Getting Through the Desert 13

Today I discovered that running 20 miles is like having a baby. There are stages, mental signposts and hard work involved. And, I chose to participate actively in both of them.

The thing that kept me going, besides the music and the fact that my car was parked 10 miles away, was the knowledge that it would end. I can do anything if I know it will end. In these cases, I will have done something extraordinary: had a baby or run 20 miles—on purpose

It is normal for the swagger of early labor or the first few miles to turn on you like a beast.  Mile 16 is when I met the beast. It was like transition, which is purported to last a short time and to be intense. I can testify to the intense part. There was some teeth gritting and some strong language. I think the run was like that, too.

Breaking the entire thing down into mentally comprehensible chunks is key. I thought about my long run in 5 mile increments, until the last three miles, where every step was its own annoying increment. But that’s another story. Labor is all about stages. Early, active and transition. By the time transition arrives, we take each contraction on its own. A 3D version of the Going on a Bear Hunt song. Got to go through it.

This is usually about the time surrender seems like the best course. I started eyeing the cars, thinking that if one drove by that happened to be filled with people I knew, perhaps they could give me a lift.  Or maybe having a baby’s not such a good idea; if I go home, it’ll be like it never happened. Then you remember your car is at the other end of town and that baby’s going to get born one way or the other.

Staying relaxed is the hardest, most helpful, thing. For the record, when someone tells me to relax it’s the last thing I want to do. But, as I ran, I kept a mental inventory of how my body felt; if I found tense shoulders or a face full of grimace, I worked hard to keep it soft. In birth, the more relaxed you can be, the easier your labor will be. That is a straight up promise

And, in the end, all you really want is a cold beer and a nap.

After a cold beer* and some time to reflect, I can properly assess this feat. In my arms, this utterly dependent thing, blinking at me. Or. My body, limited as it is, did this thing it had never done before. Scratch that; my entire being was involved, by choice, in this event, that to me, is pretty miraculous.

Staying relaxed, relying on that invisible and strong power to get over the hill strikes me as a pretty accurate metaphor for those desert moments. When all the things you know, like: this will end, and sometimes it hurts, and the final outcome is extraordinary, make the hard choice easier. Choosing a life of faith means gutting it out sometimes. What’s the alternative?

*of course I didn’t have beer after giving birth. Still. Would have hit the spot.

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13 thoughts on “Getting Through the Desert

  • Sara Breeggemann

    Ohmygosh!! This is so accurate & appropriate for me right now. Just ran the 1/2 marathon yesterday & BOY was there pain. But, I just kept going, cause I knew there was an end. It really IS measured in miles & then steps. I’ve never thought about it as being like labor before. And, yes, I did want a cold beer & a nap. And pancakes. 😉

  • Shawn Smucker

    Love this post, Jen. And I would say I get the labor and delivery thing, but I’m not up for a round of hate mail 🙂

    Pushing through is so tough. I think even more so in everyday life because usually or at least sometime we can’t see the end. Or what it will be. Or how it will affect us. I think that’s when I have to rely on my past experiences, and my faith.

    • Jennifer Post author

      Amen, Shawn. With a baby or a run, you KNOW what you’ll get. With life, it’s rather Forest Gumpesque. Like a box of chocolates. I have to think, thought, though that even the hardest stuff will yield some kind of lovely fruit. Eventually. Right? And I knew some guys would understand the labor and delivery thing. Way to be evolved there, brother.

  • Jim Lynch

    This was a great post Jen. Though I don’t know about the baby thing, I can relate to the feelings you expressed. Especially the breaking down the miles in chunks. Otherwise, it would be overwhelming. And you finished and yes I would have a beer but probably a couple hours after. Happy Running!


    • Jennifer Post author

      I suppose the baby thing might be difficult for a dude to comprehend. Trust me. I did not have a beer. And that makes me sad. Instead, I had grilled chicken and gallons of water. How boring is that?

  • Jen Ferguson

    I can so relate to this post. When I was running the marathon, I had a series of mantras I would use to get me through a particularly tough spot or to slow me down with at I would have energy at the end. Every long run that is a new distance is hard but so rewarding. Congrats!

    • Jennifer Post author

      I remember reading about your mantras after you ran it! I tell my believing mamas (for whom I act as doula) to pray about scripture to use during birth. Even for people without faith, clinging to powerful words can make a big difference. But, with faith there is hope and with hope there is power. Thanks, Jen.

  • Nicole L Bates

    Congratulations on your accomplishment! This was such a perfect parallel of experiences. I often think that I can accomplish more, physically, simply because I know how to get through it mentally, and yes, all completely worth it. Thanks for sharing your

  • Jen Fletcher

    So proud of you! My first 20 turned into a 25k race & then my second 20 turned into a half mary in Dallas. Anxious about my 22 coming up soon……

    • Jennifer Post author

      Jen. You impress me every day. You get after it like nobody else. I get intimidated by evwery single new distance. Like someone 2 more miles is so incredibly daunting. And then I tuck my heand and go. You’re going to kick 22 miles in the teeth, sistah.