Some days, no matter what we do to motivate ourselves, we just don't feel like running. If you're like me, this feeling does not deter you from getting out the door, but the motivation to start the run definitely lags behind the effort needed to begin running.
Interestingly, sometimes these days produce excellent results. Once we get over the initial hump of thinking how much easier it would be to just sit and read about running, the physical pleasure of the act takes over and we are much better for having forced the issue.
I have never been able to fully explain or understand why this happens. Perhaps it's the endorphins that flood our brain when we exercise. Perhaps it's just the release from getting out of the grind of our other daily activities. Perhaps it's the company we keep, whether alone or with a group. But whatever it is, almost invariably we feel better for having completed our run than we would have had we given in to the urge to sit on the couch. (My high school team was too often content to just eat Doritos and watch "Scooby Do".)
What makes a run a great? Certainly we have days where everything flows perfectly. Unfortunately these days don't come along that often. When they do we must grab them and go. As an old running buddy used to say, "When you've got it, flaunt it."
But what of those days when your legs feel heavy, your breathing is labored and every small incline feels like Mt. Washington? These are the days that we should truly celebrate. These are the days that make us runners. Anyone can do something if it's easy. It's the pleasure of the effort that keeps us coming back for more. We face the challenge head-on and work through it.
I'd like to think that this also makes us better at overcoming other obstacles in our daily lives. We're not afraid to work. We're not afraid of a challenge. And while we don't like it, we're not afraid to fail. We are willing to put ourselves out there on the line and see what happens.
What makes a run memorable? I don't know about you, but some of my most memorable runs are not the ones where I was fast or smooth. They were runs with which I struggled.
Several of us were discussing marathon PRs this past Sunday as we completed our weekly group long run. I started running marathons in 1975 and frankly don't remember the details of many of them. My PR was run in 1981 at Grandma's Marathon. I had forgotten that that was when Dick Beardsley set the course record at 2:09:37.
I, however, remember very little of the race besides running a mile or two with a buddy riding his bike along the course. I remember a stop at a port-a-potty that cost me some seconds. And I remember feeling pretty good in the last mile or so to hit my PR. I do not remember the weather, the start, where we stayed, how we got to the start or any other details.
I have much clearer memories of races that were not successful. I know where I started cramping in the heat during my first miserable Chicago Marathon in the 1978. I remember standing in the sun for 40 minutes before the start of the 1976 Boston Marathon (the starting temperature in Hopkinton that day was 98 degrees at noon) and the aftermath of that foolish decision. I can recount in vivid detail how long it took me to walk out of the Prudential Center after completing Boston in 1977 and why the race took such a toll.
I can even recall the agonizing emotion I felt in the final 440-meter run of my final high school track meet in which I failed to qualify for the state championships by 0.1 second.
It is not our successes or failures that make runs memorable, it is the effort. Sometimes that effort results in an outstanding achievement. But those smooth running days where we can "flaunt it" sometimes seem like they require less effort. These days are wonderful when they unexpectedly arrive. But the days when we have to dig to find that extra motivation to get out the door or go to the track workout are frequently the days that stick in our minds. Those are the days when we faced the mountain and in one way or another overcame it.
People sometimes ask "What will you do when you can't run anymore?" I, like some of you, have thought about this and do not yet have a great answer. I have decided instead to celebrate every day that I do run. Some of these runs may start with a struggle to get rolling, but perhaps that will just make the run more memorable.
One thing is for sure, I won't take these runs for granted. I hope you will take the same approach while still having a few days where you "flaunt it" just because you can.
Good running to you.
Tom Kaufman, of Madison, Wisconsin, has run more than 40 marathons in as many years of running. He teaches high school phys ed and coaches high school track and cross country, as well as community and masters athletes. He has a master's degree in physical education and a specialization in exercise physiology.