“Knowledge without mileage is bullshit.” – Henry Rollins
I ran 20 miles this weekend with two of my best friends. We’d talked about doing it all week, it was the longest training run I’d been on in a while and I didn’t doubt I had it in me, it was more the actually just going out and putting in the time to do it, realizing it would hurt a bit with my lack of distance training of late. I know I can run 20 miles. But knowing and doing are two different things. There comes a point when knowing or wanting is irrelevant. It has no validity in word alone, it has to be substantiated with action. So, we ran.
Of course it was raining and colder than it had been in months, it couldn’t be ideal circumstances. So, we started and ended the run in the rain and we spent nearly the entire time on major surfaced road, the background noise almost overwhelming at times. It wasn’t the prettiest of runs, my nose ran the whole time and I got chilled around mile 9 and it never really went away, but as the miles fell away one by one, it began to feel like home. My steps got stronger and my lungs never protested.
It took a lot of discipline to turn off my brain and shut out the bright, white noise for that long of a run. I couldn’t process anything complex, and so step after step, I took to repeating myself, phrases, and numbers. Counting out 100 steps before methodically starting over again. The last few miles were devoid of many cars, and the street was lined with corn and foliage. The rush of the noise far away now. And these last few miles felt precious. I could hear my foot steps, my breathing was even and clear, and I knew I was almost home so my feet, despite being waterlogged in heavy shoes, felt light.
Speeding down the last hill and rounding up my driveway, I finally stopped. The first time in hours I wasn’t in forward motion. Standing there, I took inventory. I was a mess. My whole body was soaked and I was shivering with cold. My feet were burning, rubbed raw in my wet socks and my hip flexors tightened up immediately, but I was smiling and it was perfect for what it was. I checked my feet, the skin peeling off the back of my toes already from wet feet in wet shoes for so long. A large blister was already forming on one of my toes, I hadn’t felt it for the entire run, but there it was now. And so I dried my feet, took off my wet clothes to warm up and began to stretch, feeling my tendons and muscles protest. And I stood there, tired but glad to be home; the place I left that morning, a mere 20 miles ago.
And I wasn’t any different than I was when I left. Because, it’s not about who you are after. You don’t change, you deepen and solidify the person you were already were. It’s harder to take the first step than the last.
And there was nothing heroic about the run. It was just doing what we said we’d do. It’s just that simple. It’s putting in the work to get to the distance. There is no fanfare and no rose petals that fall from the ceiling. And whether the number is 10 or 20 or 100, it’s not about the number. It is going beyond just talking about it, reading about it, learning about it, saying you’re going to do it. That takes a different part of you, a part that’s deeper, deeper than the altruistic philosophical part of you, the gritty part that steps up when work needs to be done. And it keeps going until it is done. And for no other reason than because it was there. And I am pretty proud of my gritty parts. I’ve earned them.
And we could have not run that day. We could have given a thousand excuses and well-contemplated rationalizations for NOT going out in the cold and in the rain. And we could have decided it was for the best that we didn’t venture out and that there were far more productive things we could be doing to our bodies two weeks away from a marathon, how we could get sick in the rain, over-extended, or hurt. And we could have probably talked ourselves into feeling really good about not doing it and come up with excuses as to why it was actually better for us to not do the mileage… and excuses aren’t lies but they aren’t truths either. They are clumsy and even if there are well-intentioned, they weigh you down like a heavy anchor… and I like to travel light.