You simply cannot train for a marathon without hearing about hitting the dreaded "wall". The marathon wall is a commonly used term to describe the ultimate running fatigue that typically happens around the 20th mile of an endurance run such as the marathon (26.2 miles). Muscles grow heavy with fatigue and one's pace slows down considerably. The body literally hits the wall and it can feel almost impossible to keep moving forward.
The first marathon I ever ran was in New York City. I was lucky enough to connect with the New York Road Runners Club and I had some amazing coaches, not to mention a host of running partners to keep me motivated. I remember attending a running clinic that was geared specifically towards first time marathoners and the panel talked about the wall. I left that auditorium determined that I would not be another one of its victims.
I gave myself a full year to train for the marathon. Single and ready to conquer the world, I had nothing but time and excess energy to invest into my overall training. Marathon wall be damned! Maybe I was too young or inexperienced to believe that I could train enough to avoid any pitfalls during the race, but it was the fear of that cursed wall that pushed me to train above and beyond what my already rigorous training program required.
I hope this doesn't across as too arrogant, but I honestly found the marathon to be one long, fun and dare I say, easy run. Mile 20 came and went. Same with mile 21. Mile 22 came around and I felt stronger than ever with random bursts of extra energy. The last four miles of the race ended up being my fastest mile splits ever. I was high on the intensity and enthusiasm of the crowd as well as buoyed by the many, many hours of training I had put in over the past year (oh and I'm sure that little thing called adrenaline didn't hurt, either). Granted, my time of 4 hours and 20 minutes was nothing to write home about, but I had accomplished a personal goal and had a blast doing it in the best city in the world (my .02!) - all while avoiding that cursed wall.
There are no shortages of examples written by those who believe that the marathon is a metaphor for life. Certainly I can reflect back on the 3 different marathons that I've completed and draw parallels to how my own life has played out. My last marathon was run with minimal training, an attitude that bordered on sheer apathy and a lack of respect that a marathon calls for and rightfully deserves. Not only did I hit the wall, but I incurred a rather serious injury that forced me to walk almost the last 5 miles of the race. I contend that the biggest difference between my first marathon (enjoyable and fun) and my third marathon (miserable at best) was all in the training and preparation.
As a person of color, I think of how many times I have hit the wall in my life as I navigate through this racially charged world in which we live. Our families, our school communities, our neighborhoods, our places of work and beyond unfortunately offer plenty of opportunities for some rather damaging walls. Sometimes that wall is a self-imposed one, due to a lack of courage or energy to speak up and speak out when I know I should. Many times the wall is an obstruction comprised of a person's unwillingness to think before they speak or to remain comfortably seated in ignorance or safe and secure in their shroud of privilege. Whatever the reason, the wall that threatens to impede my progress is not unlike that of the marathon wall: muscles grow heavy and deep fatigue sets in.
I think about the walls that threatened to thwart my growth when I was younger and how completely ill-prepared I was to handle them. If I'm being completely honest with myself, I realize that perhaps I've been far too generous in assessing how well equipped I was to deal with the very real walls of racism, prejudice and discrimination throughout my life. I have no doubt that my parents love and concern imparted upon me the knowledge that they were always there for me - and yes, that is huge in it's own right - but as an Asian girl/adolescent/young adult, I recognize now just how unprepared I was in terms of not having the right language or effective strategies to be my own best advocate in my racially isolated world.
Our son starts Kindergarten next week and his older sister will be in 3rd grade. As children of color, each has already been hit with varying degrees of walls and I know there are many, many more to come. When it comes to race and race consciousness, I have tried to be as mindful and as strategic as possible to do whatever is in my power to prepare them as they face each new barrier. For me and my family this has been an on-going process for the past several years. Preparing my kids means a lot of role playing, frequent and relevant conversations addressing topics like racism, stereotypes and prejudices. It requires me to have the dirty but necessary job to share and explain certain racial slurs that might be thrown at them or someone else in hopes that my kids' knowledge will help alleviate the power of those words. It also includes each member of my family examining our own biases and acknowledging our own privilege in various capacities. It involves me teaching and modeling what listening to your gut looks and feels like and then having honest conversations around said events so that we have a chance to process it all together. It requires me to have honest and direct conversations with my children's teachers and administrators to share with them the kinds of discussions I've been having with my son and daughter over the past 3 and 5 years, respectively, in hopes that they can be better allies to all of their students in the school. It means forging alliances and building genuine relationships with other families in our school community. It means speaking up and out against injustices in our own backyard, even if it makes us all uncomfortable.
Lest anyone think I'm the epitome of a pessimist who looks for the worst in every possible human encounter, I like to look at it this way: You insist that your child wear his seat belt anytime he gets into the car. Why? It's the same for me and my family when it comes to race. The chances of one of them being involved in a "crash" are actually pretty high, so I try to give them every added piece of protection that I can. I harbor no illusions that I've done things so perfectly as to avoid any impact or pain, but just like in driving, I know that I can't fully rely on the other drivers to be looking out for the best interest of me or my family, so I do what I think is necessary to keep them as safe as possible.
The mom in me wants to be able to learn from the child I used to be - the child who fought so hard to keep moving forward when others tried to devalue my humanity and my spirit just because of who I was. Unfortunately, there will never be a shortage of walls to overcome. I just want my kids to be confident enough in the preparation they've had to know that no wall is too powerful to keep them from taking that next step forward and most importantly - that they don't have to do it alone.