I’ve been unsure of my continued Couch to 5K Success a few times now, but Week 5, Day 3 is where I was pretty sure I’d hit the wall. It took me 7 or 8 attempts before I finally managed to run twenty consecutive minutes last Saturday, with no walking breaks in between. It wasn’t my fastest pace, or my best distance. It was my longest consecutive run ever (like, “in my whole life” ever, not just “since starting this training program” ever).
The run took place in a beautiful park, not too far from home. I ran around a smoothly paved path that encircles a lake. The last time I was in this park, several years ago, my younger daughter was two. We stopped by with some stale bread to feed the geese that have made a home in the lake. Unfortunately, one particular goose was feeling extremely bloodthirsty that day, and I had to pick up my toddler and haul donkey to avoid a vicious beak attack. Even though I was not a runner then, I guess technically I did run on my last visit. My focus at that time was on speed rather than distance, for obvious reasons. I chalk up our survival to my finely honed mothering instincts.
Anyway, back to Saturday’s run. Running for twenty whole minutes still doesn’t feel like a real thing that could have happened, but I know it did because I have pictures. Not of me, but at least of the lake.
I decided to go for as long as I could without checking my phone to see how much time I had left. The first leg of the run, my older daughter rode her bicycle with me. Besides being fun for her, this was good for me because I could focus on following her and (occasionally) warning her to get out of the way of the other folks enjoying the path. After she got tired of riding and went to find her other mom, it got harder not to check for time and distance. I made it about 12 minutes before I couldn’t stand to not know any longer. I remember groaning, positive I couldn’t take 8 more minutes. It seems like when I first started running, I usually had to stop because I would get winded. Now my cardiovascular system is working a little better, but my muscles haven’t caught up. At this point, my lower back was aching and the urge to sit down was intense.
I am a big fan of listening to my body, and not a big fan of the “No Pain, No Gain” philosophy. I want to stay safe and not permanently damange myself, so if something I’m doing *really* hurts, I try to stop and assess. At the same time, I feel like running requires a certain amount of discomfort, at least if the runner in question wants to improve. I’ve gotten pretty good at gauging the difference between a dangerous pain and one that if merely unpleasant. I was pretty sure this pain fell into the latter category, and I desperately wanted to keep going and finish the run. I knew that if I didn’t finish the run, I would spend the rest of the night wishing I had. After all, I was getting pretty tired of repeating this particular run. How many times could I reasonably expect myself to push the same proverbial boulder up the same proverbial hill before I let it roll back and squish me?
A quote from Haruki Murakami’s “What I Think About When I Think About Running” ran through my mind- “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” If I wanted to finish, the pain was just a fact. In fact, even if I chose to sit down, I would probably still be in pain at least for a while. At that point, I figured I was the only one who could decide how much was too much. I made a conscious choice to accept the pain as a natural consequence of my hard work, and tried to suffer as little as possible. I opened my eyes and relaxed my grip as much as I could without dropping my water bottle. I let myself take in the blue sky, the placid lake, the gentle breeze. Kids, dogs, other runners. The smell of grill smoke and fresh grass. Kelly Clarkson sang, “Everybody loses it, everybody wants to throw it all away sometimes,” in my earbuds and her empathy for my plight spurred me on. People like us really do have to stick together!
I may have decided not to suffer, but that didn’t stop me from experiencing a wave of relief and euphoria when the twenty minutes was over. I trudged halfway across the park, to where my wife and older daughter were doing some running of their own, attempting to launch a kite. At first, I told them there was no way I would be running another step that day, but after I went to the bathroom and took my sports bra off, I felt ready to play again. I left my bra (and book) in the grass and joined them for a few minutes of fun. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to feel grumpy or tired when you’re flying a kite.
Just a few months ago, I had to rest half the day after running much shorter distances. Just a few months before that, I would have sat on the bench on a trip to the park and never thought about going for a run. And a few months before that, I had to have my kids help me get my socks off and on because my legs hurt. I have a long way to go to run 3.125 miles, but I feel like I’ve come a long way already.