Late Saturday afternoon, I set out to run 20 miles.
I’d love to say it was a beautiful run, filled with energy and good thoughts, but in reality it was terrible. After mile one I was in pain. After mile three it was worse.
This was an important training run for the Chicago Marathon I’ve signed up for in October, and I almost quit. I thought about turning around or walking home, or even calling a cab and paying for it with the cash I had put in the bottom of my shoe.
Instead, I kept going and made it to a golf course, where I was evicted on the 15th hole by a security guard in a cart. “This is private property,” he told me.
Normally I would have pointed out the “Open to the Public” sign or otherwise protested, but I had no heart for it and agreed to leave. I needed mileage however I could get it, so I ran back around the course and out to the street.
A few miles later, I made it to the airport. Greetings, PDX! The airport is like a second home to me, but I’m usually arriving by taxi or train, not on foot. I watched the Horizon flights take off toward Boise and Seattle, and I tried to cheer myself with the realization I had made it that far.
By now I was at mile 8 or 9 according to Runkeeper, the iPhone app I’ve been using to track my training. Then I made it to the Columbia river, where I climbed to the top of the ridge and kept going. Thanks to the golf course detour, I hadn’t completely run in one direction, so I turned ahead at Mile 11 instead of Mile 10. Only 9 more miles to go!
By this point I was fully committed. No matter what, I’d have to get back home. I abandoned all thoughts of taxis, and kept moving forward step by step.
I ran back to where I had started more than 90 minutes earlier… and it hurt. All the way. Not every step, but definitely every mile. I started walking a bit every few minutes. My pace was now more than ten minutes per mile, slower than I’d prefer under ordinary circumstances, but this time I didn’t care. All that mattered was:Just keep going.
I finally made it back to my neighborhood and looped around Laurelhurst Park a couple of times, each turn more excruciating than the last. The final three-tenths of a mile felt like five kilometres. I timed my stop for exactly twenty miles, not wanting to go even a tiny bit further.
It was finally over, so I hobbled into Laughing Planet and ordered a lot of food, speaking incoherently to the cashier. A mango smoothie appeared in front of me, which I sipped while waiting to take home the rest of the order.
Ten minutes later, I stumbled back to my house and laid down on the floor, shivering from the cold even though it was still warm outside. I was dehydrated and felt strangely disoriented. Despite burning approximately 2600 calories (according to Runkeeper), I had no appetite.
Finally I got up and finished the smoothie, turning on the water for a hot shower. I looked down at the bathroom floor and saw shards of glass everywhere. “That’s odd,” I thought. Then I remembered I had a glass of water in my hand a few minutes before. I must have dropped it, causing it to shatter on the floor, but I had no memory of doing so.
Oops. Dehydration and exhaustion must have been kicking in. I swept up the shards and hopped in the shower, letting the hot water soak into my skin as I slowly began to recover.
And then I smiled. Hell yeah! I said out loud to no one. I ran 20 miles!
Part of overcoming is to understand when to quit and when to keep going. When you’re first learning to run, you want to be careful not to overdo it. Your muscles need to be trained, and you should be careful to avoid adding on mileage too quickly. Any sign of real pain is a good sign to regroup and go slow.
But after a while, when you really start training for a long race, sometimes it hurts. At least for most of us, it’s not natural to run for three and a half hours straight. There are times when you should back off to prevent injury, and there are times you should ignore the pain and keep going.
When you take on a big challenge and encounter obstacles, you tend to encounter a voice in your head that offers you an easy escape. Sometimes this voice also comes forth in an opinion offered by well-meaning people in your life. Either way, the voice says:
You don’t have to do this. It’s OK to quit.
But you know better, right? Yes, you do have to do this.
You may need people in your life who say you should take it easy and not always try so hard. But if you know in your heart that you’ll be dissatisfied with defeat, you owe it to yourself to keep going.
I hated the first ten miles this weekend, and I continued to struggle through the second ten miles. But later, as I expected, I was glad I did it. On Sunday I stumbled around the house, accomplishing little except trying to remember to stretch.
As it stands now, I’m not really prepared to run Chicago in October, but I’ll go for it anyway. If it works, it will be because of this run. If for some reason it doesn’t, I’ve done everything I could do.
Whatever. I’m glad and have no regrets.
“It doesn’t matter if you quit.” // “YES, OF COURSE IT MATTERS.”
You are a winner, right?
If so, do what you have to do. Avoid the golf course security guard, walk as much as you need, lie on the bathroom floor if you have to.
But don’t quit. Persevere! Run the race!
You’ll be happier that you did.