It’s mile 23 of the marathon when my calves feel like they’re about to give out and the soles of my feet feel raw. The temperature for Newport, Oregon is unseasonably warm – it’s 72 but it feels like 80, which in Ginger Degrees may as well be 100.
I went a good ten miles without any shade whatsoever. My phone died ten miles in, so I’ve had no media to distract me. I’m drenched in sweat and to keep myself cool, I’ve dunked water on my head at every aid station, so I’ve given up re-applying sunscreen to my very fair skin. It is only now, two miles out from the finish that I fall back on my own personal Impermanence Mantra, a gentle reminder to myself that nothing, not even this discomfort, is lasting.
This is nothing close to my ideal conditions, a cool breezy Oregon coast day, cloudy and misty, making for a refreshing run in the Pacific Northwest, and a personal best under five hours. This is everything but that.
Still, there is no despair. Everything about my training prepared me for the things that didn’t go well. I’ve run under these conditions plenty of times before, and I know how to take care of myself.
The hard stuff prepares you for this. Every moment of difficulty, every rough patch, every point of contention is an opportunity for you to learn something new, a new strategy, and a new way to cope.
My performance and my reaction to uncomfortable circumstances was an indicator of how the effort I put into training and how much I had prepared myself. (Believe me, I’ve had races where I didn’t work as hard as I could have in training and it showed in my finishing time.)
The work you put into the practice – the discomfort you experience – prepares you when the stakes are raised. On days when you don’t want to do the work, it pushes you out of your comfort zone.
After my race I was talking to someone who asked me whether I placed and whether I got any prize money out of it, which of course I hadn’t. He then asked me, disbelieving, “Why would you do something like that?” and I said, “To see what I’m made of.” He was surprised that I would do it at all without promise of prize money, and I was surprised (and a little sad) at how little he understood the concept of “seeing what you’re made of”. All of my best growth has come from the quest to see what I’m made of.
But it also made me think about the runners who did do it for the prize money and the chance to place. To perform at that level, they have to train at ten times the passion and effort and dedication than I ever did. I could do something like that, but I don’t want it enough. I give my passion, effort, and dedication to other things, because I want them even more.
Wherever you finish, you do everything it takes to get there, whatever you’re making or training for or practicing. Never leave anything to doubt.