Now, before you think that it's glamorous or that I'm like those models in Runners World, trim and womanly yet exuding gentle strength, while decked out in sleek tech gear and bounding down the trail like a graceful gazelle...that's nothing like my reality.
Imagine if you will a deranged oompah loompah who appears to be on the verge of a coronary, careening off rocks and roots all while muttering profanities as though f$%k is the only word in her vocabulary. (TBH, it IS one of my favorite words and I don't get to use it nearly enough.) What I do in the woods can barely be defined as athletic -- much less photogenic.
Have I mentioned that my ability to sweat buckets would put a Serengeti water buffalo to shame? It's impressive. As are my cankles. Hey, there's nothing wrong with sturdy legs. (Note to self: never wear skirts and heels.)
Every so often, in between barking my toe on a rock, then using the word f$%k like a verbal paintbrush and the world around me is a Jackson Pollock blank mural, I get kind of philosophical. And then I trip again.
But in those moments of clarity, I've learned a few things about my life and how the running reflects it. You might find a bit of yourself in here, too.
1) It's a marathon not a sprint. Or, in my case, it's a 50K not a sprint. (50K is 31 miles, because doing a marathon is silly enough, why not tack on another 5 miles because by golly I paid good money for All Of The Pain.) Mind you, I do a 4 month ramp-up training plan to get prepared for each race. 4 months of structured running 4-6 times/week and then put it all together in a 7 hour blaze of insanity.
I think about this concept of a marathon not a sprint a lot with my medical career, those long blocks on call, and my writing world. I've learned firsthand what happens in medicine if I don't meter out my energy and time carefully: burnout. Another way I look at it: You can eat an entire elephant...if you just eat it one bite at a time. Ok. Ew. I'm a vegetarian. And elephants are super cute. Anyway.
2) If you can't keep going at this pace or your legs are burning, it's okay to walk for a while. It's okay to dial back the effort and switch from anaerobic back to aerobic activity. It'll save time and legs later. Same with career or writing life. It's okay to take a break. Sometimes doing so means you can run faster and longer, later. Or work through that writer's block, or better edit that book after a break.
3) There are ups and downs in every run and every race. A wise ultra runner (it wasn't me, it was someone legit) said that every race has one or more low points -- places where you'll want to quit or you'll lose sight of why in the world you're doing this crazy thing. The folks who succeed are the ones who figure out how to work through the difficult times and continue.
4) RFP. I learned this one during a hot trail marathon where the wheels on the proverbial cart were just coming off that day. Bugs were biting. My clothing was 100% soaked in the humidity, and I still had 12 miles to go. It wasn't looking good. This spry runner zipped by, said "good job" (though how someone could conclude that from the mess I presented, who knew), and he quipped, "RFP!" I asked him what that meant and he said "Relentless Forward Progress." If you can't run, jog. If you can't jog, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. I almost made it to "crawl" that day, but I did finish.
5) Snack frequently. For ultra distances, it's important to condition the body to take in food throughout the activity. If not, you bonk hard and frankly it's a disaster. It's hard to recover from exhaustion due to total lack of calories. It's way better to be pro-active and take in small amounts of food throughout the race. Same in other activities. Keep the tank filled, at least partway. Writers, we can take breaks to read an article, take a course, or chat with writing buds. Never let the tank get too empty -- it's so much harder to fill back up from zero.
6) No one person is a trail runner. All sizes, shapes, and backgrounds are welcome at races. Same for writing, same for medicine. Anyone can do something. Maybe not everyone will run a 50K -- maybe they'll run a half-marathon. Maybe not a half-marathon -- maybe they'll walk a 5K. That's fine. It's all about each person's journey within themselves.