How you feel now has no business telling you that you can’t finish what you started.
Running is a choose your suffering type of activity. It’s a push your own limits, series of steps that literally involves simply taking steps. One foot in front of the other. I regularly step back and remind myself that this choice, the degree of suffering, is indeed a privilege, and that it was never meant to be easy. Running isn’t easy. More accurately, it’s just a matter of how hard.
How much you want it to hurt, how hard you want to push, how tough you want it to get. Running gets tough.
I’ve had a week of tough runs. I use the word tough differently from hard, in that we can do hard things. We can look at a workout that we know is going to be hard and embark on it anyway, acknowledging from the start that it will suck and it will hurt and it will be hard, but also, that we can do it anyway.
That’s different than when running gets tough.
It gets tough when you have those runs where it feels like nothing is lining up and everything is requiring way more effort from you than it should. Those runs where, despite your best effort, god-dammit, the pace is slow and the pace you want just isn’t coming. Those days where the energy tank feels empty from the first step that you take, and a mile that seems easy and shows up in the middle is like a cruel trick that really was never going to let you get on pace anyway. Those runs where everything just feels like so much effort; effort that isn’t giving enough back in return for the amount you are putting in.
But it’s those days that we trudge on anyway. I’m no stranger to the way my runs work. I take a while to get into them, and it’s really not until past the second or third kilometre that I feel the sneaking ease of the consistent rhythm that makes me know my pace is on point. That swiftness of the movement of my arms and legs and torso, all in perfect alignment. Not alignment biomechanically, from a form perspective, but alignment as in everything is clicking in. And you feel yourself letting out that sigh of satisfaction saying, “Yes, here it is. This is it.”
I hit the familiar curve in the road that always reminds me that I am just shy of hitting three kilometres. And there is nothing that has clicked. There is no alignment. There is just this toughness and struggle and unreciprocated outpouring of effort.
I could quit now. I could turn around, make the less than three-kilometre trek home, say it wasn’t my day today and be done with it. But I’m not really into that.
Running will always ebb and flow. A bad mile will be followed by a good one sometime later; a bad run on one day is compensated by one that is better the next; a bad week of runs makes the feeling of hitting paces the following week nothing but true elation.
I take comfort in knowing that how I feel now has no bearing on how I will feel in five kilometres — for better or worse. There is always another mile, another run, another week of training. One bad run does not make or break a day or week or a training cycle.
And so, as I passed the three-kilometre mark, and then the four, entering into the next suburb, where I knew by now it should feel easier than this, I grew more frustrated. More frustrated because this day was now taking me into a week of bad runs, not just a day or two.
But instead of marinading in those thoughts, I had a bit of a tough love talk with myself: “It’s not like you are going to give up and go home. You might as well embrace the suck and get tough.”
Getting tough doesn’t make running easier on days when it isn’t easy. Instead, it reminds you that you can do it anyways — in spite of the fact that it sucks and that quitting was an alternative.
In the final kilometres, as my total approached 20, every part of it still felt like a slog. I finished one part where I had been facing a headwind for the last several kilometres, and I rounded a corner, with the wind finally at my back. And as I did so, I heard a little voice in my head say, “hey, it may suck, but at least in this moment, there is no headwind.”