Running & Being

After the Tamba Half Marathon with two of my site mates.

After the Tamba Half Marathon with two of my site mates.

After not competing in a race in over a year, I ran the Tamba Half Marathon for Girls’ Education this past weekend. Twelve weeks of training in heat, rain, sun, and sand prepared my body for the requirements of running a half marathon in a city best known for its scorching temperatures and rivers of trash.

It prepared my body, but not my brain.

Every runner knows that running is 10% physical and 90% mental. Almost anyone can lace up a pair of tennis shoes and shuffle their way through13.1 miles. Though it may not be pleasant, it’s physically possible. To be enjoyable, that is a different story.

Lining up at the starting line, knowing the pain you will feel, and running anyways requires a certain mental strength. There will be heat, exhaustion, and a little bit of misery. But you continue to press forward toward the inevitable pain. Why?

Because there is hope in the finish line.

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never pushed through the obstruction.” –William James

Sometimes things go wrong. No matter how well you train and prepare, there is always room for error. Maybe you didn’t sleep well the night before the race. Maybe you ate something that made you sick. Maybe you gained extra weight. Maybe you weren’t prepared for the heat (or cold). Maybe you begin to doubt your training.

Maybe you’re not mentally strong.

In the thick of the race, these doubts begin to creep into your mind. As you fight with all you have to keep up the pace, your form, and your spirits, your brain begins to work against you. Telling you that you did something wrong. That you can’t do this.

Too much water. Not enough fuel. Too hot. The pain of an old injury.

You continue to chug along.

Wouldn’t a 5K or 10K have been easier? Is it cheating to catch a ride with a passing car? Would quitting be that bad?

Then, as you summit a hill, you find what you’ve been looking for: the strength you need to carry on. Suddenly, the pace seems easier, your form is perfect, and your spirits soar. You had the strength all along, you just didn’t know it.

Training only prepares the body for a race. Long runs and speed work simply tax the legs. Hills and tempo runs just push the lungs to be more efficient. Mental strength is not found in long runs or speed work or hills or temp runs.

Mental strength is created by using all the strength you have to finish the race.

This mental strength can only be found in the race. You’ve readied your body. The early mornings, rigorous workouts, and meticulous diet have prepared you as best they can. There’s nothing left to do expect place one foot in front of the other. To remind yourself of your strength. That, although you may not feel it, you are indeed strong.

As my fourth half marathon, the Tamba Half Marathon was supposed to be my fastest. My time was supposed to be under two hours. It was supposed to be easy.

Instead, I crossed the finish line in 2:12, dog tired. Beaten.

The long runs and speed work had all been in vein because my mind failed me. Obstruction pushed me to the ground and I never found the strength to fight back. Strength eluded me throughout the entire race. It was there the entire time, but my search was futile.

Bad races remind you of your humanity.

“We all lose sometimes. We fail to get what we want. We try our hardest and come up short. It’s not the losing that defines us. It’s how we lose. It’s what we do afterward.” – Scott Jurek

Sometimes, the worst failures lead to the best successes. Losing tends to teach us better lessons than winning. In losing, you must humbly admit that you did something wrong. That you couldn’t fight the pain. That you weren’t strong enough.

This next week, I won’t be running. I’ll allow myself to mope and wallow in my failure. But when this week is over, I’ll once again lace up my shoes, hit the trail, and continue running. With no race to train for, I’ll be able to remember why I love this sport so much.

Because, in running, I can find strength in myself.

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The Morning After

Marathon I

As a child, every December 1 was an exciting day. Not because it’s National Eat a Red Apple Day, but because it meant only twenty-four more days until Christmas. We hung up the advent calendar and excitedly marked off each day as December 25 approached. The anticipation peaked on Christmas Eve when, after looking at lights and placing the presents under the tree, we were shooed off to bed by our parents.

Not allowed to get out of bed until 7:00 AM (an ungodly hour for a small child on all other 364 days of the year), I would toss and turn as I dreamt of Foosball tables, Lincoln logs, and all other happiness only brought about by ripping open crisply-wrapped boxes and bags.

When all was finally said and done on Christmas Day, presents unwrapped, ham dinner eaten, and off to bed again, a not-so-small sadness would always settle in my little heart. I’d been anticipating this day for so long, but now, the morning after Christmas, I had to wait another 364 days for the next Christmas. A real bummer for a kid.

Now, after finishing my first marathon, I feel like a kid on December 26. For the past five months, I’ve been training for this one day. Waking up early, logging miles, and monitoring my eating has consumed my time. Running became my constant companion.

Taking a week off to recover will allow my body to rebuild itself after such a grueling physical test. But anything longer than a week will begin to take a toll on my mind.

As a runner, I get to choose when “Christmas” happens. And it’s not something that only happens once a year. After taking a week off, you’ll find me pounding the pavement again.

Just anticipating the next present I’ll unwrap.

Getting My Toes Wet

Rain

When I first started running as a beginner, waking up to the sound of rain pattering on my window was a good excuse to turn off the alarm, roll over, and fall back asleep in my warm, cozy bed. Somehow, the fear of getting wet, sloshing through puddles, and the potential for chafing deterred me from lacing up and heading out the door. Unless you’re from Seattle, you probably sympathize with me.

It wasn’t until recently that this policy changed. When looking at the weather forecast for this week, I noticed that today’s forecast (long-run Saturday) included an 80% chance of rain. There goes my long run, I thought. But as the day approached, I began to reconsider.

After doing some research, mostly through Runner’s World, I decided that getting soaked was probably the worst that could happen. And, since I usually get soaked when I take a shower and I haven’t experienced any unhealthy side effects, I decided to risk the odds.

One mile into the run, it began to sprinkle. Immediately, I freaked out. What happens if i ruin my running shoes? What happens if I catch a cold? Or worse, get a blister? Resisting the urge to turn around and head home, I continued to run. And then something weird happened.

I felt like I was flying.

The rain cooled my skin, all the drivers that passed me honked their horns (as encouragement, I’m assuming), and the world seemed at peace. Although my ponytail was a tangled mess, my clothes were sopping wet, and my shoes had a distinguished squish with each step, I was happy.

Not because I had run faster or farther than ever before, but because, as a runner, I had fulfilled the ultimate purpose of running. To push my body to its physical limits, and then continue running. Because I have something to prove. Maybe not to the world, but to myself. I am capable of so much more than I think I am. Including running in the rain.

And I didn’t even melt.