It is not uncommon that I’m asked, “How do you run so fast? I just can’t imagine doing that.” At one point, if I had thought of what I’m doing now I would have said the same thing.
Yesterday at work a co-worker proclaimed to me that he had run 2 1/2 miles the day prior and that this was his 3rd run of this distance. He spoke of struggling initially and then all of a sudden realizing he wasn’t dying and could actually keep going. And so he did. I gave him encouragement and told him what I tell most every new runner….just keep going. Not necessarily on the run, but just keep running and things will all of a sudden get easier and easier and easier. You just have to put in the time. Of course, some days are hell, but every runner of every caliber experiences those sorts of days, where everything feels slow and heavy. That’s ok, eventually it gets easier.
Another co-worker asked me, “Do you ever hate running? Are you ever out running and really just hate it and want to stop?” She explained that her teenage son had just started track again, and although he’s not a bad runner, he often feels a strong dislike of running and simply wants to stop. It’s not every day, but it happens enough that he struggles with it. This got me to thinking and I had to admit that I don’t really experience that a lot. Granted, deep deep down my mind and body ALWAYS want to stop, but it’s a different sort of consideration than wanting to give up. It’s different from actually hating running and still doing it. I see beyond that. I see where I’m going and the thrill of what I’m doing in the moment, even if the rest of me prefers the relaxation in the end. Ultimately though, I never hate running and in addressing both considerations there is a similar dynamic to running like we do and not hating it.
Yesterday we were pounding out an intense 10 mile marathon goal pace run at an average of 5:18 miles, the sun out and the trail teeming with people. Suddenly, the question of whether I hated running and wanted to stop popped back into my thoughts. Oddly enough, the question was incredibly apparent at this point as I worked my way up two inclining miles in the second half of the run, sweaty, shirtless, breathing forcefully and with 3 miles still to go. I didn’t hate running and although the urge to stop was stronger than ever before, there was no way I was going to let that happen. And that right there was the key. We don’t stop because we don’t hate running and we run the way we do because we don’t stop. That’s what separates runner from runner. Competitive runner from competitive runner. The ability not necessarily to keep going, but the ability to not stop.
There are times out on runs like this when our legs fill with lactic acid and become frustratingly heavy…our body stays, “Stop.” But we don’t. We keep going. Then there are times when our legs become weighted, our forms begins to suffer and our body says, “Stop!” But we don’t. We keep going. Then things only get worse and not only does our body revolt against the effort, but our mind steps in to offer it’s siren call of common sense, saying, “This was a good run, it won’t hurt to cut it short now. You can be satisfied with a good run. Seriously, just stop.” But we don’t. We keep going. Then like a triumphant orchestral sacophony of noise, every system in the body works together, your body losing all sense of control, your breathing fluxuating wildly and your mind chiming in at the worst possible moments, “Dude…FUCKING STOOOOOOOOP!” But we don’t. We keep going. Somehow, an alternate voice in our head, tired and weary, small and quiet, but with a determination stronger than any of our other systems simply and stoicly responds, “no.” And we keep going.
And time and time again, each moment we ignore the influx of common sense, we learn to love running more and more and we simply don’t stop, repeatedly training our bodies to run stronger, run faster, and run harder. And this is how we do it. This is how we separate ourselves from the rest.
On our run yesterday Jesse went blazing past another runner on the trail and I followed closely behind. When I come up on him he turns and says “What are you training for?” “Olympics!”, becomes my new abbreviated response. “Seriously?!” he excitedly replies. “Trials!” I more honestly proclaim. “Good luck!” he yells back as we go tearing off further down the trail. This runner then saw Matt giving encouragement to some of our teammates up the trail and stops to ask him.
“Excuse me…can I ask you a question? Just how do these guys run SO FAST?!”
I forget the answer Matt gave him, and although nothing would ever sufficiently explain the effort, from now on he should just reply, “They don’t stop.”