Mile Markers

Every runner knows the point in a marathon when finishing is the only thought going through one’s mind.  There is no set mile when this feeling strikes- it could be mile 16, 19, 21… heck, it could be at mile 2. You fantasize about being done, about what you’ll do first.  Eat a burger, drink chocolate milk, take off your god-forsaken shoes. Sit down. Lay down. FIND a bathroom.  Sign a contract stating you’ll never sign up for a marathon again.

Now, here’s the thing.  This feeling of wanting a run to end isn’t reserved for just marathons. I’ve felt it on long runs AND short runs when weather, clothing, injury, or just plain body conditions interfere with an otherwise enjoyable way to spend some time. When this happens, it doesn’t matter how much I love running… the idea of finishing always sounds better.

As luck has it, my desire to end my runs usually begins when I’ve got a long way to go before I can stop. Take the heal blister incident at mile 10 of a 20 mile out and back.  I really had no choice but to plug along, trying not to think of my pain, and make the best of a really crappy run. Similarly, this past winter’s Polar Vortex gave me a lot of practice in “character building” as I muddled through painfully boring treadmill sessions, indoor track lapfests,and my favorite, arctic runs where I was freezing before I even left my driveway. Having run for the past 12 years, though, I know that if I focused on how miserable I was each time conditions weren’t ideal, I’d never have kept running and would have missed out on all of the good stuff that comes with running.

Thinking about this- the times I’ve wanted a run to be over- made me think about how this mindset occurs in real life… a lot. Perhaps it’s human nature, but it seems we are often counting down, waiting for things to be over.  We get to work, thinking, I can’t wait until 5 o’clock.  We haul our kids around to all of their activities, thinking I can’t wait until this soccer season is over. Or, When they’re older, at least I won’t have to be constantly in the car, life will be easier then.  Perhaps there are life situations making things particularly hectic or stressful – you’re taking care of sick family members, or working on an intense project that requires your 110%.   All of these situations leave us tired, stressed, and wary, and often beat us down so badly that all we can think of is how relieved we’ll feel when  situation X is over.

But here’s the catch. When that stressful situation (or run) is over, it is OVER. This means that yes, while you will finally be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour and feel like yourself again, whatever good morsels were part of all that stress are gone too. This is where it helps remember that good things can be buried in the midst of struggles; we just need to find them.  There are many ways to cope while maintaining sanity.

Some tips that have helped me off many a marathon wall:

  1. No matter how bad you feel, try to take a step back and look at the scenery. Mile 22 of a marathon may feel like hell on earth, but it’s probably a pretty scenic section of town.  Check out the trees, flowers, people cheering you on and look for a morsel of good that will give you a boost.
  2. There is support all around you, take advantage of it.  While nothing can really take away the bodily discomfort that inevitably strikes during a marathon, I try to remind myself that there are things available that will make me feel better- Gatorade, water, porta potties and aide stations.  Life offers assistance as well, in various forms.  Look for them.
  3. Dig deep.  In a marathon and in life, it helps to have mantras to get you through. “Run strong” “Kick ass” “You got this” – whatever you need to tell yourself, say it over and over, reinforcing the fact that you know you are able to tackle whatever is placed in your way.
  4. Distract yourself. Don’t think about how bad everything is.  Instead, try thinking of something, anything else. I remember I once went through the roll call of every grade school class from kindergarten to 8th grade, trying to remember who was in my classes. That took my mind off my aching knee.
  5. Look for the silver lining.  Remember why you are there in the first place- you’re obviously not trying to torture yourself. Whatever difficult situation you find yourself in, know that there are positive rewards, for you or for others.  There are pluses you can focus on even during your darkest moments.  Think of the satisfaction you’ll feel after you run through those tough miles, whatever they may be.

And yes, when all else fails, remember that all things do come to an end. Use this knowledge to help you appreciate the present moment, and think of how you’ll want to retrospectively want to look back on that experience. Then act accordingly.

“I run because it’s so symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles. You might feel that you can’t. But then you find your inner strength, and realize you’re capable of so much more than you thought.”

-Arthur Blank

Keep running, friends, and may you find the strength you need in every single mile.