ginny: on quitting

The inspiration for my blog topic came from ten mile obstacle course/mud run called the Super Spartan that I did two weekends ago.  I’ve finished three of these races, along with a couple of shorter three to five mile ones, in addition to more than a dozen half-marathons, two marathons, and one triathlon.

I came in dead last in the triathlon.  It was my first endurance race: a 1/2 mile ocean swim, 17 mile bike ride, and 5K run.  My group was the last one in the water, and I was last of the last in the water, and it never got much better than that.  When I got off of the bike and tried to run, my legs gave out.  My shins were on fire and my quads were like tree trunks.  As they picked up the traffic cones behind me I stumbled, walked, jogged, and possibly even crawled to the finish line, where I immediately burst into tears.

I didn’t quit.

My first marathon was on the hottest day ever recorded for the end of October.  I’m making that up, and I’m not going to Google it.  It was the hottest day.  Ever.  I hate running in the heat.  The only thing worse than running in the heat is running hills.  The marathon started by running up hills for approximately 100 miles.  My first marathon.  Heat.  Hills.  This was the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., and you have to be across a certain bridge around mile 20 by a certain time because they open it back up to traffic after that.  If you get to the bridge after the time cut off they had a bus to take you to the finish line. The last two miles before the bridge were torture.  I couldn’t breathe.  I didn’t want to walk but I couldn’t run.  I was mentally and physically exhausted, but I made the bridge, where I immediately burst into tears.  The bus pulled in before I was fifty yards away.  In the end I ran through the finish line corral just ahead of a guy who had run the whole thing backwards.

I didn’t quit.

The half marathon stories are too many to mention, but often as I crossed the finish line I thought “How the hell did I just do that?”

And so back to the Super Spartan.

Gary and I finished one  in Miami in February, and from that I got a stress fracture in my left foot.   Needless to say, I was not running for most of the summer.   When the foot finally healed and I got back in my running shoes I developed plantar fasciitis in my right heel.  This is an incredibly painful inflammation of the band that runs up the back of your heel.  Whatever.  For weeks I ran through it one day, and suffered the next day, but I kept going.  I considered not doing the Super Spartan in August, but I couldn’t convince myself that I was really injured “enough” to say I couldn’t do it.

It wasn’t long into the race before my heel started throbbing.  The running and jumping and climbing and scrambling made my heel feel like it was on fire.

I didn’t quit.

The course looped back towards the start line around mile 4 and I could have easily walked off there.

I didn’t quit.

In compensating for my right foot I developed a pain in my left knee.

I didn’t quit.

At mile 8 we looped back towards the finish line and I could have walked off there, but I thought we were closer to the finish line than we actually were and thought “I’ve come this far.”

I didn’t quit.

Having shed tears numerous time on the course I didn’t burst into tears at the finish line.  By then I was dehydrated.  I hosed off the mud and waited while Gary got our stuff from the bag check.  The wind picked up.  Wet and exhausted, I shivered as the wind whipped through me. I shuffled to our truck, every step sending shock waves of pain, bursts of fire, through my foot.  When we got back to the house, I had to lean on Gary to get from the truck to the house because I couldn’t put any pressure on my foot at all.

I had finished the race.  I ran through the pain and the tears, and I crossed the finish line just as I have done in every race I have ever entered.

I didn’t quit.

Why didn’t I quit?  This could be a post about perseverance and guts and determination, about how you have to keep going, keep moving, no matter what the odds or how much it hurts.  But that night after the Super Spartan I asked myself “why didn’t I quit?” and none of that came to mind, none of it made any sense in comparison to how much pain I was in.  It was an endurance event.  It wasn’t life or death.  It doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life.  While there were no permanent repercussions or no life changing injuries,  there could have been.  I could have seriously hurt myself by refusing to quit when my body was screaming at me to stop.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t quit and I didn’t seriously injure myself.

And so it came to be that the very next weekend I found myself contemplating running a half marathon.

My husband and I have run a half marathon in Virginia Beach every Labor Day for more than ten years.  The first year I signed up for it I had to bow out because I was experiencing periods of light-headedness and my doctor had advised against the run.  I realized this year that if a doctor told me something like that now I wouldn’t listen to her, but that year I did.  I remember how sad I was at the start line, watching Gary line up for a race that I had spent the entire summer training for.  I didn’t want to feel that way again, but by Wednesday of last week I made the decision not to run the half marathon.  It was the right decision.  It was the smart decision.  And yet … when we went to the Race Expo the day before the half marathon I almost convinced myself it was okay to run it.  It took every ounce of everything I had to keep on remembering how much pain I had been in during and after the Super Spartan.  It also took everything not to focus on how the day after the Super Spartan I was walking almost normally again.

I may be too stupid or stubborn to quit, but this time, knowing that, I was smart enough not to start.

I chose this topic because I wanted to figure out why I don’t quit during an endurance event.  I thought that if I could live my life the way I finish a race I would be unstoppable.  When I started this blog post I was thinking about all of the ways that I quit on myself, all of the times I have taken the easy way out.  The times where I’ve given up and let the bus take me to the finish line.

But in writing that last line I realize that’s not quite the true picture.  What has happened every single time I’ve quit on myself is that I have taken the bus back to the start line. 

John Bingham bills himself as The Penguin, an adult-onset athlete who runs races from the back of the pack.  I am paraphrasing his famous quote here:

The miracle isn’t that I finished.

The miracle is that I had the courage to start … again.

So I quit, sometimes for weeks on end, but then I start again, just as I always have.  Just as I always will. 

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