It’s usually “Heal the mind, and the body will follow.” or “Mind over matter” or something in similar lines. I ran a half marathon distance (13.1 miles) at an 8:25 pace which equals 52 laps of a track field. It took me 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete the run. In 2019, I had signed up for the Brooklyn half marathon and started training for it. My pace was languid; I had no prior training or routine. I was running to train without any direction. I had no concept of stride, cadence, tempo, lactate threshold, vo2 max, etc.
Becoming an astronaut was just ever a thing on a resume or building physical endurance. It is equally essential to be calm and composed in the most daunting situation, and it all begins by building your mental fitness. It’s still surprising that anyone rarely talks about anything we do about mental, emotional, and psychological fitness. Mental wellness plays a significant role in everything we do. And although for me it is reversed, i.e., if my body is broken, my mental health takes a toll and not the other way round, I still feel we need to talk about mental health more freely. I had never run a half marathon distance till yesterday. The closest I had ever run was 9.5 miles, and that too I stopped at 5 miles for rest and then turned back and ran home. After I finished my run on the track, I knew I was mentally tired, but I also knew that physically, I had a lot left in the tank if I wanted to; I did not want to hit the wall and call an uber home. That would not be very pleasant.
At my 12 mile distance, I felt I was slowing down, and my watch showed an 8:30 minute mile pace. That was unfortunate as I had withstood the cold weather and the 6M wind pretty well along the home stretch. I have a colleague who is a pretty good runner and a US veteran, and he shared a story of him running a half marathon race. I recollected it and told myself the exact words he told someone else “Okay. let’s wrap this up“. And just like that, I took flight. My pace was 8:15 for my last mile, and I managed to keep my overall avg pace of 8:25. Am I happy with my effort? Not really. I think I can still push the pace faster and break all my personal bests. I can run the mile in sub 6, run the 5k in sub 22, and 10k in sub 45 if I continue to grow in this direction. My mind knows that this is doable, but physically? Time will tell.
Maybe all this is for nothing; maybe things do not go as planned in the next 9-12 years of ASCAN. Wearing the blue uniform is one of the best ways of giving to the community and the individuals in it. And also to think in terms of what can I give that what I get. These individuals have given their entire lives for this cause, protecting the cause, living for the cause; few have even died living it, standing up for a cause that is much larger than any single one of them.
If all of them have an enemy in common, I would say that is fear; but before any of the 11/12 individuals with me who are actively training for ASCAN, we first have to face our fears. I doubt any of us fear failure or death; we wouldn’t be doing this then. It’s essential to understand what we as humans fear the most; how it enslaves us, control or divide our minds to scramble to get our thoughts together, and blur our vision to see the bigger picture. For the few ASCAN’s with me in this journey, I think we all need to be brave enough to forgive and become individuals without fear and maybe, just maybe, en route to that goal – leave a legacy for humans to look up to and hope that they live up to it.