Cry and Move On

So Dean Karnazes and I were chatting it up as I drove down Highway 40… No, really.

I was driving down Highway 40, and Dean Karnazes was sitting in the passenger seat of my (no power windows) Mazda 3. Why was Dean Karnazes in my car, you ask? Well, in a nutshell (which also does not have power windows), Mr. Karnazes was in St. Louis for a book signing, and a scheduling oversight left him without a ride back downtown. I was at the shindig as a “local author delegate” of sorts and offered to be the cab driver. Discreetly opening all four doors of my car in a desperate attempt to air out said vehicle, I shoved my still-ripe hockey bag into the trunk and crammed several pairs of dirty socks under the seat as I made small talk with my illustrious guest (“How ‘bout this weather?” “Do you like avocados?” “How attached are you to power windows?”), as if by incessant interrogation I could disguise my obvious odoriferous concerns.

Soon, the pizza-eating ultramarathon man and I were cruising down a construction-riddled HWY 40/64. 

Delighted to have the celebrated runner trapped in a confined space, I continued my barrage of questions. Karnazes was a gracious captive and answered freely. And aside from a persistent and distracting inclination to address him as “Dean-O,” the conversation was natural and candid.

“So, when you ran 261 miles without stopping—” I shook my head at the incomprehensible feat—“I mean, you must have had some really dark moments. Lonely moments. How did you get through those? How do you keep going when you’re running such impossible distances?”

Karnazes shrugged with practiced sangfroid. “When you think about it, what is pain?” he said, his rhetoric pragmatic and straightforward. “It’s just a feeling. Where is it? It’s nowhere. It’s just a feeling. And feelings pass. I’ll be running, and I’ll try to pinpoint where the pain is coming from, but I can’t. First it’s here and then it’s here.” He smiled and shrugged again. “Eventually, you just have to come to grips with it. You have to become friends with it. You have to accept it and then move on.” 

Pain and I have an interesting relationship. Namely, I try not to have a relationship with it. Anyone who knows me is well aware that pain terrifies me. I’ll agonize over upcoming pace runs and track workouts because I know that at some point, I’m going to be extremely uncomfortable and tempted to quit. I lose sleep in the nights before goal races, worrying about when the torment will settle in and how unbearable it will be. And in each of my 5Ks and 10Ks—at mile 1.9 in the former and 4.1 in the latter, if you want to get technical—I become overwhelmed by how extraordinarily unpleasant life has suddenly become. The burning in my legs, the burning in my lungs, the acute sensation that everything on the inside of me wants to be on the outside of me—it’s terrifying. 

But the problem isn’t that the pain makes me feel as though I can’t go on. The problem is that the pain makes me not want to go on. 

I’m tired. This hurts. I dialogue with myself. I’ve worked my butt off for this long to get… where? I still have so much further to go. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s only going to get worse, and it’s not worth it. I’m done.
Cue the violins.

Well, ‘tis the season for racing, and the running world is awash in goal races from the 5K to the marathon. And as we shoot for our fastest races, our longest races, our first races, and our comeback races, may I offer us all a bit of sage advice?

Suck it up, buttercup.

Professional triathlete Chris Lieto described it well. He said, “The only guarantee in endurance sport is it’s going to hurt. And in endurance sport, you pick your level of pain. You have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Yes, there is the matter of talent and training, and you train to delay the onset of pain. But it’s gonna come. And it comes down to who can tolerate the most pain.” 

Pain is par for the course (no pun intended). And when it comes, we can be overwhelmed by it, we can let it dictate our actions, we can let it determine the outcome of our race. When pain comes, we can roll over and give in.

Or we can fight. 

I’ve indulged my fear of pain for far too long. I’ve let it rob me of restful nights, of the satisfaction of a training cycle completed, and of races-of-a-lifetime. Instead of summoning the troops, I’ve spent far too much time yielding to and even coddling the side of me that would rather curl up in the fetal position than face discomfort. Wallowing in self-pity, I’ve let the fear of fatigue, of hurt, and of heartbreak rob me of present joy. 
And the sacrifices on the altar of fear aren’t limited to the running realm. 

The miles were designed to wear you out. The pace was designed to break you down. Endurance sport is, after all, a war of attrition. But you have trained to show the world just how strong you can be. As C.S. Lewis said, “You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.” 

The only way for us to know our own strength is by fighting. Once we give in to fatigue, once we ease up the pace, we will find ourselves increasingly inclined to do so with every subsequent battle. After a while, yielding doesn’t seem so bad. Conceding seems justified—and almost wise. Surrendering becomes habit. And “habits, if not resisted, soon become necessity” (St. Augustine). 

It is a startling and unnerving truth.

There is a song by Cold War Kids (one of my favorite bands of all time) called “Water and Power.” It has become my fight anthem. The lyrics are chillingly relevant and speak to our relationship with pain.

Are you willing? Are you brave?
Who could make you feel afraid?
Will you give more than you… give more than you take?
Will you show us what you’re…  show us what you’re made?

Cry and move on.
Cry and move on.
Cry and move on.
Cry and move on.

Whatcha hiding from? You could be fighting, c’mon.
Whatcha hiding from? You could be fighting, c’mon.

To give in, to relent, is to hide not only from the pain, but from your true potential. Don’t sell yourself short because of pain. Don’t adopt a habit of surrender. So it hurts—so what? Pain is just a feeling, and feelings pass. Are you going to let a feeling beat you?

Whether you are racing your first 5K or your twentieth marathon, whether you are shooting for a PR or just shooting for the finish line, whether your struggle is in miles and pace or in another area of life entirely, fight. Throw your punches and don’t relent. Yes, you can acknowledge the pain. You can accept it. But move on. Sing your anthem. And whatever you do, keep going.

Whatcha hiding from? You could be fighting, c’mon.
Whatcha hiding from? You could be fighting, c’mon.
Cry and move on.
Cry and move on.

(Wanna check out Amy’s anthem? Click here to listen to “Water and Power” by Cold War Kids.)

Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious RunnerHer second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Storywill be released in 2014.

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