…so why not push yourself a little bit harder?
Let me explain.
I was recently lucky enough to participate in a Ragnar event in Hill Country, Texas. I am still unsure if this is the name of the area or a term for the terrain, but either way, a beautiful place to do some trail running.
If you haven’t heard of Ragnar and you’re into crazy running events, I recommend checking them out. Basically, Ragnar designs relay races. They host some events where you take to the roads and run from point to point. For these races your team travels between checkpoints in a van for 24-ish hours. Then there are trail races like the one I attended, where you set up at base camp and run loops in the area starting one day, continuing overnight and finishing sometime the next day.
I actually hadn’t done a Ragnar before this last weekend- and damn, what an event. The volunteers working were absolutely phenomenal. The night prior to the race, the campsite had been drenched in a downpour and the whole area was COVERED in sticky, ankle deep mud. There were people out there for hours trying to shovel off a pathway of wooden boards for the runners. They were refilling hot chocolate, fueling a 24 hour bonfire, providing s’mores, cheering on runners… what a crew. Huge shout out to each and every volunteer at this event- they really made sure this was a run to remember.
Something like this, I think, is also one of the best ways to bond with new people. We chatted with strangers and friends around the bonfire, drank mimosas and fireball shots back at our team’s camp, and everyone basically became immediate best friends. It’s hard not too when you’re all supporting each other, waking everyone up at weird-ass-o-clock in the morning to run in the dark, sharing blister cream or waiting in line for midnight burgers with a hundred other hungry people in headlamps.
And then there was the actual running.
As I’m still sort-of recovering from an injury (see: elliptical thoughts (or, plight of the injured runner), I had only just gotten back up to being able to run a solid 5 miles. And one 7 miler. I was unprepared when I agreed to do this event a few days beforehand, and at the time had only planned to do 15 miles total, the normal duration for each runner. Turns out the team I was on had a few people drop out, and in order to complete the full relay distance we all had to pick up some extra miles. Myself and another of my teammates each picked up an extra person’s place, resulting in a total of 31 miles for each of us. So.. it was going to be a lot of running.
The loops on this course were a 3 mile, a 5 mile and a 7.5 mile, and we repeated them in that order switching runners. I ended up starting with the 7.5, then doing two 5 miles, two 3 miles and a final 7.5 to finish the race.
Now that you’re clear on how this event actually works, let me explain why it reminded me that sometimes embracing the hurt is the answer!
That first 7.5 was rough. I went out easy and within the first mile my hip and knee were both acting up, and my stomach felt off. My first reaction was oh shit– I’ve got to be up all night, I’ve got to run further than a marathon and it already hurts?
And in that moment I had to decide that it wasn’t going to get to me. I had signed up for this, I had agreed to this, and I was not going to let my teammates down. I wasn’t going to let myself down.
There is a line in “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed where the author is discussing her first night on the Pacific Crest Trail alone. She has never done anything like it. She has no idea what might be in the bushes, what could happen, and she realizes she cannot make the journey she wants to make if she lives in fear.
So she decides (DECIDES, people) not to be afraid.
Fear is a choice.
As runners, in order to improve, we must push through discomfort. Especially when we are venturing into the longer distances, unfamiliar territory like a trail race, or looking to better our times.
Our animal instinct instructs us to stop when something is painful or uncomfortable. As a runner you have to learn to override that instinct, to an extent. You don’t want to injure yourself, but it is crucial to learn the difference between the kind of pain that means you should stop, and the kind that means you are working hard for something you really want.
So… you can choose to embrace pain, accept it. Acknowledge that this might hurt, whatever it is. Running crazy distances on trails unprepared. Racing a half marathon. Completing your first marathon.
Then you can take it as far as you want.
What can you do when you accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable?
When you are no longer holding yourself back in order to avoid that discomfort? That pain? You are so much stronger than you think you are- but most of us let fear hold us back.
For me Ragnar was an example of what you can do when you put your head down and just do it. I told myself that I was going to be fine. The worst that was going to happen was that I would be sore and tired. But that did not mean I couldn’t still do this, and do it well.
And in deciding that, I felt better.
Not in some magical, instantaneous way. I was still exhausted by the end of the event. I was still hurting and uncomfortable at times. But instead of focusing on it I was able to let it be a part of the adventure. I was able to push myself a little bit harder, ask myself what I could do when I stopped worrying about whether or not it was going to hurt.
Sometimes just going out there and doing the crazy thing is the answer.
You might not succeed. You might go out too hard, start too fast and crash and burn. You might fail.
But in order to achieve the things you want, you have to take that wild and crazy risk.
So next time you’re out there on the roads, on the trails, and you realize you’re on the edge of discomfort… when you start to breathe a little harder and your muscles start to ache a little more… remind yourself that this is a sign that it’s time for you to make a choice.
Are you going to let fear stop you?
Or are you going to welcome discomfort as your companion and, with it, see how far you can go?
Big thank you again to my marvelous and awesome teammates for making Ragnar a blast and an experience to remember. I hope it was as phenomenal a weekend for all of you as it was for me!