Friday, May 30, 2014

106. Perseverance

It's an interesting concept to think about moving one's body constantly for 8 hours. Our bodies are built for it, being descendants of wandering nomads. No matter what your belief system, there is one common thread: at some point in the history of humans, everyone did a whole lot of walking. Maybe it was a pilgrimage, or maybe we were just looking for tastier animals to wrestle to the ground and gnaw on, but whatever the case, humans have many stories of traveling. But at some point our world changed, and that gosh-darn industrial revolution brought a whole bunch of differently shaped fast-moving metal boxes for us to strap ourselves into and hurtle around in at high speed, all while sitting completely stationary.

It's not that we've become lazy, it's that we're just practical. If we spent all day walking to work and back, then we'd only have a little bit of time during which we'd actually produce anything. So yes, I will drive myself to work while what is basically a barely controlled explosion machine fires off over and over again just a few feet from my crotch. But there's air conditioning!

All of this has unfortunately served to make it very difficult for us to compel ourselves to long-lasting feats of physical endurance. It's not so much a need to be physically "in shape" to have endurance, because honestly, if you were being chased by an army of sharks that had grown legs and taken to the land to seek revenge, you'd probably be able to go pretty far! It's mental endurance that is really taxing. Even if you had the muscles to keep walking, your muscles are still controlled by your mind, and if your mind is pooped, those gams o' yours ain't goin' nowhere.

On Sunday I ran the first 15.5 miles of the race nonstop, without slowing to a walk. Though I may at some points have been going at a speed closer to that of a no-legged turtle trying to push itself on a razor scooter, I was still at least making the motion of running with my arms and legs, which was close enough. I kept leap-frogging this other runner, who would run faster than me and pass me, but would then walk the uphills, at which point I would pass him. We passed each other probably 6 times.

"TAG YOU'RE IT!" I yelled as he ran past me.

"You're so much more consistent than I am!" He said as I ran past him on the next hill.

"Ah yes," I puffed, "And later I will be consistently walking."

Which was true. After the first half of my race, I knew I wouldn't be able to run the second half. I was going to finish the race, but I would be going at a swift walk. I had the muscle and cardiovascular strength to finish the race and I wasn't at all physically tired. I had been training insanely, but because I live on the coast where the ground is totally flat, I hadn't been able to build up my skeletal joints to handle the impact of all the downhills.

Tangent: you can always spot a long-distance hiker or runner by whether they prefer uphills or downhills. If someone only goes short distances, then uphills feel difficult and downhills are a relief. However, if you go for a long time, then your muscles strengthen and uphill becomes a breeze, whereas downhill becomes a little like being stabbed in the knees over and over again by a thousand ants with miniature samurai swords. Ants might be small but they're relentless and ORGANIZED.

If I had tried to run this race before I had hiked the Appalachian Trail, I know for a fact that I would have stopped after the first 25k loop. I had several completely valid excuses on top of my aching knees, such as the fact that it had started to rain, but it was warm enough that the bugs were coming out. HORRORS. But I'm allergic to black flies and I didn't have my epipen with me, so: valid. Besides, 15.5 miles is pretty impressive enough! Now let me drink that entire gallon of gatorade that I know you're hiding.

But on Sunday, the thought to quit didn't even occur to me once. I just knew that I'd have to slow down, listen to my body, and not give a hoot about my finishing time. I wasn't racing against anyone else. I was still going to propel my body forward through space for 31 miles, and that was pretty darn cool enough for me. I did end up running a bit more, but I walked the uphills, and just took my time as I saw fit. I knew that whatever pain I was feeling, it would lessen if I was good to myself, but didn't give up.

And you know what? I was right. I went the entire 31 miles and I felt great at the end of the race. By the end of the next day, I felt perfectly physically fine with no long-term aches or pains.

The perseverance that I learned from long-distance hiking wasn't about not giving up. It wasn't about pushing myself beyond my limits in pursuit of some insane goal. No, the type of perseverance that long-distance hiking taught me was how to be completely and totally mindful of my body and what it needs in any given moment. It took me just about 5 months and LOTS OF INJURIES to learn it, but I did. Since I have this awareness, I know exactly how to push myself in a way that won't hurt me. Since I know how to push myself in that way, I know that I can go incredibly far. I trust myself to do the right thing for my body, and so if I keep running, I know it's the right thing to do.

And as of this moment, I know that right now my body needs an entire bag of salt and vinegar potato chips.

Clever Girl

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