Usually, I like my runs to be loops, growing ever larger as I increase the distance, but for this week’s 12-miler, I chose an out and back route on a beautiful, shady trail running next to the Wissahickon Creek. Though big circular routes offer more variety, there’s something I enjoy about an out and back route. When I reach the turnaround, I feel like I’m finished. By my way of thinking, I’ve hit the halfway point and I’ve got to make it home somehow, whether by running, walking or crawling. So I’m done, right? All I need to do is the same thing again. On this run, the 6-mile point came surprisingly fast. It was a soft, sunny day with no humidity and I felt strong. “Six more just like that,” I said to myself and when I hit the 9-mile mark, “Just a 5k. No big deal.”
Shortly after that, fatigue set in and by the time a herd of high school cross country runners sped by me with speed and grace, I was feeling every minute of my forty-five years. And every mile, too. My feet seemed to be attached to anvils. My heart thumped wildly, and not like in a romance novel. My lungs cursed me for choosing a route that ended with a long uphill.
But I didn’t stop. I kept on because somewhere in my addled mind, I knew that the discomfort was temporary. Whether it lasted a few yards or the whole remaining distance, it would not last forever. I knew something else based on many years of running. The pain was not only temporary, it was necessary.
In marathon training, pain is unavoidable. Whether it’s the niggling blister from the new socks, the struggle to reach the end of a long run or the burning quads from a speed workout, there is pain. At this point, you might be asking: Why then, would you do it? Because for me, pain leads to growth — and I don’t mean the new, thicker skin of a callous over the blister site, though there is that.
For me, the growth is the mental and emotional strength that comes with leaving a comfort zone and pushing into unknown territory. Of course, we aren’t only talking about running.
In his article “The Art of Conflict” in Poets & Writers July/August 2013 issue, Dan Barden says of writing fiction, “Here’s the deal: Everything you want from your life is the opposite of what you should give to your characters. Your characters should, more or less, always be having a very bad day. Why? Because that’s how human beings grow.”
After I read Barden’s article, I thought about my new novel and what I wanted for my main character versus what she needed in order to grow. I also thought about the 12-mile run and my life in general and I came to the conclusion that like a good fictional character, I need to be challenged.
Sometimes, I relish the challenge, as I did on the gorgeous day of my 12-mile run. But other times, I squirm and mutter and look for easy ways out, like on Monday with my writing session. Fortunately, the page is always waiting when I return. And return I did, managing to add ten new pages to my novel this week. I’ll continue to return, even when it’s hard, because the pain is only temporary and because that’s how this human being grows.
(Image of Wissahickon Trail from sjuhawks.com via Bing)