Today was a really tough run for me. Not because it was 30 miles (it was 7). Not because it was a mountain run (it’s pretty flat here in Groton). And not because it was hot and humid (its barely 32*F and cloudy). It was tough because my mind told me it was going to be.
In true New England fashion, Mother Nature had decided to wait until March to start dumping snow in our region. Between last night and this morning we got the highest snowfall of the season, and I grumbled my discontent as I tried to figure out how I was going to get my training run in. I finally decided to go with the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” program and just run the trails in the snow.
Everything conspired against me from the start – or so my brain told me. I hadn’t planned on running alone but I had no choice because my best trail buddy is injured and all my other training partners either live too far away or had other plans. Then I had arrived at the trail head thinking that no one else would be stupid enough to be out in this crap. Ha!! Dozens of footprints (both human and dog), and a ton of fat bike tire and cross country ski tracks had turned the trails into a sloppy mess. And what I thought would be a light fluffy snow turned out to be wet and slushy. Ugh. I had a crappy mental outlook right from the get-go.
The first mile wasn’t too bad, but then the shit hit the fan. Slipping around in the slick footing sapped my energy and made me even crankier. I tried to make the best of it, running when I could and walking when I had to. I slogged through another mile, repeatedly saying to myself how hard this was and how shitty I felt, and how I could have possibly thought this was a good idea.
I thought back to yesterday, and the conversation I had with a fellow runner (and podcast host – hint, hint). We discussed how many people try to take the “hard” out of running and racing, looking for flat courses to PR on and expecting full-on gourmet smorgasbords and heaters at aid stations. His comment of “if you’re looking for easy, you’re in the wrong fucking sport” echoed in my head. Remembering that trail running is not easy helped get me through another mile before the shitstorm in my head took over again.
I had been in a foul mood for quite some time when I looked up – and there it was. My favorite part of this trail. The fire road climbs though the trees and then all of a sudden you’re at the top of the bluff, the sea rolling out in front of you. Today the addition of the sunlight struggling at the edge of the storm clouds took my breath away. I remembered how blessed I was to have this wild place to run in, and I used this feeling to push me onward.
A few minutes later my energy flagged – again, and I sunk into my crankiness – again. My mind was filling up with snarky remarks about how dumb I’d been to come out here when I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy run, and how I should have just stuck to the road instead of being an idiot. It never fails to amaze me how hard we are on ourselves when a decision we’ve made doesn’t meet with our expectations. I, especially, have never been good about rolling with the punches and it was clear by my running inner diatribe that I still hadn’t mastered this skill.
A quick glance up ahead alerted me to the presence of a hiker, and I moved over to the side of the trail and gave him a half-hearted wave. As we passed I heard him say “keep it up!!” Did he somehow know I was struggling, I wondered? Or was he just being kind? Then I realized it didn’t matter why he said it. The encouragement from this random stranger was just what I needed to propel me down the trail. And it lasted all of about 10 minutes before exhaustion ground me down once more.
About a half mile later the trail opened up on one side, bordered by the waters of Mumford Cove. Most of the time I’d had my head down, trudging forward as best I could, but something drew my gaze over towards the water. I watched as a seagull glided silently, just above the water’s surface and landed at a spot down the beach. I stopped as he grabbed himself a snack and contentedly munched away, watching me watching him. I was again filled with the sense of being incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy this place, even though I was suffering through this run. The deep feeling of gratitude got me though another mile.
I slowly became aware of how each time my mental energy (and let’s face it – my physical energy) started to lag, something would happen to lift me back up. And even though the moments of respite were brief, they were there – and I was managing to get the miles done. I was mulling all of this over when suddenly sentences started to link together in my mind. I remembered a runner/writer friend of mine telling me that he composed entire books in his brain while out running, and I spent the last two miles of my run mentally writing this blog post.
I arrived back at my car, totally spent. I knew I had made this run much harder than it had to be, just by starting off in a negative frame of mind. While I could have found peace and wonder by enjoying my favorite place, instead I punished myself by repeatedly drowning in disappointment at the difficulty of the run.
The lesson to be learned here is twofold. One, your mind is a powerful tool. Program it properly and it can help you reach goals you never thought possible. Give in to negative, cranky thoughts and guess what – you’ll have a negative, cranky experience. This really hit home for me today as I watched myself vacillate between the physical highs and lows based on my mental programming.
The second lesson is quite possibly more important and can be summed up in one of my favorite movie quotes. In “A League of Their Own”, Tom Hanks’ character remarked “Of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Hard is what makes it great.”
Now get out there and run!!
~ Coach Faith