Discipline is the Bridge Between Goals and Accomplishment

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I’m racing a 10K this weekend across a bridge. Now, it is important to note that this will not be my first experience with this race, nor this bridge. Oh no. This bridge and I know each other pretty well at this point. You see, I toed the line of this race five years ago when I was a beginning runner. At that point, I had about a year under my belt of running experience and I had consistently run 10K races at a pretty competitive pace. I was pretty confident going into the race. Definitely way too confident.

Eager to race hard and win my medal, I took off like a rocket on that race course that Sunday morning in September. Silly, silly little runner girl, for fast starts are for fools! Lacking experience and knowledge, I was foolish. About halfway into the race, I realized just how bad that finish time was going to be and I completely bailed on myself. I allowed myself to walk. I allowed myself to feel sorry for myself. I allowed myself to feel hopeless. I begrudgingly collected my race medal after I crossed the finish line and had a sour attitude driving home. In the following days, I questioned my abilities as a runner. I seriously considered quitting. For, as a girl who struggles with confidence, I’d almost rather save face and not try over trying with all of my heart and failing.

Obviously, if you know me at all, you know that I did not quit running after that less than stellar experience. No, I tucked my tail between my legs, licked my wounds, kept my head down, and continued to work on my running. I consulted training manuals and read running biographies. I asked for advice from experienced runners, and I pored over all of the data my running app afforded me. I wrote about my individual runs, and every few weeks I’d go back and read what I had written and compare those earlier runs to my current runs. In short, I became a student of the sport. I rather like being a student. I’m the girl that went to graduate school twice after undergraduate school, and my life’s work has been at a high school. I love to learn and I enjoy being tested … but it really crushes my confidence when I fail a test. This 10K bridge run from five years ago was a test I failed. The reason I failed is simple: I did not study. I did not prepare for the test. I had no bridge experience. I went into the race with a bravado I had no business possessing. So, once I regrouped, I did what every good student does: I studied my ass off and I practiced. But, I have been a coward. I have been a coward because I have stayed away from this race that left such a bad taste in my mouth. The reason is simple: I have felt too vulnerable to try this race again. I have been hedging my bets. I have not wanted to commit myself to trying this race again, for fear of the outcome, but it’s time to try again.

All these years this bridge run has been in the back of my mind. This bridge has been my albatross. Certainly, the metaphor of the bridge is not lost on me. I truly believe that the metaphor of running is one of the largest factors in my running obsession, so the fact that it is a bridge run that has me all out of sorts is really quite appropriate.

Let’s break down the bridge metaphor, shall we? A bridge offers a connection. The phrase “bridge the gap” comes to mind. So, the bridge is a connection, but it’s also a sort of obstacle. What a conundrum. During difficult times we find solace in knowing that once we “just get over that bridge” we will be in a better place on the other side, with all that trouble being mere “water under the bridge,” but we have to go through that difficult time before we can truly put it behind us.  We often say “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” meaning, let’s not focus on that difficult obstacle at this point, let’s focus on our current situation, but alas, at some point we must face the issue. The bridge allows us the stability to overcome an obstacle and transition from a difficult situation to a better outcome, but it’s really freaking hard sometimes to cross the bridge!

I have avoided this race for many years and it’s finally time for me to face this challenge. I must cross this bridge. In life, facing challenges is how we grow, and regardless of the outcome, I’m ready to face this challenge.

 

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Are we running or are we talking? Why not both?

I recently had a conversation with a beloved runner friend about talking while racing. You see, at my last marathon, January’s Chevron Houston Marathon, I talked, off and on, for 20 miles with my group. It was very nice. Not long, drawn out discussions or anything, just funny little observations on the race course, quick questions of my comrades, just kind of passing the time and the miles, waving at spectators, “run dancing” with the belly dancers that were out entertaining runners and spectators, you know, having an awesome time.
 
But, if we’re racing and we’re talking are we expending too much energy and wasting our breaths, as it were?
 
Hmmmm. Well, here’s the long and short of it, at least according to me.
 
The largest first portion of the race I need to remain calm and in control of my pace. I do NOT need to attempt to run on “feel.” Oh no, big mistake. It feels great in the beginning! No, the largest first portion of the race needs to be restrained. I have to be checking my watch and making sure I am not going out too fast. I need to ignore the excitiement of racing I’m feeling and ignore all of the runners around me that are zipping past me. I need to ease into it. Talking is actually a very good test of my intensity. I need to be relaxed and talking for the first 20 miles of my marathons. Now, the last 10K, no, I’m not talking then. I’m gradually increasing my speed as I get closer and closer to that finish line. The last two miles — I might be able to smile at you, but I will not be able to talk to you.
 
People say all the time that distance running is as much mental as it is physical, and I couldn’t agree with this more. I have gotten too much into my own head, for lack of a better phrase, that I have ruined my own race. It has happened. I have also ruined my own race by disregarding my training and starting my race out too fast. I’ve actually done that more than a few times through the years, and I have finally learned my lesson. Being able to utter words and phrases here and there to nearby runners during a race is a good thing, in my opinion. As a runner who lacks confidence at times and can tend to either be intimidated by other runners, or to get distracted by faster runners around me, it is good for me to relax, maintain the pace I have previously set for myself, and to remain calm and in control. Chatting up nearby runners helps me with this.
 
So, while I get that we are all different, and that is what I truly enjoy about humankind in general, chatting during long distance races is a good thing for me. It forces me to relax and remain in control and it keeps me happily distracted from this monumental task at hand. Now, I’m the first to admit that I am still learning about running, and I’m also the first to admit that my opinion on this topic could very well change, but for right now anyway, a little chatting during a marathon is THE BEST!

Running is so very difficult in the summer, and the winter, and … well, it’s just difficult, period.

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This past summer I wrote about how very difficult summer running can be because of heat and humidity. Houston, Texas is a real sauna in the summer, believe you me. This past summer, I would have said that unequivocally, it is hardest to run in the summer months. However, after the cold snap we experienced where my feet were feeling the coolness emanating off the concrete and my hands were going numb from the cold, maybe winter running is equally difficult. It is certainly not an extreme cold that we experience here in Houston, Texas, but running in colder temperatures for several hours will certainly wear on a girl, regardless.

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So … which is more difficult … summer running or winter running? Or is it that running is just difficult in general?

Honestly, I guess it might depend on which month it is when I try to decide. If I were asked in the summer which was more difficult, I’m quite sure I’d say the summer, and vice versa. In life we tend to struggle with the here and now difficulties. We focus on what is hard for us at the moment and we believe that once certain circumstances change, we will be afforded great relief. Then said circumstances change, and while we enjoy some relief, we find there is a new set of difficulties plaguing us and we reflect back on that earlier time. The earlier time suddenly seems less awful in comparison to our present hell. In other words, we romanticize the past and overdramatize our present struggle. The same is certainly true in running.

Running is hard. It is hard because the runner is forced to keep going, even when his mind tells him he should stop. Even when his muscles tighten and burn and his legs become extraordinarily heavy. Even when he gets emotional and sheds tears. Even when he becomes hungry and feels weak. Even when his jelly legs cause him to slip and fall. Even when his feet feel raw and blistered. The runner keeps running. One foot in front of the other. The runner keeps it moving. Keeps going forward. Just when it seems there’s no possible way the runner could run any more steps, behold, the finish line appears.

Setbacks and struggles are inevitable in life. They just are. We must persevere through difficult times and learn from them. In retrospect, these tough times were mere blips in time that passed. It always passes. Additionally, we are grateful for the good times when we experience the bad times. Would we even think to recognize the good times if it weren’t for the bad times?

Running is challenging. Period. It teaches us about ourselves. It challenges us. It frustrates us. It invigorates us. It makes us feel alive.