I’m OK with No Pain or Gain

After watching a movie like Unbroken or reading a book like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I try to imagine how I would cope with ongoing physical hardship. Would I be able to endure it? I hope that if my life depended on it, I could summon the strength. But who am I kidding?!? I’m a wimp. That’s why the psychology of physical toughness fascinates me. What drives people to push past pain in the name of sport?

I’d like to think that I have mental toughness. I’ve faced down situations that were emotionally and mentally challenging. Generally, I’m calm in a crisis. But I’m the last person who would seek out physical challenges.

Hike 10 miles uphill on a tough Rocky Mountain trail? Well, maybe if I were lost and that was the only way to find civilization. And civilization included a lengthy massage and fine cuisine.

Take a 75-mile bike ride? In my case, that would take days, not hours. Perhaps if I was guaranteed to win an all-expense paid trip for two to Paris I could push myself to do it.

Run a marathon? As in pounding the pavement, sweaty and delirious for 26 miles? I can’t imagine what would drive me to run that long. Even if a rabid mother bear was chasing me, I gotta think she’d get tired after a mile or two. And I would have collapsed and the bear would be snacking on me, so perhaps that’s not a good example.

I’m not knocking athletic efforts.

I know a number of runners, hikers, distance bikers, and others who like nothing better than testing their mettle. I admire their ambition and focus, but I truly don’t get what makes the hardship appealing.

sitting on rock by lakeAs soon as I’m panting and my muscles are burning, I think, This isn’t any fun. Why am I doing this? I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.

I’m curious about the psychology of endurance.

The will to stay alive drove Louis Zamperini to endure horrible conditions. Cheryl Strayed was troubled and her self-imposed hardships were a way of gaining perspective and finding peace. If sheer survival or recovering from emotional trauma isn’t the motivating force, what drives distance runners, bikers, hikers, and other endurance athletes?

Fitness? That’s certainly a worthy goal, but you can be fit with a whole lot less effort than what’s required to train for and run a marathon. Plenty of people (like me) just work out or take an exercise class. I exercise because it’s good for weight control and my overall health, but aside from the health benefits, most of it isn’t that enjoyable to me.

City walking--my favorite exercise

City walking–my favorite exercise

Pleasure? I’ve read that runners, hikers, bikers and others who practice endurance sports get into a groove and experience a mental high. At some point the pain of exertion must diminish. I assume the sport must begin to feel good. I’ll have to trust you on that, since it’s never happened to me!

Certainly, the view you’d see after hiking to a mountain’s summit would be breathtaking. Maybe someday I’ll actually find out . . . but whenever I’ve hiked in the hills (and really, we’re only talking about a few miles at the most), I spent most of my time looking at the trail and figuring out where to place my feet so I wouldn’t trip over a rock or twist my ankle.

Looking down

Trail in New Mexico

 

A sense of accomplishment? Obviously. If I could do any of the endurance sports I’ve mentioned, I’d be proud of myself. Is the sense of accomplishment enough to sustain you and drive you while you’re training? Because I have so little experience with it, I’m curious about people who say, Yeah I hurt, but I’m gonna get up tomorrow and hurt some more.

Maybe my klutziness has prevented me from discovering the joy of physical hardship. I can walk . . . and well, walk. If I sneeze while walking I have to come to a full stop to blow my nose. I can’t do both at once. I’ve never been great at any sport, let alone the ones that call for endurance. Perhaps if I weren’t so awkward, I’d begin to enjoy sports and then doing A LOT of something would seem fun.

For now, I’ll stick with my basic exercise—walking a few miles daily and doing yoga. But I’ll be cheering on all of you serious athletes and liking your Facebook photos of cool accomplishments. Athleticism is a nice place to visit even if I don’t want to live there.

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Why Run A Half Marathon?

Half Marathon start wearing a trash bag

Half Marathon start. Wearing our trash bags.

What am I doing? I asked myself at 4 a.m. Saturday morning.

Often I find myself asking this question—whether it’s getting bitten by a police dog, jumping off a cliff, or sparring a 20-something man.

Why do we do what we do?

I would have 13.1 miles to ponder this question, if I followed through on running Grandma’s Half Marathon.

It wasn’t that I haven’t run a half marathon before. I have, many of them. I’ve also run many full marathons—the entire 26.2 miles—Twin Cities, Grandma’s, Chicago, Big Sur, Whistlestop, etc… Some of them, I’ve run more than twice.

Most likely, I asked myself, What am I doing? then too.

Starting Line

Gun has gone off. Moving towards the start.

Saturday morning, it was drizzling. If it was a downpour, I wouldn’t have left our tent trailer where Antonio, Crystel and the dogs were sleeping—warm and dry.

There were times that I haven’t made it to the start line. On one occasion, I had a broken toe. Others, maybe I wasn’t prepared for the venture.

Today my only reason would be that it was a little wet. That wasn’t enough to keep JODY out of the half marathon so I didn’t even bring it up. I knew that I would feel bad if the weather cleared and the sunrise took care of the haze and most importantly, JODY would be out there running the race and not Beth.

Why We Do What We Do, Reason #1: We are partnered with a person who follows through when we might quit if left on our own.

I’ll admit right now that Jody is a better person than me and a much better athlete. With that thought, I just got into the van for the ride from the KOA in Cloquet to the Duluth Convention Center where we would board a bus and be taken to the start of the half marathon.

Discarded clothing and trash bags. I kept mine for the first mile.

Discarded clothing and trash bags. I kept mine for the first mile.

Generally, if I am able to get myself to a race, I can finish it. Even if I fall down in the first few miles like I did during a rollerblading marathon. I picked myself up, swatted at the road rash and kept going. I still have the scars.

There are events when wearing a trash bag is perfectly good attire, even envied. Saturday morning was one of those times. It didn’t appear that the drizzly weather was going to quit.

I had a strategy for the half marathon. I was going to run walk it. So the fact that I hadn’t run walked more than 7 miles to get ready for the half didn’t bother me.

Reason #2: To see if we can actually do something that we aren’t prepared to do.

I thought that I could run 10 minutes, walk five minutes and in that manner I would stay in front of the bus that would pick you up if you were too slow. It clearly stated the time requirement in the rules: A policy regarding time requirements will be implemented for the half marathon. The policy requires participants to maintain a 14-minute-per-mile pace (finish in 3:03:40). Those unable to maintain this pace along the course will be bused back to the DECC parking lot. Failure to comply with this time policy will result in immediate disqualification.

My new goal. To keep her in my sights.

My new goal. To keep her in my sights.

I’ve been threatened before with a mandatory bus pickup, but it hadn’t happened … yet. Now is the moment to tell you that I did run a marathon with my adult niece who was in the portapotty when they were coming to clear the course. I had to stop them from loading her and the potty onto the semi bed. She should be forever grateful to me.

When the race crowd surged forward, Jody and I knew the run had started. We moved with the wave and soon Jody was saying her goodbyes.

I altered my running strategy to run the first 3 miles and not walk any of it, because I knew that I could run that far without stopping and in that way gain minutes on the bus. You might think I am jesting here, but my goal was to finish the half marathon in 3:00:00 hours. That only gave me a 3 minute and 40 second leeway or I’d be forcefully placed on the bus. Being in front of busses, trash haulers, and portapoppy picker uppers has been a lifelong goal of mine.

The crowd I was with wasn’t moving too fast. That is the funny thing about these races. You wear a chip on your shoe and it tells you everything. For instance, I know that after the race started (gun time) that it took me 5 minutes and 52 seconds to cross the starting line.

Lemon Drop Hill

Lemon Drop Hill

This posed a problem for me. I only had a 3 minute and 40 second leeway before I would be picked up by the bus.  Does a bus pickup go by the gun start or the chip start? Most runners don’t think of these things, but I pondered that question for the first few miles.

Fortunately, about the 4th mile, when I started slowing down I saw a woman runner holding a placard that said 2:45. Whoa. If I could hang with her and her group, then I would do better than I thought.

 Reason #3: Sometimes we surpass our own expectations.

I was pleased to find like-minded people to run near. They ran and walked. So now, my new goal was to stay right with them and not lose sight of that woman with the sign.

Music urging us onward.

Music urging us onward.

I was around the 10-mile mark when Jody finished the half marathon. I know this because she finished at 1:54 minutes and at the 10-mile mark my chip time said 2:03:21. I had 3 more miles to run.

It is one of those things about our relationship that I have accepted. I had just started feeling my groove and was in the zone, but she was toweling off, wearing the finisher’s jersey, and fiddling with her medal.

It was there at the 10-mile mark that I left those 2:45ers behind and started running my own race.

Reason #4: We constantly push ourselves to make living worth living, to feel alive.

The last three miles of the race were my fastest times with the last mile of the half marathon being the quickest at 11:03 minute a mile.

In the zone you feel like you are flying and your feet have wings. I gave it everything I had and passed 220 runners in the next 34 minutes (this stat provided by your chip).

Finishers!

Finishers!

Reason #5: It makes us feel good, young, and healthy.

After the race, Jody said that she thought her full marathon running days were over.

“Oh, no,” I said. “When we’re really, really old there won’t be that many people in our age group.”

In our 50 – 54 age group, there were only 217 females running the half marathon out of 6,627 people. Just think how that number will drop when we are 65 years old. Now that’s the time to run a marathon.

Reason #6: Against all odds, against all stats, against all reason, we might win. Never give up.

Beth’s Stats:                                              Jody’s Stats:

Average Pace 12:04  per mile                    Average Pace 8:46  per mile

Overall Place 5881 out of 6627                  Overall Place 1927 out of 6627

Sex Place 3336 out of 3904 Females        Sex Place 725 out of 3904 Females

179 out of 217 Females                              22 out of 217 Females