Some of you may know that I am currently training for my second marathon. I have found how much I enjoy the freedom of running as the miles have continued to grow each week. We too quickly find out as we age that our time, and therefore lives, become constrained as we have so many roles that we fill that require attention. Life provides us with rules of what we can and cannot do. For me, running breaks the rules. Twenty miles hurts…it really hurts, but in that pain everything else goes away.
As I run, I realize that I am by no means at my physical peak, yet for me, this does not mean I should not push to discover my limits. The runs are not as fast as they use to be, but they are longer than they have ever been. What matters in completing a long run is not purely physical, what matters is in your mind. While long runs are physically exhausting, that is not what makes you want to quit. It is your mind telling you to quit that can often get in the way. When you are exhausted, you get frustrated much easier. That frustration is mental, not physical. A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I were on a 20 mile run. Early in the run- about mile five, it began to rain, and it continued to rain, and rain, and rain. My body did not hurt any more than normal, but mentally this run was exhausting. Luckily, there were friends next to me and we, without even saying, much continued to push each other. It is different how you can push yourself, and tolerate a bit more when people are running next to you… this is much different than pushing yourself alone. Reflecting back on that run now, fifteen miles in the rain might be sometimes easier than 10 miles alone on a Thursday morning.
To persist in going long distances you have to get inside your own head and get back to what matters in performance — mental toughness. I believe life is governed by what we are determined and ultimately capable of doing. This then helps to decide what we will become. I do not know the cap to my potential so I just keep running. I keep pushing to see where my limit, or my breaking point might actually be.
These long runs remind me that any growth in our lives is not pain free. I think most people would be better off with a little more intentional pain in their lives. You cannot face a real challenge unless you face a real challenge. You do not know how much you can do until you try to do more. To find, and reach, our limits, we must test those limits regularly. This is rarely a pleasant process.
Running these long distances does not make me better than other people, it makes me better because of what I have asked of myself.
No way forward leads you down a painless path. You have to choose your pain. You can choose intentional pain that breaks you down to build you up. Or you can choose the pain that comes from indecision and stagnation. One will improve; one will destroy. It takes disciplined behavior to choose pain over the pleasantries of our comfort zone. But, if you do not choose the disciplined, sometimes painful road to growth, please do not feel entitled to complain about the pain that results from indecision.
Push forward; keep running; find your limits!