5K Endurance- Working Through Pain to get to the Finish Line

Samuel Wanjiru, Athletics at the 2008 Summer O...
Samuel Wanjiru- Olympian on the Finish Line

I ran a race 5K race yesterday. It’s one of many that I run in the summer to break the monotony of isolated work out.  This particular one was in the wee hours of the morning, and the crisp Carolina morning was uncharacteristically chilly. The leaden soles of my feet confirmed this fact because I couldn’t feel my toes for the first 5 minutes of the run. Crystalline air cut through my body’s natural defenses as my feet determinedly gobbled up the stretch of asphalt.  A chorus of labored breathing from fellow runners offered the only accompanied to the percussion of rubber-soled feet drumming their determined rhythm on the asphalt.

I prefer running without any music, preferring the experience of being alive. Every little pain, stretch and surge of energy flowing through my body, a reminder of my aliveness. Yesterday was no different. I was always aware of my mind’s constant need to anchor itself on some thought or other. And occasionally, when the pain was too much, and the run seemed endless, I indulged it. I let my mind roam to keep it busy as I willed my body forward. Succumbing to the journey I had willingly undertaken, I reminded myself for the thousandth time, how life was a journey that we all must undertake individually. Trudging along with all the other runners, tempering my breathing, I relished the thought that we would all somehow make it to the end. Every last one of us will finish the journey.

Somewhere along the way, I furtive motion caught my eye, and I realize that I had reached the first water stopped. An outstretched hand offered a short respite from the run. A quick body scan made me conclude that I was not too dehydrated. Rejecting the water I fled from the hand for fear that the part of me that was thirsting from the exercise would give in and stop. The further I got away from the water spot, the lighter I felt. I knew that this, like in so many aspects of life was a chance to rest. Sometimes taking a break helps in the journey of life, other times it slows you down, and other times yet, a break is simply a distraction from the actual experience. So that particular moment, I chose to stay in the experience of running. And my mind took over again.

Why were we out here?  I wondered. I  could be in my warm bed right now. And my feet kept moving in the rhythm that they had now adopted to keep time to my breathing.

Sometimes people passed me, and other times I passed people. There was no joy or sadness when either of this happened. Just mute acceptance that we were all on the same journey. That we would all finish one way or another. Pacing myself and paying close attention to my body, I took the chance to slow then increase my pace in time to the demands of my body. I knew when I needed to ease up on the tension building up on my shoulder blades. To let my hands stretch and go limp, discharging the tension. The last quarter mile, always the most difficult, presented special challenges. As though sensing the culmination of the test of wills; I had to fight against my body’s sudden need to stop. My thighs feeling heavier, and arms like heavy extension of the self I know, yearned for a respite.

I accepted this as part of the process. I listened to what my body was saying. Gave it voice so that it I wouldn’t have to fight opposing forces of running and internal resistance. I listened but kept running. Completely one with my body, I reveled in the pain that is inextricably part of life. Concentration boiled down to the simple process of moving first one foot, then the next. I knew that this moment was important. Just the basic process was enough to get me there. I stopped thinking about the finish line and concentrated in the process of breathing and running. Sometimes, I knew, it is more important to focus on the most basic experience of the moment. Focusing on the finish line would steal away the experience of getting there. And slowly, ever so slowly, the self-doubt, the yearning for rest, all fell away. And in their place came peace, energy, and acceptance in the particular process I was engaged in.

The finish line came up so quickly I almost missed it. It was there, then like every moment in life, it was gone. I reveled in crossing it while paying attention to my time. 24 minutes this time. Not bad for an old girl of 32. I had shaved off 2 minutes from my previous run. Adrenaline coursed through my veins suffusing it with warmth and gratitude at having finished.  A special kind of joy took over when I looked back on my run. The short –it didn’t seem that way at the time-run had encompassed all of life’s emotions that made the experience of living. Energy, pain, pleasure, submission, resignation, determination, culmination, sadness, focus….the list is endless.  Such is the journey of life. It is dynamic and ever-changing. Every moment distinctly different from the next and  each one special on its own.


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