A week ago Sunday I went for my scheduled long run. According to Mr. Pfitzinger, I was supposed to run 16 miles, 10 of which were supposed to be at marathon pace.
I know. So what, right?
It was cold and we had just come out the back side of a very large snow storm. The roads were (still are) treacherous, the sidewalks non-existent. I contemplated doing this run on the treadmill, but finally decided to drive to a part of the Boston Marathon course that I knew would be relatively clear. The problem with this stretch of course is that it is only about 6 miles long.
I powered through the first five miles, my mind more or less numbed by the cold. However, as I approached the end of the stretch, my legs tiring, I realized that I still had over 10 miles to run. My heart sank, my will ebbed. Very quickly my mind went from somewhat blank to a swirl of self-doubt. Suddenly the lack of sleep from the night before felt very real; my legs were tired, my lungs were tired, my brain was tired. As I rapidly approached the first of the Newton Hills section of the Boston Marathon course, I came very close to stopping.
This section happens to be at Mile 17 of the marathon. I remembered that just as I was about to drop my pace to a walk up the hill. I remembered watching dozens of runners slow to a walk last April right at this point and I thought to myself, “If I couldn’t do it after 6 or 7 miles, no matter how tired I am, how the Hell am I going to do it on race day after 17 miles?“
I growled and forced myself into a quicker pace.
The legs struggled.
The lungs burned.
I made it to the top of the hill and cracked a small smile. As I hit the next hill, my GPS chirped that I had run the last mile 12 seconds faster than the previous one.
Energy flowed back into my legs and lungs. As I crested Heartbreak Hill for the second of what would be three times that day, I realized that my second 6 miles had been faster than my first.
Running, and life for that matter, is full of waves. The key is to ride the crests as long as you can and power through the troughs to get to that next wave.
Physical pain is pretty easy to gauge. You know if something is physically wrong with your body and it’s time to quit. It’s the mental part of running that is hard. Judging what you have left in the tank, mentally, is never an easy task. But this I know: if you don’t push past what is comfortable, if you don’t embrace the pain, the burn, you won’t grow, you won’t find out whether you can or cannot.
And you won’t make it to the crest of that next wave.