If you get to a point where you’re running more days than you’re not, you can sometimes get to forgetting just how hard it is to start out.
The gasping for breath, the struggle for form, that desperation when you’re far from the finish and already flagging. Running is never easy, but the more you do it, it does get easier. It becomes less of a battle, and more of a dance.
No two runs are the same though, and for every high, there must be a low.
Take, for instance, this week’s long run. It’s been two weeks since my last long run. Oh, that was a glorious one. I set out and managed a decent, cantering speed in the early morning sun, beneath bright blue skies. I ran with freedom, and at the end I picked it up and made it hurt that good kinda hurt that we all crave.
This week, I did the same route. I was thinking I might even extend it a bit. I set out feeling fine, although I did notice that although the temperature had cooled significantly since the heat peaked in the UK last week, it was very close. It was humid, a little nasty. I had a sweat on, immediately. It was slightly more difficult to catch my breath than expected. I carried on. About 5 miles in, I knew it was going to hurt. For a long run the pace was nice and steady, although the splits tell a more uneven story that I would have liked, but the problem wasn’t pace, it just didn’t feel good.
It just didn’t feel right to be running. The run was fighting me. It was not a dance, it was a battle. My vest hung heavily from me, it clung wetly to my chest and restricted my movements, my breathing. By the end I had peeled the vest off, saturated. My shorts stayed on, thankfully, but they felt as if they’d done a cycle in the washing machine.
At some point, as I wrestled my way up a hill, I felt myself getting frustrated. Why is this so hard? Why am I so unfit? I thought. Perhaps it is the greatest testament to my progress as a runner that I was able to push that frustration aside, whereas before it would have weighed on my shoulders the whole way home.
It is silly to let those thoughts get to you when it feels like that. I didn’t let that good long run two weeks ago convince me that I was the fittest runner around, so why should I let a bad one convince me that I’m crap?
The miles went in the legs, the sweat was paid forward. Both runs, good and bad, are done. Finished. History. The next run will be different. It will probably be better. In the future, I will have runs which feel just as bad, if not worse, than this last long run. Yet, there is no question of stopping. The guarantee of future struggle is not enough to prevent me from pursuing future joy. That is the decision all runners make when they first start. They make a decision to believe that the first struggle, and all the struggles which are certain to come after, are worth it because the price they pay means they will eventually get to experience unpredictable moments of pleasure, freedom, and running like it is the most natural thing in the world.