Facing Fear

Three months ago, I began writing an article about my experience running a half marathon on New Year’s Day. I never finished that article. The thoughts were there, but I couldn’t make sense of them or put them into words. Now, less than two weeks from my first attempt at running a full marathon, I am regrettably reliving feelings I experienced before that half marathon. It’s time to get some clarity. Here’s the background.

Last summer, I began training for the 2021 Walt Disney World Marathon®. This was to be my first full marathon, and it was something that I never thought I would contemplate doing. You can read about my decision to step up to that distance here. As I trained and daydreamed about the event, my excitement grew. I couldn’t wait to go back to Walt Disney World! Unfortunately, the in-person event was cancelled because of the pandemic. I was crushed.

With the cancellation, there was an option to run a virtual race. Although I enjoyed my first experience running a virtual half marathon in 2020, I did not want my first full marathon experience to be virtual. A decision had to be made—stop my marathon training or find another in-person race. So, I searched for an in-person race and found one within a two-hour drive of my home. Perfect. Since the race date was two months later than the Disney race I had been training for, I abandoned my marathon training plan and went back to my regular running routine until it was time to restart the plan for my new race.

Not long after, I learned about a local in-person half marathon to be held on New Year’s Day. After looking at the dates and mileage on my marathon training plan, I realized that the half marathon would fit nicely in the plan. After the craziness of 2020, beginning 2021 with an in-person race sounded fantastic! I registered for the race and kept running, starting my marathon plan on the designated date.

Everything was going well until a few weeks before the half marathon when I experienced a knee injury. I had learned my lesson about pushing through an injury in the past, so I was very cautious with my training and gave my legs plenty of rest. My mind, however, did not rest at all. Should I run the race or skip it? Would I injure myself more if I tried to run? Could I even run the distance with my current level of fitness, or would I have to walk most of it? My brain was in overdrive. I couldn’t sleep and my stomach was in knots. It wasn’t just the injury either. I wasn’t familiar with the race organizer or the course, and there was little communication leading up to the race. I did not know what I was getting myself into. For someone with a history of anxiety, this was not helpful.

The days leading up to the race were not pleasant. I was not optimistic and considered not going. Then, my eldest son said something that caused me to look inward. He said, “you’ve done this before.” He was referring to the race distance. Yes, I had done it several times before. Why couldn’t I do it now? Was it really the injury? No. I knew I could complete the distance even if I had to walk it. What was causing me so much grief? I realized the root issue was fear. I had let my fear of the unknown consume me. I had let what was supposed to be a fun race to kick off the new year turn into a major stumbling block. I didn’t have to do the race if I didn’t really want to. It wouldn’t matter if I walked the race. It wouldn’t even matter if I finished the race. Sure, I would be disappointed if I dropped out, but I didn’t need to be afraid. On New Year’s Day, I ran the race. The last few miles were painful, but I finished the distance.

Fast forward to today. My marathon training was going well until a week ago when I aggravated my IT band. Now, less than two weeks before my race, I am dealing with an injury. Does this sound familiar? I’m supposed to run my first full marathon and I don’t know if I can do it. That same fear I experienced before the half marathon is here. It’s been wreaking havoc again, too. Did I not learn my lesson last time?

I read that the most repeated command in the Bible is “fear not.” Does that mean we should feel guilty or ashamed when fear shows up? No, I don’t think so. I think we need to look at the why behind the command. There are many verses in scripture that point to this why. As a Christian, I know I am not alone in this world. I don’t need to be afraid because God is with me. He is for me. He has carried me through some horrible situations. No matter what happens, He’ll be there.

So, what can you do when fear comes calling? I would like to say that I have conquered fear, but as you now know, that is not the case. I am learning to deal with it, and there are things that have helped me. Perhaps they will help you.

First recognize fear for what it is—an emotion. That might be easier said than done. Your brain may try to rationalize your fear and disguise it. Believe me, I’m an expert at finding logical reasons I shouldn’t do something that I fear.

Once you recognize the fear emotion, try to think about what’s causing that fear. What are all the possible outcomes for your situation? What is the worst thing that could happen? Then look for evidence from your experiences to support what fear is telling you. Did you walk through something challenging and stay there forever, or did you get through it? What makes you think you won’t get through it this time?

Finally, focus on what is true. Fear is just an emotion. You can move forward even if it is uncomfortable. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come already.

I don’t know what will happen with my upcoming race, but I have successfully completed almost all my training. I ran the long miles and put in the hard work to get to this point. That is worth celebrating. Whether this injury derails my race plans is yet to be seen. All I can do now is move past the fear and trust that God has a plan. In my heart, I know that His plan is best.