Running mimics life in many ways. If you’re a runner you more than likely have an intimate knowledge of this mimicry. If you’re not a runner, follow along anyway.
Last Saturday I woke at my usual time. Some of you will unfortunately tell me that I am crazy when you hear the time, but yes it was 6:15 AM…on a Saturday. Maybe I am a little bit crazy but that’s my idea of a good time. We’ll spend more time discussing my lunacy a little later. Anyway I worked my through my pre-run ritual. I stretched, ate and drank a little; the Foo Fighters my musical companion throughout my pre-run ritual. I ambled over to the window and peered outside, my eyes looking toward the East. The cracks in the clouds allowed streaks of orange and yellow to break through. I smiled and said to myself, “This is going to be a good run.”
The feeling I had about this being a good run was balanced with slight trepidation at the memory of the two pints of Guinness I consumed with the grease laden burger the night before. As much as I do not enjoy reminding myself I am growing older it is true. As the years progress, I notice my body does not manage such foods with the same ease with which it once did. I laced up my running shoes, set the GPS on my watch and trotted toward the path which follows the bends in the Niagara River. Within minutes I realized I overdressed so I made a quick pit stop at two miles, doffed my jacket and tucked it into the back of my tights.
As I approached the fourth mile it was evident I was going to suffer at least a little more than usual. I am used to suffering as a part of running. Suffering because of the extreme heat, extreme cold…etc. Most of the time it’s “good” suffering. There is usually growth in the suffering I experience if I am willing to reflect on the moment
I realized I wasn’t overheating any longer and in fact the temperature outside began to feel quite comfortable. My stomach felt fine. My nose on the other hand did not. Many years ago, going back to the early nineties, I had surgery for a deviated septum. I didn’t experience the relief for which I had hoped. The nasal opening on the left remains just a fraction of the size of the opening on the right. That coupled with temperatures which cause me to experience post-nasal drip and my response is to sniffle. The problem with sniffling is it is quite difficult to breathe when you’re running 13.1-miles. I call it “sniffle-breathing.” I know I wasn’t breathing right for the amount of effort I was exerting. I was also sweating far more than usual. My difficulty breathing coupled with what I knew was dehydration resulted in really poor performance.
My thighs began to cramp and my focus was becoming increasingly poor. I blinked and refocused my thoughts but this only worked for a brief time. When I start thinking, “I have “x” number of miles remaining”, it’s probably not been a good run and the rest of the run won’t be much fun either. As I reached the 9.5 mile mark I didn’t want to push anymore. The only solution I saw was to stop. I knew this was a double edged sword. Cramping would become my new companion and would increase. My stop was brief as guilt began to creep into my psyche. I thought, “If I walk, my mile per minute time would fall and I can’t have that.” I started the watch again and ran in the direction of home. I looked up and in the distance saw the stoplight which indicated I was nearing home. I hate that stretch of road. It is just so straight and that stoplight seems to take forever to reach.
I reached that psychological milestone and pushed past it. Pushed is an appropriate term because that’s exactly what I felt I was doing, pushing myself. Four hundred yards later I decided another stop was in order. As expected the cramping had progressed and my desire to continue to run was waning. I stopped and stretched. The thought of resuming running was painful. One and one-half miles to reach home. I decided then I would not run the additional mile and a half to make it a full half-marathon.
I reached my driveway, stopped the timer on my watch and thought for a second about dropping to my knees and kissing the hallowed ground that I call home. As I entered the house I reached for Gatorade, Advil, my fountain pen and journal and returned outside where I proceeded to contemplate what had gone wrong.
Running is a lot like life it is for me anyway. The ups and downs, the highs and lows. There is a natural ebb and flow to life which we must understand and follow. That same ebb and flow can also be found in running. Depending on the length of the run, the temperature, etc. good can follow bad and bad can follow good. We must respect these signs and when we do not we must accept responsibility for our actions.
When I run I don’t just think, I reflect. There is a difference for me. Thinking is just that, a stream of consciousness for which there is almost no permanent recollection. Thoughts race through my head and as quickly as they arrive, they leave. Reflection, at least for me is introspective. It is a time to assess my behavior and attitudes, what I can change, want to change and need to change. As I reflected and thought about not achieving my target distance, I reflected on my splits which were quite good and also on the fact that I did not respect the run today. Reflection helps me to see where I have been so I don’t make the same mistakes again and again. These struggles as well as my willingness to reflect are important to me. They help shape me and make me a better runner and a better person.
There were many decisions which I have made over the years which have caused me to learn from the proverbial School of Hard Knocks. I have used this approach in many areas of my life, running included. The School of Hared Knocks is not always the desired path but for me it is the most direct path and the one which I am most comfortable taking. Ultimately it is the insights which have been gained from this school which have served me well.
Keep running…it’ll get better.