Anticipation and accomplishment both are nearly palpable to experience, but the meat and the gristle, the toughness and the bone? Those are in the middle. The middle, while also palpable, is far less exciting, usually, and much more rigorous to endure.
On our 17 (to 20) mile run this weekend, we both talked about and found the middle.
My headlights cut a path across the street, revealing a passel of runners, as indicated by their reflective lights illuminated by my car. I was in the right place. These were my people. It’s pretty easy to psych up for 3 early miles when 17 more await with the sun.
These miles tucked nicely under our legs, and we shed jackets and long sleeves along the way. The streets were relatively vacant; a few people huddled against the warmth of brick buildings, trucks idled in the road while drivers shucked papers to the curb. One man swept the sidewalk in front of his building. I thought that only happened on Sesame Street.
We met up with the rest of our group and psyched up for a long, slow Saturday run. Some of us had never run that many miles before. Some of us had. Regardless, there is a certain kind of deal you make with yourself when facing that down. You understand that it will take a long time. That it will be hard. That parts of it are stupid and painful. And then we go.
Beginnings are fun. Like a road trip in the first hour, everyone’s excited. There’s chatter and exuberance. I found myself hanging back, because I didn’t want to use up all my good stories or jokes too early. I didn’t want to wear on anyone too early, nor did I want them to wear on me. Just like a road trip; don’t eat all the good snacks in the first 100 miles. That’s a rookie mistake.
We made it up a monster of an incline and snapped a few photos of sunrise over Tulsa. We ran past a peacock farm, because why not. We talked Tulsa’s wacky everywhere-inspired architecture and its famous racists. Our group formed an amoebic community, shifting with pace changes and areas of interest.
A bathroom stop, a refill at the water cooler and an adjustment to tights and socks gave everyone some freshness. Like pulling into a truck stop where everyone can stretch their legs and be alone for a darned minute.
A few miles after this, we arrived at The Middle. The Middle is where the kids start asking if we’re ever going to be there. Where the youngest has to pee. Again. Where Mom has had it up to her eye teeth with “I Spy” and Dad starts harumphing at everything.
The Middle sucks.
In running terms, The Middle is close enough to neither the start nor the finish to be any kind of salve. You can’t turn around. You can’t stop. You just have to keep going.
Which is when I compared The Middle to Transition in childbirth. With apologies to the men in our group, every woman understood this. Transition is when we say, “you know what? I don’t need this baby. I think Imma just go home.”
No matter how long we run, there is always The Middle. Three miles, 26 miles, 50 miles. The middle exists. It must be endured. It’s not fun anymore. All the good snacks are gone and if Jimmy kicks your seat one more time, you think you’ll jump out of your skin. You just want to get there.
The Middle requires mental tenacity. The Middle requires forethought and preparation. Knowing The Middle is looming helps, sort of. The Middle is all about the mind.
Sometimes The Middle wins. Sometimes I do.
My friend T was telling me about a show called The Middle, about a family with three kids and a chaotic house. That’s The Middle, for sure. The Middle is peeking at the kid’s grades and wondering how to inspire any kind of resilience. The Middle is hoping the bank card is not declined. The Middle is the pain of treatment after the diagnosis and long, far too long, before remission. The Middle is the baby crying in the night, all night, every night. The Middle is throwing a full-throated holler at the sky and waiting for God to answer. The Middle is right here. Right now. Wherever you are.
Our legs are tired. Our spirits are weary. Our only choice is to get to the finish line. And so we step. One foot and then another. The Middle fades. It will fade. You just keep stepping.