Last Friday, just two weeks after experiencing my most enjoyable run to date, I managed to suffer through my least pleasurable run thus far. I did it to myself. I knew it had that potential. And I did it anyway. I’m really smart.
You don’t have to search very hard to find running blogs and/or forums that address the mental hurdles that some people have to traverse just to stick to their training or exercise routines and some of the tools that they use to get over those obstacles. I feel fortunate that so far I have not had a lot of trouble staying motivated to run.
As for finding that motivation in other important areas of my life? Still a work in progress.
Recently, my favorite running blog posted a piece partially about running “mantras,” referring to those sayings that runners say to themselves to help stay resolute and running strong when some other inner voice or outside stressor may be working against them and suggesting that they quit, or even worse…skip their work out altogether. The list included all sorts of phrases, ranging from simple affirmations like “I can do this” to statements of unwavering acceptance of circumstance like “Embrace the suck.”
When the author ended the post with an open query about what other phrases her readers have found useful, I realized that I didn’t have a run mantra. And that was somewhat comforting in the fact that I didn’t have one because I had not yet run up against a mental or physical “wall” so great that it required me to forcefully psyche myself up and over it…or through it.
On Friday morning, I managed to successfully hurl myself right into that wall one hurdle at a time. Woohoo! I’m awesome!
Hurdle #1: Just getting out there at all. This is not a problem that I’ve had a problem with in my short time running. I enjoy getting out there. I usually only run three days a week so I’m rarely suffering any discouraging physical issues from my previous run. And I still get an incredible therapeutic release from running outside alone with my thoughts, or maybe no thoughts at all depending on the day. Hell, I “write” rough drafts of a lot of my blogs while running around by myself. I love being out there.
But last week’s weather forecast predicted a 100% chance of rain for Friday morning and because my weather fortunes throughout my training have sucked, that seemed totally believable. I was going to have to do another rainy day run. Ugh. Honestly, I don’t mind a soft rain. I’m going to sweat through my clothes anyway. What difference does it make? But Friday morning’s weather was 40 degrees with steady showers and gusting winds in the neighborhood of 20 mph. It sucked outside. SUCKED!
I woke early that morning with hopes that I’d find the storm front had passed through the area faster than predicted. It hadn’t. I still started my routine: drank my vitamin and fruit smoothie, toasted a bagel, and started getting my running clothes together, all while continually checking the radar for any sign that the weather might at least lighten up a bit.
No dice! It was going to rain ALL morning. And because I was heading out of town at noon and not returning until the following day, pushing back my run wasn’t an option.
Obviously, I could’ve given in and headed for the treadmill. I wanted to go to the gym after my run anyway. And if my scheduled run had only been a few miles, I might have considered it more seriously. I’m not a treadmill fan, but I did look up the conversion I would need to correctly set my pace on the machine, just in case I came to my senses and decided to run inside like a sane person. But because this was going to be my first double digit distance (10 miles), I just couldn’t see crossing that milestone while staring blankly at a muted morning “news” show or worse…some talk show (TV = brain poison). And because of the one hour time limit on gym treadmills and the sad fact that I can’t run a 10 consecutive six minute miles, I would’ve had to stop and start again too. Fuck that. I wanted my first double-D distance to be outside and continuous like it’s supposed to be.
Hurdle #2: Committing to that planned distance. Once I had made the bone-headed decision that I was going to run my scheduled run in the rain, it was time to make sure that I would actually commit to the whole 10 miles required in my training plan. It would make no sense to use the 10 mile distance as excuse for avoiding the treadmill, and then turn around and quit after six miles.
To ensure that commitment, I decided that I’d better get away from the comfort of my home. I’ve run distances as long as nine miles without ever leaving my greater neighborhood. But after battling about whether to get outside in the first place, and realizing that the probability of “enjoying” a soggy 10 mile run was very small, I couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t give in to the temptation to cut my run short if I stayed too close to my warm and dry apartment. So I didn’t.
I basically try to treat my laziness the way alcoholics treat their drinking. Just because I’ve made it a few months working harder, living cleaner, staying busier, and enjoying the benefits of those changes does not mean that I can pretend that the root causes of my past shortcomings are not still laying in wait for the opportunity to make me fail. That couch crushing waste of flesh is still in here somewhere just looking for a moment of weakness that will allow his resurgence. I don’t want to forget that.
I opted for the nearby Dismal Swamp Canal Trail. It’s a simple out-and-back paved course that was repurposed from the old US Highway 17 when Virginia and North Carolina put in a newer four lane bypass several years ago. A lot of people consider out-and-backs pretty boring and I guess they can be. But I like the Dismal because it’s flat and straight and actually kind of a pretty tree-lined path running along side of a small creek. I also liked the idea of running a turnaround route for Friday’s run, because I would really only have to commit to half of my goal at a time. Once I ran the first five miles, I’d be five miles away from my car and have to run back. So I’d essentially be forced to get my 10. It’s silly thinking, but it helped me mentally chew up what I was biting off.
The Wall: Not quitting/walking when the going gets tough. After getting to the trail, it was easy to get out of the car and get moving. Just getting there was the challenge. Now all I had to do was run. Piece of cake, right?
There was absolutely no one around. I stretched quickly and took off into the grey soggy goodness of my first ten miler. After the first mile, I peeled off my rain coat and hung it on the “1.25” mile-marker post as I passed by. I was running fine and at a decent pace. At just under four miles, my feet were starting to get wet and a little heavier, but I wasn’t having a terrible time. I was wet, but I’d normally be pretty damp after four miles anyway.
As my watch vibrated the five mile reminder, I turned around just in time to see a couple of wild turkeys enjoying the weather as they pranced across an empty field and into the woods. They were the only other signs of animal life I’d seen. So if even a dog is said to have the common sense to come in out of the rain, I must have been closer to the intelligence level of a large non-flying bird. I’m not sure if that is a good thing.
In less than two miles I’d be able to see that wall I was hoping I’d never find.
My clothes had been pretty well soaked since mile two, but my feet and shoes put up a slow weakening fight until just under six miles. And before I got to seven, each foot was completed saturated and weighed approximately one hundred pounds each (give or take a pound). And my legs were really getting tired of dragging them back up off of the ground over and over again. My ankles weren’t in love with the degradation of my form, and my knees weren’t going to let them suffer alone. The suck was getting strong and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to embrace it.
It was hard not to start thinking about that mantra blog that I had just read. I commented on that blog that I had not yet needed a running mantra, but because the phrase had showed up in facebook statuses, my run journal, and my blog in recent weeks, that maybe “I. Can. Do. Anything.” could end up serving that purpose should I find the need. I found the need.
As the temptation to stop and walk began to really raise its voice, I found myself thinking “I can do anything,” and eventually even ridiculously saying it aloud to myself to drown out the voices telling me to stop and walk. “I. Can. Do. Anything. “ I felt a little foolish but I’ve felt that way many times before for far lesser reasons. I just didn’t want to stop.
Stopping didn’t make any sense. It was raining. I was miserable. And walking would just get me back to the car and out of the rain even slower and probably much colder. If anything, I should’ve been trying to run faster, not start walking. I was ready to be out of the damn rain more than I was ready to be free of the pain.
I managed to maintain a semi-consistent pace through those last three miles, except for fumbling the pickup of my rain coat. I almost pulled myself off of my feet when it got hung on the post as I tried to grab it running by. And as I finally saw the head of the trail coming into view and the glorious image of my beat up old car, I couldn’t have felt better. Even in those shitty conditions I still got that rush that I get when I approach a finish. And I did finish.
When I was done, I walked back to by car opened the rear hatch and just sat there, curled up, holding my sore knees to my chest and quietly watching the rain fall. It was so quiet and peaceful both outside and in my head. The voices had been defeated. Did I feel a sense of accomplishment? Certainly. Was it worth it? Damn right. Do I want to do it again? Nope.
But tomorrow is another run day. Forecast: Rain. Luckily, I know I can do anything.
If I were granted one wish for the Shamrock Half Marathon, it would be that if I find myself struggling against an inner voice telling me to quit, that I will at least be able to look up at a beautifully clear blue sky and honestly be able to say to myself “Hey, at least it’s not raining.”
I. Can. Do. Anything.After getting home, rolling around with Citrus a little bit, and getting cleaned up and fed, I piled my sore bones into the backseat of a friend’s car and headed out to Charlottesville to see talented Oklahoma singer/songwriter Samantha Crain (who I was delighted to see had her album art done by a whiskerino brother, Jeremy Okai) open up for Bloomington, Indiana’s Murder By Death.
I know that their name sounds metal, but Murder By Death is an indie rock band that I was just recently introduced to, despite their six studio albums. Their sound ranges from a textural western desert sound to an almost punk rock quality in their faster songs. They played an awesome show and seeing them with good friends in a nice small venue was a really great way to end a day that started with a suck-embracing rain-run.
And I’m a sucker for a band with a cello player.