two key ingredients to completing and winning a race. You know the first one— “Will Power.” The second ingredient is lesser known and is called “Way Power.” Way Power is having a goal, the commitment to reach it, and an ability to think through multiple pathways to that goal. When Plan A fails, if you have Plans B, C, D & E, you are far more likely to win.

What does this have to do with managing our fear? When we are afraid, we need multiple pathways to take us toward mastering our fear that first five percent. One path works better for one person; find the one that appeals to you the most. Then the one that appeals to you second, then third.

We are all stronger than we know. Here are five possible paths to help manage and master fear in any order that works for you.

We are facing an overwhelming challenge or task: what do marathoners do that we can do?

A. Control breathing and physiology

  • Slow your breath, pulling the air deeper inside increases the oxygen levels in your blood.
  • This helps counter the cortisol and other anxiety driven physiological reactions.
  • If you are out flat: Rapid rest recovery cycles. 10 second breaks help. 3 slowed breaths in a row helps you downshift.

At times, fear can feel overwhelming. How can we help ourselves when it just feels too big?

B. Manage fear

  • Emotions hit us in waves, when you can’t stop it, ride it out, don’t thrash in the water. Water can hold us up, let the wave pass.
  • Fear is uncomfortable but can’t kill you. Try not to be contagious to others.
  • See it, name it. Co-exist with it if it won’t recede right now. Imagine driving a car. Put it in the passenger seat, present, but not driving your decisions and actions.

How can we manage to be “bigger” than our fear?

C. Win the inner game

  • Parts of you are in distress and in a high fear state. But is it 100%? Find a deeper part of you that can be compassionate to the parts of you that are afraid.
  • Be aware of your inner dialogue. Talk to yourself as you would a friend or your child, if you are being nasty or mean to yourself, please stop. It’s not fair.
  • Find a “Mantra” a phrase or sentence you can repeat over and over. It might be as simple as, “I’ll be okay,” or, “we’re tough,” or “we’re going to make it through.” Find the part of you that is strong.

We are in this for the long haul. How do we keep going and going?

D. Pace yourself through the race to finish and win

  • Do not go all out. Keep your reserves. There are times you must move at 80% speed.
  • Learn to expend only the energy you need; you can recover by relaxing while running.
  • “Draft” on another. When you are tired, let someone else lead and reduce the stress.

We will be stronger at the end.

E. Connect with deeper values and purpose.

  • We are in this race together and can be more connected.
  • Extreme effort brings out the best or the worst in us. Appreciate when you are at your best. Accept and then challenge yourself when you slip. And when you slip again.
  • Remember what really matters. Live it. If it’s family, get off the computer.

We have never faced anything like this before. Now is the time to grow the seeds of our courage and strength. Find your feet and your second wind, then your third and we will come out stronger and more deeply connected to those we love, and our community. I recently saw a poster that speaks to us now. It was an action shot of a runner, racing toward us flat out, with two titanium prosthetic lower legs. The message is perfect. “Don’t think about what you cannot do. Think about what you can.”

Be strong. Be well. Be careful. We will win together. We are tough.

My best wishes for you,

Carol