Running reveals character. And I don’t always like what mine shows. Three times, I’ve struggled to complete a workout during my training the past few weeks. Each time was a different issue. All three made me want to quit.
I’m a quitter by nature. My natural tendency is to give up. I know this about myself.
All through school, I took the easiest path possible. I didn’t study enough, and I relied on my test-taking ability to skate by. That approach worked for most subjects. But occasionally (physics, Spanish…) I couldn’t figure anything out. And in those cases, I simply gave up. Instead of forcing myself to learn the formulas and vocabulary, I accepted poor grades and transferred credits in from community colleges.
I still graduated with a decent GPR (Aggies are weird and have grade point ratio instead of average), but I know I fell way short of my potential.
That is one example from my life, and there are hundreds more. I gravitate to the easy way out, or the shortcut. I’m not trying to beat myself up; I’m simply acknowledging my weakness.
Enter running. For the first few years I ran I tried to take shortcuts to being more fit, and I quickly discovered that running shortcuts don’t exist.
I ran all of my races on very little training for the first few years, and the results show my lack of preparation. I finished my first marathon (2010 Whiterock in Dallas) technically past the official cutoff of six hours.
My running approach consisted of putting off hard workouts and then trying to run hard on race day. But that failed for obvious reasons.
It has been a long road from those first races to where I am now. I’ve learned persistence and patience. You can’t expect one workout to make or break a training cycle. Or even one week. Success comes from stacking consistent week on top of consistent week for months in a row, and I’ve reached a point where I’m seeing the results from years and months of work.
But still, I have moments when I’m running that challenge me physically and mentally. Everything inside of me wants to quit.
I was doing a track workout two weeks ago, and a quarter of the way in I decided I would call it off. It was too hard, and I had already run enough miles for the day. It was too easy to call the workout off, and I knew I would be angry at myself later. So instead of quitting, I decided to run one more repeat. And then I did another, and another. And finally, I was within two sets (doing 10X800m with 200m recoveries).
I finished the workout, and I immediately laid on my back in the middle of the track and stared up at the stars spinning over my head. I felt a rush of endorphins and euphoria, not only because I had been running hard, but because I knew I overcame my own nature.
I’ve finished two similar long runs recently. The first came in the middle of a bad storm, and I was struggling to stay moving forward with strong wind and driving rain. I wanted to turn back at mile two. But I took the same approach — one more mile, and another, and another. It ended up being a mind-clearing run that brought me great peace. My head had been swimming with stressed-out thoughts and life problems. But as I ran, I felt like the storm inside of my transferred to the world around me. It was a transcendental feeling, watching palm trees bend under the wind’s pressure, while I could finally breathe and find my calm again.
This past Sunday, I finished my final long run before the Phoenix Marathon, which is on the 25th of this month. I had planned on doing the workout in the morning before work but was too tired, so I ended up starting at 6 p.m. My legs were dead from two straight heavy training weeks. I had planned an intense workout: 22 miles, the first half all downhill and the second half all back up. Dread filled me as I thought about the workout all day. By the time I started, I was terrified of the second half.
The workout was set to mimic the Phoenix course in a way. Phoenix is point-to-point, downhill for the first half and flat and slightly down to the finish. It’s my marathon PR course from last year, and I have huge time goals set for this year.
So Sunday was set to be my final confidence builder. I was afraid the opposite would happen. I didn’t want to fall apart in the second half. A failed final long run equals a stressful taper.
My first miles hurt. My legs locked up, and I panicked, and my mind raced. “How can I run the paces I want on this workout if I’m struggling with the easy portion?”
I started considering contingent plans. Maybe I could ditch the workout and try it again the next day. Perhaps I didn’t need another long run. I was ready for my PR already. I searched for route options to cut it short.
But again, I understood that my mind was searching for the easiest path. The shortcut was there. But I didn’t take it.
Instead I put my head down and ran a mile at a time. I clicked through the halfway point and felt better. My legs weren’t as tight as they had been at the start, and I was holding pace. My heart rate picked up significantly, but I wasn’t falling off pace going back uphill.
One more mile, one more mile.
I finished the workout, and my legs were done. But I held pace, on par to equal my current PR. I’m proud of that long run. It might be the toughest workout I’ve ever done mentally and physically.
There are no shortcuts in running. My biggest breakthroughs and lessons have all come when I wanted to quit but didn’t.
These breakthroughs have spilled over into my regular life now as well. I have so many goals, and my natural response when I have a setback is wanting to quit. But running has taught me about myself, and I’m starting to win a lot of those personal battles.
Running reveals character, and I don’t like what I see from myself when that happens. But I’m changing it.