~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Five days after signing up to officially run my first marathon, I had a rude awakening. Simply put, I had a bad run. It does happen, albeit rarely. But it hadn't happened to me in a very long time. So long so that I had forgotten how frustrating a bad run can make me feel.
This particular run started the same as all the others. I left work a few hours early to be able to get in a mid-length mid-week run before the sun went down. The weather had been cold for months and the sun still set before 5pm. If I was going to run nine miles (for approximately 90 minutes), I'd have to set out no later than 3:30pm to beat the sunset. It was definitely doable.
A late afternoon run around the lake
I prepared to run the same as always; I taped up my toes (covering my blisters), set up my iPod, and drank a good amount of water. I had just hit the ground running, when boom, the problems started exploding from every direction. First, my running capris were too loose. And I really had to pee. Then my prescription sunglasses wouldn't stay on. And my headband wasn't tight enough. And then my knee brace wasn't tight enough either. And one of my running earbuds broke off. What was going on?
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my asthma flared up. I had used my inhaler before the run, as I always do. Yet there I was, less than 10 minutes into a 90 minute run and I couldn't breathe. If you have ever felt short of breath, it's awful. Imaging trying to run through the shooting side pain that then ensues. In case you're trying to imagine this scenario, let me just tell you that you can't run through this pain. You have to walk until the pain subsides (usually helped along for me with copious amounts of cold water and more use of the inhaler).
Things were going terribly. I kept thinking about the shortest distance to my car, where I could hop in, drive home, and wash away the horrible terrible run. After first finding the nearest bathroom, of course. But instead of running away (literally), I took the time to ask myself the following: Was it really worth just giving up completely? Or could I possibly find a silver lining somewhere in this crappy, painful Wednesday afternoon run?
Immediately, I knew there were several lessons to be learned. So I first focused on the physical issues, the things right in front of me that I could control. I focused on breathing until the asthma was under control. Then, as quickly as possible, I ran to the nearest restroom, only one mile away. I wedged the broken ear-bud into my ear, and rolled over my pants so they became tighter. I pulled up my knee brace. Now I was getting somewhere.
Then I decided to focus on the things a little more out of my control. I started to think about what I could accomplish that afternoon, using the opportunity to test myself; to see how fast I could run one mile. Because the need to complete all nine miles was clearly a thing of the past. I also took the time to look around; it was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon on the lake.
Having a bad run wasn't fun. I wouldn't call it a positive experience. Instead, it was humiliating, tough, and, most importantly, humbling. It put me in my place. For the past six months I had been slowly moving forward. What started as 8 miles soon turned into 13, then 16, then 18 and finally 20. It led me to believe I could and would run a complete marathon.
But this bad run didn't deter me. A bad run can't stop me and doesn't set me back. A bad run grounds me; it reminds me that am human and I am allowed to have a bad day. I am allowed to take a rest and yet still be prepared. And the problems I encounter on a bad run only further prepare me for race day.
This mid-week no pressure run was not an integral part of my training plan. It wasn't one of my precious weekly long runs. I've never had a bad long run (except that one way too hot morning in Mexico). In fact, I've enjoyed every single long run. There have been over 16 of them. And they've been nothing short of awesome; even the ones where all I could think about for miles was just putting one foot in front of the other and heaving myself to cover a new, longer distance.
Long runs have gotten me to the point where I could say it out loud: that I'm training for a marathon. They have been the crux of my training. But I can't forget about all the little runs in between. All the sprints on the treadmill. All the jogs through the snow in 30 degree winter. All the evening runs with only a flashlight. And every day at the gym in between. Because running is nothing, if not fun.
Except on a bad day; a day that running has kicked my ass. But a bad day doesn't defeat me. It never will. Because I have already won. I have already run for longer than I ever thought possible. I have not only run 20 miles, but I have loved (almost) every mile of it. To a runner, this is a definite win.
Not too easy to find a running path in a city that's only 7x7
As a follow up, I'd like to mention that two days after this particularly bad run, I went out and ran the nine miles I had originally planned to complete. It went well. Then two days after that run, I went out and ran 22 miles. My longest run ever and my last marathon training long run. The pressure was on and all I can say is the run just felt awesome.