I recently completed my first (and likely last) Half Marathon race. It was quite an experience, and as I pounded out kilometer after kilometer, lots of thoughts on health, fitness, and life passed through my mind. Here are some of them for your consideration. You get all this wisdom without having to traverse 21 kilometers to get it. Lucky you!
1. The human mind is the strongest muscle of the body, and this can be good and bad.
On the run, I saw many people who I could tell hadn’t done the right amount of preparatory training. They didn’t have the leg-tone and form of practiced runners. And yet they slogged through and got it done. In these situations, a person’s sheer stubbornness can accomplish amazing physical feats, especially if it’s in a public facing situation where there’s some social pressure to complete the task. However, I’m quite sure these people were completely wrecked the rest of the week and were playing with fire in terms of injury.
Your mind can push your body to incredible lengths. But this isn’t a tool to be used lightly. Just because you can force yourself through something hard doesn’t mean that you should. You're always better off training up correctly. The body needs time and repetition to gain the conditioning for strenuous tasks, even if the brain is ready and willing to go the distance on Day 1.
2. No matter what the athletic pursuit, there will always be “naturals” who make you feel like a total dweeb.
Yes there were a lot of out of shape runners on the course, but there was also a small set of people who you could see were born to run. Long, lithe legs tapering off into slim ankles, gazelle-like proportions, and an effortless stride that covered huge distances with effortless grace.
It’s easy to feel down when you see the naturals excelling, but remember, a well-rounded, healthy body doesn’t come from leaning into what you’re already good at. It comes from spending time working on the areas where you’re the weakest. Some people are great runners, some are great powerlifters, others are natural meditators, artists, or public speakers. No matter what you do, they’ll be in the wings, ready to make you feel like you should just throw in the towel and give up.
The beauty of life is that you don’t have to win the gold medal or come in the top 10 in a marathon to have it be a meaningful experience. Tune-out the gifted naturals and do it for you.
3. You can’t judge other people, or yourself, by a single section of the race of life.
During my race, I made mental “buddies” with some of the runners around me. There was fanny-pack guy. Double ponytail girl. All-the-best-gear dude. Weird running form lady. As we ran, I would sometimes pass these people, and think, “Alright, I’m doing great and getting ahead.” Then later on they would pass me, and I’d feel bad at how I was falling behind.
All of this was a silly waste of mental energy. Each person is running their own race, and dealing with their own fatigue and mental barriers. You can’t spend your time comparing your race to anyone else’s. People will pass you, you’ll pass them back, you’re all doing your best, and you’re all in this together. It’s so much more positive and productive to wish each person well and focus on your own run.
4. Every uphill is a future downhill. Every downhill is a future uphill. Don’t get attached to either.
This race was on the Pacific Coast Highway and had quite a lot of elevation change. I found myself absolutely struggling on mile-long uphill sections, cursing the course designers, the people passing me from every direction, and myself for not spending more time on hill training.
But when I would crest the hill and have a nice downhill slope, I’d find myself thinking the course designer was a genius, feeling benevolence for all the people I was passing, and feeling self-satisfied about my performance.
After a few of these hills, my fatigued brain finally realized that you can’t have the downhill without the uphill, that in fact they are the same hill. Moreover, if you just keep going, every uphill MUST turn into a downhill, and vice versa. It’s another waste of mental energy to loathe the uphills and love the downhills. Appreciate the hill you’re on, no matter which way the elevation is going.
We’ve all seen this in our lives, where what we thought was an opportunity turns into a liability, and where what we were sure was a disaster blossomed into a chance for growth and advancement. Be there for both sides of the hill.
5. It’s okay to have endpoints and stop pushing your limits.
After this race, a few people asked me “So, will you run a full marathon next?” Hell no! In fact, this race proved to me that the 10k range is where I’m most happy, and there’s no need to constantly push my limits when I’m working way outside of my comfort zone with running.
The urge to keep pushing the envelope usually comes from a place of ego. A loud ego will drown out the small, quiet voice of your body talking to you. At the end of the half-marathon my body was telling me, “I’m barely keeping it together for you here, please give me a break.” I respect and love my body and am going to listen to it. You should too, no matter what area of achievement you're pursuing. The alternative is illness, injury, and burnout. It’s not a personal failing to say, “no more!” and dial back your regimen to better suit your needs.
Did I intellectually understand all of this stuff before my half-marathon? Sure. But did I KNOW these things in my bones before the big run? Not so much. This is the real benefit of exercise and fitness. You get to feel the physicality and reality of the world slap you across the face. And like any slap, you come out of it with the fog dispelled, seeing the world with sharpness and clarity.
Find something in your own life that can give you that slap.
It stings, but it's good for the body and soul.
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder