“I think I get used to, even addicted to, the feelings associated with the end of a long training run. I love feeling empty, clean, worn out, starving, and sweat-purged. I love the good ache of muscles that have done me proud. I love the way a cold beer tastes later that afternoon. I love the way my body feels light and sinewy.” -Kristin Armstrong
When I finished my final training run of this year’s marathon season, I immediately burst into tears. My first attempt at the ‘Big 20 Miler’ was two weeks prior, and it had gone horrifically. The fact that I was training for my fifth marathon meant nothing to the Marathon Gods. I felt exhausted, achy, dehydrated, and unmotivated. When I finally managed to complete twenty disjointed and uninspired miles, I didn’t even have the energy to cry.
Two weeks later it seemed to all turn around. I kept looking down at my GPS watch and thinking, ‘There is absolutely no way that I can continue to hold this pace for 20 miles. It just won’t happen.’ Somehow, the miles kept slipping away. Eight miles turned into fifteen and every time I thought my pace was slipping, the wind seemed to pick up and the fog in my brain quickly cleared. When I looked down for the final time I had completed the run in under three hours… so I stopped running and started sobbing.
I cried because I didn’t think that I was capable of running like that anymore. I cried because I knew the next time I would run that distance would be in Berlin with my family. But mostly, I cried because, finally, I could remember why I run. I run because to me, running is life. Running is challenging and beautiful and painful and rewarding. Some days it’s an accomplishment to get out there at all, and some days I wish could move in slow motion. Every marathon, every 5k, every 6AM run around the park has taught me a different lesson that I have carried through every other aspect of my life.
For better or for worse, nothing lasts forever
The most beautiful lesson that running has ever taught me is that for better or for worse, nothing lasts forever. In the darkest days of my worst breakup, there were moments where I felt physically suffocated. It was a period of my life where one moment I would be fine, and the next I would feel like the wind had been knocked out of me. It felt like all the color had been drained from my world, and the rest of my life would be bleak shades of black and gray. These feelings were not dissimilar to the darkest period of my toughest marathon. When I hit The Wall, suddenly all of the oxygen had been sucked from Earth. The lights were on, but no one was home. Somehow, through the support of loved ones in the crowd and sheer determination, I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and I survived. I do not speak with hyperbole when I say that overcoming challenges as a runner has countlessly saved my life as a human being. Every time my heart is broken or my spirit seems lost, I remind myself that if I could break through The Wall, I will see the other side of this pain, and when I do I will be stronger.
As runners, we each make a deal with the Devil that in order for pain to be overcome, it must be felt. No runner is immune to pain, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something. There are no gels or hydration packs that will stop your legs from feeling heavy in the last miles of a marathon, just like there are no quick fixes or miracle pills that will save you from a bad day at work or a fight with your best friend. For the most part, runners know that the only way to the other side of the tunnel is to run through it, so we lean into the pain. We sit back into it, breathe it in, let it wash over us. And then, just as quickly as it began to hurt, it seems to wash away. I try my best every day to remember this when life itself starts to hurt. I can’t choose when I feel pain, but I can choose to sit back and breathe it in. Just like my hardest races, it won’t last forever.
Of course, the most wonderful things in life and running don’t last forever either. Sunset runs on Lake Michigan, half marathons with my dad, the moment of victory when a heavy marathon medal is placed around my neck – all of these come to an end eventually. Friends move to a different city, favorite coffee shops close their doors – the world will always keep turning in its own wonderful, agonizing way. Because running is often so challenging, the moments of true Runners High serve as a reminder to savor the good moments as long as I possibly can. Just like the painful ones, they are only temporary. In running just as much as life, the good and the bad work together harmoniously and at the finish line I’m left with one feeling: gratitude. I am so grateful for the good runs, the tough runs, the runs where I have the entire path to myself, and the runs where I get to stop midway and hug my mom. I know with certainty that my toughest runs are still ahead of me, but as long as I keep lacing up my shoes, the best is yet to come.