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"Building Mental Toughness"

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Written by Pat Curran

Posted on 17 January 2018

Last Updated 17 January 2018






Thank you for your continued support for the Fisher House and Wounded Warrior Project!  Although one can provide a donation at anytime, our official fundraising time period for the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon expires at the end of October.  For those interested in donating or wanting to learn more about this charity click on:

Fisher House: http://www.active.com/donate/FisherHouse2010MCM/2010PCurran

Wounded Warrior Project: http://WWPProudSupporter.kintera.org/curran

This journal entry focuses on building mental toughness.  Four years ago when training for my first marathon, I attempted to do an extremely difficult 18.7 mile run.  The first 8.6 miles are deceiving.  Although there are a great deal of rolling hills, a person is generally going downhill through a cut in a mountain all the way to the Hudson River.  Although long, it’s really not that bad.  Then there is a transition.  The remaining 10+ miles circles back to the starting point with increasingly sloping hills, generally leading back over through the cut in the mountain to my house. This Saturday, I will once again put myself through this test.

The story below was written last year. Looking back, it certainly serves as a great reflection for my two daughters to read when they get older. To complete this run was quite a milestone for me because the first year I tried it, in 2007, I almost went to the hospital. The year after that, I was too injured to even attempt it. However, last year, I not only finished it but was able to document quite a story about how certain people and experiences positively impacted my life. With that stated, I hope you enjoy…

“Building Mental Toughness”

It’s early Sunday morning.  As I look outside, I see the pre-dawn hours have brought on some rain.  Today is the day I tackle the hardest run in my marathon preparations:  the 18.7 mile gut check.  On a run like this, all you have is what you take with you.  No iPod for motivation.  No watch to track time.  Success is measured by completion.  The only thing you can rely on is you.

I’m heading out the door.  Additional items I am carrying today include a camel pack with 100 oz of water, an illumination light so I don’t get hit by a car in the dawn hours, and my driver’s license with $20 in case something “unexpected” happens.

The run begins in the town of Valley Cottage with a gentle uphill then downhill on Route 303 going into Congers.  As I move through Congers, I start thinking about Coach Roff and his family.  Coach Roff was the first coach who took it upon himself to steer me in the right direction.  Starting back in 7th grade, he helped me with playing basketball, football, and keeping my grades up in school.  He also encouraged me to go to West Point which led me to meet COL (R) McFadden and Mr. Kilkenny who helped me enlist in the US Army and get into West Point Preparatory School at Fort Monmouth, NJ.

Now about 4 ½ miles into the run, I am heading down through the cut in the mountain on Route 9W into the village of Haverstraw.  Crossing the railroad tracks, I pass new million dollar homes in a complex called, “The Harbors.”  Ironically enough, just about 1000 feet after this complex, I run through the projects and toward the main streets of town.  Haverstraw is mostly a Hispanic community in which my Mom’s family was one of the first to come here back in 1966.  Her parents were escaping the aftermath of revolution in the Dominican Republic and came to America for a better life.  If you meet my Mom today and asked her to reflect on the years, you would never detect the level of hardships that her family experienced.  Instead you will hear stories mostly of group prayers and lighting candles with care-free laughter threaded through it all.  I can’t help to think about the gift of a sense humor and resilience though tough times that my Mom has passed on to me.

Miles 6 – 8 have me paralleling the Hudson River.  It’s actually pretty calming and flat.  Then around mile 8, I leave Haverstraw and cross into Stony Point, going up a steep hill.  I am now on Main Street, Stony Point, passing my in-law’s house.  Gina’s grandfather moved out from the city decades earlier in order to find a better life for his family as well.  Gina’s Mom (retired teacher) and father (criminal psychologist) also took their share of risks and made sacrifices for Gina and her brother Greg in their lifetime.  I laugh thinking about the first time I met Gina’s parents back when I was 15 years-old.  I’m sure my father-in-law’s diagnosis of me back then was that I am leaning a bit on the insane side but a least I was not likely to become a criminal. J I trot pass their house and reconnect with Route 9W at the top of the street.

I’m about half way done with the run and my legs are doing better than I thought.  As I continue back south down 9W and into West Haverstraw I pass where I grew up.  I think about my father being the first to go to college in our family, building his own house on a plot of land next to his father’s house, and working in NYC construction as a Professional Engineer for nearly 40 years.  One of the many lessons he taught me was that it’s tough being the first to do anything.  Few will understand you, many will criticize your decisions, but the reward is that your life will truly be your own.  That means you make your own decisions and you are responsible for how your life turns out.  Although not appreciated until after high school, this perspective served as an anchor for the things that came later.

Now I am 14 miles into the run.  Legs are starting to burn from the numerous hills generally sloping upward back toward Valley Cottage.  My mind is drifting through random memories of tough times I’ve experienced and how I managed to get by.  One instant I am at football practice (double sessions as a freshman), next moment I am in a high school basketball game, next I’m in college staying up all night studying for a big exam with book and flashlight (lights out at West Point was from midnight to 5:20am and was strictly enforced).  Then, my mind stops racing and focuses on one memory.  I am standing at Sunday 7pm formation at West Point as a Plebe (first year cadet).  “Cadet Curran, give me the last verse of US Army Code of Conduct,” yells an upperclassman standing behind me less than a foot from right ear.  Standing at attention in my dress gray uniform next to my classmates, I scream at the top of my lungs,

I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free.  I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.”

Then another clear memory from US Army Ranger School emerges.  The sergeant asks me in a calm yet directive tone, “Ranger Curran, give me the 3rd verse in the Ranger Creed.”  I respond,

“Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some.

Immediately after I ask myself, what is the last verse of the Ranger Creed?  It takes a couple of tries but I get it.

“Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor… Rangers lead the way!!”

Being able to remember these phrases gives me a great deal of confidence, clarity, and focus.  My mind becomes at ease, time seems to stand still.  I continue to run with a great deal of peace.  At some point later another thought enters my mind:  “This is who I am.  This is why I am here.”  The thought is like a jolt.  As I look around, I don’t exactly know where I am for a few seconds.  I must have blanked out for about 40 minutes.  I only have about 1 ½ miles to go.  Legs are not feeling all that terrible.  There’s no great pain to really speak of.  I finish the run with the usual soreness and strain but nothing like 2 years ago when I almost went to the hospital.

To close, I have not figured out the full meaning of this experience.  I have a feeling it will be something I will reflect on in the years to come.  Clearly, I am in much better shape physically and mentally than I have been in years.  Also, I see how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by people and experiences that represent the meaning of what it is to be an American.  To summarize, their focus seems to be a pursuit of a better life.  Their sacrifices are based on satisfying immediate needs and an investment for building a better tomorrow.  Their hope is that the next generation will act worthy.  Wow, what a responsibility.  We dare not fail them.  Not the ones that came before us, not the ones who will come after us, and certainly not the ones who serve our country to protect us.  Freedom is not free…

--End of Journal Entry: 20 September 2009

Training Schedule

Last week I successfully completed a 9 mile and a 16 mile run. Cardiovascular fitness is great. Knees, hips, and other joints are fine. The only challenge is with some tightness in my left hamstring. Overall, I am ready to take the next leap to the 18.7 mile Mental Toughness Run described above. Here’s this week’s training schedule:

Sunday: Rest

Monday: 8 X 400m (~2 min ea); 3 miles @ 8:00min/mile; 2 mile race pace (9:30 mile)

Tuesday: Swim 4 x 400m; long stretch and Ice on knees/left hamstring

Wednesday: 10 mile distance run (~9:30 min/mile race pace), stretch and ice

Thursday: Bike 45 min (Low Resistance); stretch and ice; pre-race hydration plan

Friday: 20 Lap Swim – 4 strokes, stretch and ice; pre-race hydration plan

Saturday: 18.7 mile run (untimed); stretch, ice, post-race hydration plan


Last Thoughts

Again, thank you for your support.  I would not have gotten this far without your encouragement. Feel free to pass on this message to those who you think would be interested in supporting these worthy causes or just needs a bit of inspiration.


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