When it comes to running, I talk a big game. For the most part, I’ve been unnaturally successful on this journey—I have yet to hit the breaking point, to face the painful reality of quitting. Well, until today.
On Monday I started the first big week of running with Couch to 5K—25 minutes without breaks all week long. But after a few good Fridays with 20 and 22 minutes under my belt, I thought I was prepared. To keep my concentration away from the slow downfall of my lungs and heart, I put on an audiobook. Which was all well and good until the halfway point, when I wanted to scream at Margaret Atwood for not writing more action packed scenes. The mental battle shouted through the prose. “You’re halfway, which means you will be TWICE as tired when you’re done. Face it, you’re not really a runner, you’re not going to do this for the rest of your life, so let’s just bail.” I took a few seconds to change to music, but screwed up the Couch to 5K timer, losing all of the data I’d gotten for the first half of the run. I decided to run to where I’m usually allowed to quit, and hope for the best.
Today I finally had to face the full 25 minutes. And my subconscious chose to sabotage me. “You’re not actually going to be a runner. Once you’re done with this, you’ll probably stop running altogether. You don’t enjoy this that much, and you never stick to anything, so why are you doing this at all? Just, stop running for a second.” And that’s when I did it. For the first time on this whole adventure, I stopped running before the app told me I was allowed. I walked for half a block, mentally screaming “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU BROKE????” I started to run again, but the damage had been done. For the next mile I stopped on and off, feeling the seconds stack up on my average time. I was a mix of dread and shame. “Am I a runner? If I can quit this easily, if I can talk myself out of it so quickly, maybe this is all in vain. I haven’t found the runner’s high, I am miserable the whole time I’m running. Is this all just a prelude to one giant failure?”
For the last five blocks I ran without stopping, vowing to reach the end of the song to prove that I wasn’t a complete failure. And, thankfully, the 25 minute mark came first. I genuinely almost threw up when I stopped. I got so far as to plan out where I would do it, should the opportunity strike. Those bushes? That trash bin? The street? Which place would cause the least amount of stress to the neighborhood?
I hated feeling like a failure, so I pushed myself a bit in the cool down, running a short half block, and sprinting a half block to my apartment. These don’t change my running average, but to get over the mental hurdles, I needed to prove that I could do more.
I dreaded looking at my pace. I imagined something in the 11-minute range. I walked, which immediately adds minutes to my average, right?
To my utter surprise, today I averaged 9:51 over 2.54 miles. This is my best pace for straight running.
The unfortunate side-effect is that the questions still hang in the air, and now that I’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of negative thought, it’s pretty difficult to close. I’m proud of myself for getting such a great pace, but I worry that the damage has been done. I know, objectively, that running will get easier with each day, but in the moment, as my stomach cramps, and my lungs feel like they’re going through a paper shredder, success doesn’t feel real. I guess I’m not done with the mental battle yet.