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.