at the races A Letter to Racers from Silvia Ruegger

A Letter to Racers from Silvia Ruegger


You will able to do it. Although it is a physical battle to be sure, the mental one is the biggy on the day. Even if somewhere along the way your expectations change, it’s not the end of the world. You will extend yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and there is great reward in that. You will never be the same.

Very few people are willing to step into the unknown. The marathon is always an unknown regardless of how seasoned of a marathoner you are, whether it is unknown levels of pain, endurance, fatigue or newness of the experience.

It takes great courage to do so. Terry Fox made a very profound statement early on in his Marathon of Hope. He said, “I want this, the Marathon of Hope, to always be an example that it is courage not foolishness.” Early on, it could have looked like foolishness, but now there is not one person who would not call it courage. The same is true of your run, no matter what distance. There may be moments when you begin to think “Who was I to think I could do this?” “This seems too difficult, I don’t know if I can go on.”

You can do it, you can go on. Rid yourself of any thought that it was foolishness that inspired you to begin this journey, stand on the starting line and persevere to the end. It is courage not foolishness, and when you look back in the rear view, when you have crossed the finish line, you will truly recognize it as such.

Photograph by Tyler Anderson

You will encounter what I call “Tunnels of Darkness” moments in the race when you say to yourself “If I feel like this till the end, I don’t think I can go on.”

The truth is, you won’t feel like that till the end. That is why I call them “Tunnels of Darkness.” Just like when you are driving a car, you may go through these periodic tunnels where it seems very dark and you can’t see light. But very soon you see light. The same is true in the run. Just hold on, for 2 minutes, 3 minutes, relax, breath and all of a sudden you come out of that place and you recognize you can go on.

Just because you are running in a new location, nothing has really changed. You have brought the most important thing with you—you.

And all of the strength, courage, perseverance, tenacity, wisdom, strategy, discipline, determination that training built in you, is now what will carry you on these new roads/ new course. Use the new location, encouragement of spectators, other runners running alongside you to help you, encourage you, but remember YOU and everything that has been developed over these months of training is what will allow you to triumph. In my Olympic Race, when it got really tough, I had to remind myself: ” Silvia, you have been here before. Not on the L.A freeway, but on the country concessions, the early mornings, the roads around Newtonville, Guelph, you didn’t quit then, so why would you quit now. Nothing has changed.”

My coach Hugh Cameron gave me some tremendous advice and help advice over the years and one of the things he said to me: “imagine all of the training as deposits put into your bank account and on race day morning go and make a complete withdrawal.”

What makes a marathoner is not the time in which you ran it (though people are always quick to ask “what was your time?”), but what you had to overcome to get to the starting line, and what you had to overcome to finish. There are “handicaps” that each of us overcome on the road to the marathon and in the marathon itself whether it’s injuries we had, time constraints we had, illness, whatever. Being able to overcome any of these and standing on the starting line, is a tremendous feat. I am not sure why time has become such a “measure” for people of success. For me, what we overcome to do the run is what makes a runner.

Give doubts no room to enter. Slam the door on the doubts. I call it combatting doubt with truth. Focus on what is true: “you have what it takes to do this.” There is a proverb that says “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Even if you just whisper it, mouth it, speak those life words—hope words: “I have what it takes. I will be changed by this experience. I will cross the finish line. I will be an inspiration to my family, children, grandchildren, friends. I am prepared.”

When I was in my Olympic Race, I was becoming SO convinced that I must be slowing down because the lead group I was running with was starting to pull away from me at around the 18-20 mile mark. In looking back at the race splits, I was running consistent splits, the others chose to pick up the pace to try to catch the lead runner Joan Benoit. Although I did not have anything left to pick up the pace, I was NOT slowing down. So others around you may have a different race strategy: do not allow yourself to become discouraged or taken off your plan. They may very well come back to you later in the run.

One of my running hero’s whose running journey was illuminated in the Oscar winning motion picture Chariots of Fire said: “So where does the strength come from to see the race to the end? From within.”

Silvia Ruegger is a Canadian marathon icon, she held the women’s record for 28 years and was the first Canadian women to run the marathon in the Olympics in 1984. Currently battling cancer, her motto is: “I press on.”