Lately, I've been reading Kristin Armstrong's book Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run. One of the themes that she returns to over and over again is Endurance. We run to get stronger, to get in shape or stay in shape, to achieve goals, to push ourselves to become better, to do things we never thought we could do, to force ourselves out of bed in the morning, to socialize with friends, and to prepare ourselves to deal with life as it comes at us.
Running can be tough. We wake up at 5:30 (or earlier) in the morning, put on layer after layer of clothing, and trudge out the front door into negative degree weather. We run on ice and snow, in the rain, in the wind, we get hurt, we get tired, and we push ourselves right to the edge. And of course, these things make us physically stronger and they make us better runners and healthier people (minus the injury part, of course).
In the last few years, I have run 4 half marathons. Nearly all of the training has been fun and totally enjoyable. But in the difficult moments, when I wanted to quit and walk home or step off the race course, I learned a few things about myself. I learned that even when I don't want to, I can squeeze a couple of extra miles out of myself. That when my legs hurt and my lungs feel like they're going to pop, no matter what my head is telling me, I can keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have learned that sometimes it is important to pace myself and other times, I should run with reckless abandon, giving it all I've got in that very moment, running with joy and freedom - no matter what consequences I might face 3 miles later.
And I have also learned that, not matter what, I can endure.
Running 13.1 (or 6.2 or 26.2 or 50) miles doesn't open up some portal that makes pain hurt less, but it teaches a person that the pain won't last forever. It helps a person understand that he or she can endure a heck of a lot more than they once thought possible. It has made me realize that sometimes when life gets tough, I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other - that I can put one foot in front of the other.
Running has helped me understand what it means to endure. To me, having endurance means having the ability to get through a difficult semester and finish with my GPA intact, along with my sanity. It means having the ability to support a friend or family member, even when I don't think I've got much gas left in my own tank. It means facing the loss of someone I love from my life and knowing I'll be a stronger person for it.
It is a special thing to learn that you can endure 2+ hours of physical pain and cross the finish line with a smile on your face, just as it is comforting to know that you have the ability to deal with the things life throws at you and at the people you love. However, I'm sure Kristin Armstrong would agree that we as runners often do not come to these realizations all by ourselves. If we are lucky, as I undoubtedly am, we find ourselves surrounded by others who endure right along side us. We are in the midst of people who understand our pain and offer to help shoulder the load for us when we need it most. They take us out for drinks, for coffee, and for a run and they teach us what it means to be there for each other.