Saturday, September 6, 2014

It Still Matters

My marathon training schedule is almost two months deep and it is not going well.  I have struggled on more runs than I care to admit.  The heat and humidity have been brutal and I feel constantly dehydrated no matter how much water I chug.  My knees can't decide if they want to hurt or just give out altogether.  My legs muscles twitch and spasm when they shouldn't.  Not some, but all of my long runs have been really, really ugly.  Although I have covered the distance, not one of them felt like much of an accomplishment.  Today's long run was a 9-miler and finally, I had a breakthrough.

My girlfriend G and I started this long run like many others.  My alarm clock went off at a profane hour and I fumbled around in the darkness, grabbing running gear and a dry English muffin before I headed out the door.  We met earlier than the butt crack of dawn, with flickering lights pinned to our clothing so oncoming cars could see us in the darkness.  Filled water bottles were strapped to our fuel belts and lubricant was strategically placed in all areas that might chafe and rub our skin raw.  I was all set to chatter along with her and get caught up on the happenings in both our lives since the last time we got together to run.  

However, the well laid out plan fell apart.  About 2 miles in, G was feeling pretty good and keeping a decent pace while I was already struggling.  My breathing was labored and my running stance was getting awkward.  I wasn't going to last 7 more miles unless I made some adjustments.  I asked her go ahead without me, because I hate feeling like I'm slowing someone down when they are having a really good run.  My run slowed to a walk and the feeling of defeat threatened to creep in.  I was only 2 miles away from my car, so turning around at this point still would have given me a respectable 4 miles for the morning.  

But who was I kidding?  If I would have quit at that point, I would have beat myself up for the rest of the day for not following through and wasting the morning.  No matter how badly I perceived the workout was going, it still mattered that I finish it.  It still meant something that I complete the task, even if my external effort seemed less than spectacular.  At that point, I didn't give in to excuses.  I forgave myself for not being able to live up to my original expectations.  I forgave myself for not being able to keep up with my friend.  As I began to fall further and further behind the pack of our running group, I resisted the urge to feel left behind.  

I came to the realization that I wasn't running a race against them.  They were not the target I was trying to beat.   I was running against the temptation to give up.  I was racing against excuses swirling in my head about why I am not yet the athlete I should be.  I was running past the point of no return, where I could forget I ever set this marathon goal in the first place.  It still mattered that I follow through and finish this workout, because sometimes the bad runs get you better prepared than the good runs.  Bad runs remind you of your strength and your willpower to push through.  Bad runs keep you grounded, reminding you that workouts are supposed to be hard.  

All this psycho babble was in my head from miles 2-4, which was long enough for me to miss the chance to turn around and go home.  As soon as I eased up on the self-doubt, I caught my proverbial second wind.  I put on my head phones and turned on my easy country music playlist (don't judge!).  The remaining 5 miles went by pleasantly and the negativity was forgotten.  My pace sucked and my knees ached, but I finished the job.  There was no medal waiting for me at the end because it was only a training run.  But no one around me could have guessed the satisfaction I felt, knowing that this priceless moment of accomplishment almost didn't happen.  Graceful or not, I did what needed to done and that feels better than a medal any day.

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