You’re breathing heavy, like a steam locomotive burning coal—at least that is how it sounds in your head, and you constantly wonder if the person you are running with can hear you. You can’t hear them so you think you are safe from mild embarrassment of your aerobic struggle. Yet still. The thought sits there like spilled milk on the floor, waiting for someone to sweep in and clean it up. To tell you you’re fine. You’re legs are miserably tired, but you ignore it. You’re feet are killing you. The ball of your foot is aching with every foot step.
Splat. Ouch. Splat. Ouch. Splat. Ouch.
You want to stop. But you don’t. Somewhere deep inside… your brain says… “Keep going! Don’t give up!” There is an intermittent argument that goes back and forth, from “Just walk for a bit. It’s okay,” to “No, just keep going, don’t stop.”
What is it about the human psyche that enables us to push our bodies through pain when it instinctively knows it should stop to avoid the pain? Why do we put ourselves through this torment?
For me, it’s a never give up mantra. Believe me, I want to stop–multiple times during a long run, like the one I did this past weekend (week 8 of my marathon training plan).
Just. Twelve. Miles.
I say it likes it’s nothing. And it is sometimes. Yet in the thick of the run, it feels immense. Those last few miles… torture. The last three this particular trip were excruciating. Pain in my feet (yes, I’m getting new shoes this week) has been a nagging thorn in my side for months. I have tried to ignore it, but it is just a persistent bastard, like a child constantly throwing a tantrum with every step.
Splat. Ouch. Splat. Ouch. Splat. Ouch. Will it ever end?
The only course of action I can take is to redirect my thoughts to something else. Some other body part that hopefully feels good… my hair maybe? Or, to start a conversation with my running partner/coach even though it seems harder to formulate a genuine exchange of dialogue this far into the run. Mostly, at this junction, my mind is thinking of the post run meal/brunch we are going to eat. Perhaps an egg white omelete with spinach, bacon and cheese? My parched mouth starts to drool at the thought, even though it is bone dry and thirsty, as I’ve run out of my Heed drink.
During a long run, one has many thoughts. Most of them are quite self-centered. Even though I may be running with someone, if they are quiet, the run itself becomes a very self-immersed activity. Thoughts abruptly flip flop: I suck. I rock. I’m so tired. I feel great. I can’t do this. I can do this. The key is to focus on the positive reinforcing thoughts: I rock. I feel great. I can do this. Yet, it seems to be so easy as human beings to let those negative tapes replay over and over in our minds. That self defeating yuck: I suck. I’m tired. I can’t do this. Why is that?
Somehow, maybe from some higher power from above directing us, we manage to lock into those positive emotional cues, the ones that say… press on.
Two simple words. Press on. We hold onto those words like a rock climber gripping that rock, holding on for dear life. We run and push through the pain as if life depended on it.
“It would be so easy to stop and walk the remainder”… how many times did that notion run through my head this past run? Twenty?
“I’m tired.” Fifty?
Yet I pressed on, worked through the pain, as all us runners must do. As my coach was instructing me to do. Repeatedly.
Somewhere the distant voice of a friend whispered… “ah, it’s only a little pain. Press on.” I let it swirl around in my head, reminding me of my first marathon, running with a calf strain.
Is the thought of failure too much to stomach that I would put my body through such repetitious pain, my mind through mild delirium just to make it to the end of the path and be able to say (in my head only, well, and here on this blog) “I did it!!” or is it some other intangible reason that keeps me running on past the twelve mile mark because in my head I’m thinking… “I’m not stopping until I reach the end of this path.”
Whatever the reason, the motivation, the drive, the higher power working… I’m grateful I have it ingrained inside of me, and that I can embrace the madness of running. For without that tenacity, I don’t know if I, this somewhat unseasoned runner could ever find the courage to accomplish the goal of running another marathon or any other long distance run. For real.