I don’t have an accurate count of how many races I have run over my 50 years of running. Despite having a stack of race bibs from pretty much every race I have received one, there are many races I ran through my pre high school and high school years that I do not. I have a few of my cross country bibs including a couple made of fabric. Like I said 50 years of running. Boston 2020 was to be my 40 marathon but after that number I have no real idea of the total but it must be around 400. I do document on the back of almost every bib interesting things about my race. Friends and family who were there, race conditions, time and place, relevant training and some sort of emotional outburst like “ Nice race” or “almost died and bit through my tongue” which is actually on the back on one bib. Because of much luck and good fortune I have had the privilege, interesting word, of completing every single race. Not one DNF, not once not ever. Even through injury and what felt sometimes what I imagine dying must be like, if I have toed the start line I have crossed the finish line. I like that though again much of that is luck and good fortune.
On occasion a race, even a marathon will feel pretty great. No death march, no hands on hips and very nice words for the back of my bib. More often there will be a part of the race where I am full of mixed messages. “Run faster and catch that runner “ combined with “Owww this really hurts and it is time to stop”. Or perhaps “One mile to go you can do it “ tag teaming with “ I may die, I will die, I am dead” . Isn’t running fun?
So how do I get myself through these tough times whether they happen mid race in a 50 k or the last 1/2 k of a 5 k, hate that part. Moreover how do I get get through some tough training days when the last 5 or 6 or more k feel awful? There is no catch that guy/gal motivation, no cheers awaiting me at the finish line, nothing rides on the push through the pain. Why not quit/slowdown or pull something out of the excuse bag?
Part of it is just sheer repetition. The old one foot in front of the other. Part of it is the realization that forward is the only way to go. Some of it is pride and that’s not so great if I am looking to impress others but I think it is mostly I want to feel good about knowing I did what I could. I truly like the idea that when I believe in something I will go as far as I can to support those beliefs. Some would call that stubborn and many of my family would call me stubborn. I like that, a stubborn runner. Perhaps a T-shirt, “ I am stubborn and I invite scorn”, that’s me. Perhaps that’s why I almost always run alone.
Tonight when I am out on the trails or heading up/down the lower Don I will remember that stubbornness to get me through the discomfort and reinforce the glee as I make my way through another run. I often think of a couple races in particular, a trail half I did in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2011 and North Face San Francisco 50 k in 2019. The Penn one was an out and back and I pushed it hard on the out and as we turned for home I saw a large pack close behind me and felt the thrill of being chased all the way home. That’s happened in other races but this one time it felt different. Someone came up to me after the race and said “ when I saw you at the turnaround and those that were chasing you I was sure you would be caught, but you weren’t, nice job”. North Face was as tough a race as I have run but the feeling of the last 10 k coming out of the Marin Headland as I rallied from a walk to a 42 min last 10 k and caught runner after runner and to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to the finish at Cressy Field stands out as a personal triumph which told me once again, be stubborn and finish. That meant a lot to me that day and will again on days like today when there isn’t much at the finish but my wife cheering me on as I come through the door.