Don’t Quit Before…

Every physical activity we participate in is chock full of lessons that we can apply to various aspects of our lives. I can honestly say that I’d credit at least half of my emotional development the past ten years to the physical challenges that I have put myself through.

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t learn something about myself in a yoga class. In yesterday morning’s sweaty ninety minute session, I realized that I can really sell myself short if I allow myself to project my expectations over something, rather than just doing my best and seeing where that takes me. As many of you know I was out of commission for almost ten days with a serious flu. This past week was all about just getting back to moving again. Seeing that in the week prior, all I could keep down was broth, I was really lacking in energy and completing my normal workouts was out of the question. It was a good opportunity for me to have some compassion for myself, which is not something I’m always able to do. I was grateful to get in two three-mile interval runs during the week. They were tough and also slower than normal, but it felt great to sweat and exert myself. Saturday was my first yoga class in almost two weeks. I walked in super cautious and honestly expecting to have to sit out of some postures. Something happened though when we started the second set of our first breathing exercise–I realized that although I did feel fatigued, I also felt like I could keep going. I ended up not sitting out of any postures and I ended class feeling stronger than when I walked in. It was a pretty cool feeling. Especially considering there are times when I walk in feeling healthy and full of energy, and leave feeling whooped. It really is all about taking one day–even one hour, at a time.

Running has been the other activity that’s always been full of lessons for me. Training for the marathon last year really changed me forever. I’m in awe of people who train for marathons all the time cause for me the emotional drain might outweigh even the physical one. The process is just not one I could live through year-round.

That being said, being so sick recently has had me thinking about marathon training a lot. More specifically, it’s had me reminiscing about the race itself. Those of you that have been following along with me for a while might remember that after my race I called bullshit on all those people who told me at the end of training, “the hard part is over, it’s all downhill from here!” I found running the actual marathon, really fucking hard. I had trained well. I was prepared. And still–26.2 miles remained, and they were brutal.

When I was sick this time I fell into a brief but deep depression. I had a fever that lasted five days. After day three, a feeling of hopelessness that I couldn’t shake set in. I was taking and doing all the things that were supposed to make me better, but nothing was working. I felt so weak that getting up to go to the bathroom became this monstrous physical feat. That made me feel crazy. I realized that physicality and the ability to move is such an integral part of my life. I started to get some pretty grave thoughts–like if I ever had cancer, I decided I wouldn’t be able to handle chemo. The thought of feeling that sick and that weak for such a long time sounded impossible. I started to consider that maybe there was something that survivors have in them that I don’t. I had always thought that I was strong–but in the thick of my illness, I called my own bullshit. My strength wasn’t legit if I could only employ it when I felt it.

Days after my flu the fog lifted and I began to contemplate all of these thoughts that had gone through my head when I was under the weather. I had to work through them. Finally back at work I told more than one co-worker my chemo predicament, and how I had decided that cancer was a death sentence for me. Some tried to act understanding. All of them voiced how crazy they thought I was. I listened as a few who knew me well declared that they weren’t convinced–that they were sure I would fight to stay alive if I had to. They thought I was strong.

With all of this swirling around in my head, those 26.2 miles came roaring back. And when I recalled the last 6.2 miles, that’s when I remembered the stuff that I’m really made of. You see I feel like no one ever really accurately describes those last miles. How can they? They may be different for everyone. What they were for me was a combination of physical and mental anguish that I never knew existed. You see running is something that has always made me feel strong. For years I never ran more than the half marathon–and at the distance, I can train to be at a place where at the end, even if I have struggled, I can dig deep, and push out faster miles than when I started. The marathon distance was a completely different beast for me. And I didn’t know it until I was there. My 20 miler in training was kick-ass. I was sure I would breeze through the last six miles, no problem. But when I got to that point in the race, I felt like I had entered a torture chamber. Gone was any semblance of feeling of strength. I felt weak, and tired, and my body was screaming, what the fuck are you doing, STOP! Inside my head was even worse. I thought I was so mentally prepared–but I was not ready for my mind to feel so schizophrenic. My desire to detach from reality and escape was stronger than it had ever been since I’d been sober; all I wanted was to not be where I was.

It wasn’t like I thought it would be. That feeling of digging deep I was used to was not the same–because when I reached down, there was nothing for me to hold on to. I was empty. I scrounged around inside myself–desperate for anything that I could use to get me through the hell that I had been stupid enough to voluntarily sign up for (that thought killed me those last 6 miles!). In the end, I don’t know that I had anything except for one thought: The only way out is forwardSure I thought of my family, and my friends, and all the years I had waited to fulfill this dream. But honestly, all of that is what got me to the starting line, and the first twenty miles. Those last steps were taken on stuff I didn’t know that I had–and that I am still not sure what to call. Whatever it was though, is what I’m quite sure would have me fighting if I ever really got sick. It’s some sort of knowledge that the only thing I can do is put one foot in front of the other. It’s the knowing that despite the absence of the strength I think is required to get where I want to go, I do have the might for just one more step, and then maybe another.

I’m one of those obnoxious people who never thinks anything is a coincidence; I am always sure that everything is happening for a reason. I spend a lot of time trying to identify what those reasons are, attempting to learn from whatever life is throwing at me at the time. Being sick sucked, big time. But in the weeks before it, I was feeling like Super Woman. I was getting stronger in the weight room and was having some really powerful, short, fast, and fun runs. I’ve even been working closer with one of my yoga teachers on tweaking some of my postures and have been feeling gains in areas I wasn’t even really attuned to before. I was feeling strength in all the ways that I’m accustomed to–all the ways that I prefer. Getting sick was a great reminder that strength can look and feel a lot of different ways. I keep thinking of that Nelson Mandela quote about fear:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it…”

Similarly, I think strength is not the absence of weakness–but the will to conquer it, no matter how long and arduous the battle.

I walked into that yoga class yesterday thinking I was beat before I even got started. I walked out feeling like a champ. Four months ago I felt like I had nothing in the last miles of that marathon. Then I crossed the finish line, and I had everything. 

Stick with it. I guess that’s my lesson. Don’t quit before the miracle happens. Just don’t. x

 

header cred: brannon naito

34 thoughts on “Don’t Quit Before…

  1. Great post! I have found that the drive, determination, and strength to be better, to fight, and go forward can quickly turn in the wrong direction if I let myself think the way I used to when addiction and anorexia ruled my life. And it is so much harder to climb out of that hole than it is to fall in. And it is even harder when really sick. Movement is huge for me too. It’s like my body gets bummed out and my mind follows along. I hope you have fully recovered from the flu. Flu season has been so bad this year. Take care! : )

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  2. Gahhh, LOVE this and relate so much!!!! The biggest thing I focused on going in to BQ training was strengthening my mental game–for all the reasons you mentioned. My coach was huge on stressing the last 6 miles and channeling all that I’d learned for when things would hurt the most. As I’ve grown as a runner, I’ve come to in some ways, welcome the pain–like it’s when I feel the most alive. I talk to myself, “hello pain, there you are.” This weekend was the farthest I’ve pushed and fought against it; I was very close to hallucinating or passing out (or both, really). Anyway, amazing post. ❤

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    1. Your journey is seriously so inspiring Helly! I’ve been thinking I might be a one and done as far as marathons. But after I read your post I found myself shrugging my shoulders and saying “eh, you never know.” I think I need to develop that muscle that allows me to welcome more pain–running a marathon definitely introduced me to a new level I wasn’t aware of!
      Congrats again, so happy for you!! Yay BQ!

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  3. This past weekend was my third Gasparilla Ultra Challenge (30.4 miles – 4 races – 2 days) and the worst yet. I think the heat and lack of sleep or who knows what just did me in. I was going to finish what I started, but I was so wiped that I walked the last 3 miles of the 8k. I still completed the challenge, not the way I expected but it was done. I still have yet to sign up for a marathon after what happened with Chicago, but I’m positive that I’m not going to training the heat and humidity like before.

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    1. I wouldn’t say walking the last 3 miles is not finishing what you started! Life you said-just happened in a different way than you planned! That is a serious amount of running in some serious heat–I am always impressed by all the miles you put in in those conditions. Don’t sell yourself short!

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      1. Thanks Cat!! I was looking back at the last 2 years and the temp has gradually increased each year!!! I’m hoping to take it slow this summer and concentrate on more beach time and more strength training.

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  4. Hi Cat
    I don’t think I could do a marathon, not even sure it is on my to do list. But the one thing that really makes me smile at my own sheer bloody mindedness, is that whenever I run and am going for a planned distance, I always have to run for more. I always have to run until it hurts – it has to be all out and not just some effort.
    Sometimes I have to talk to myself (out loud and yes it scares passers-by) to keep going, yes I swear at my body and my feeble mindedness. But every time it’s one of those really hard runs, the feeling of tranquility afterwards tells me more about me than anything else.
    Running through the limits helps me deal with life. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that my Alzheimer’s Running Challenge is foolish because I have not been a runner for long enough, nor done the distance. Those limitations are in their heads, not mine…
    Running like life is as much done in the head as in the legs.

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    1. Ha Jan! I talk to myself out loud when I run too! I think one of my favorite things about running is that i lose all my inhibitions.
      I like that you always run a bit more than your planned distance–i get that. I think I do that too–it’s not always a lot more, but just a little more effort.
      And i think you are so right, running through those limits certainly translates into life. Running can teach us so much–regardless of the distance!

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  5. At first I thought this was your way of announcing you were running another marathon this year, haha.

    I get what you mean. I admit that I’ve quit some running endeavors over the years, but I’ve never quit marathon training or quit a marathon race. Even this past summer training for Chicago, when I was undertrained, under motivated and likely to run a crappy (for me) time (which I did) – I think there’s something to be said about finishing what I start. Not being adequately prepared was something I felt like I needed to own.

    That said, I also paid an arm and a leg for the race and the hotel so I felt like I couldn’t back out even if I wanted to. The training mileage was miserable and if Chicago had a half marathon option I’m almost certain I would have dropped down.

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    1. Nah girl–no marathon this year, that is a promise! I will say though, like a month ago I was really thinking, yeah, I definitely could be a one and done. Then lately I have been reading all these blogs of people qualifying for Boston and I’ve felt incredibly inspired. Not inspired to qualify for Boston but just motivated by their commitment–how they started so far from where they needed to be and just worked and worked and got there. Their journeys have just made me believe in humans so much, and our capacity for growth and our ability to improve. It’s special. It makes me think “alright, just take one day at a time girl, and never say never–just keep moving forward and see where life takes you.”

      I like what you’ve said about owning your ill-preparedness. I feel like you are always big on that–owning your shit. We all need to do that I think!

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      1. I have been jonesin a bit lately, too. Not for this year – so not ready for another round of marathon training yet! – but I’ve been reminiscing and getting nostalgic about Chicago and wanting to run it again. For a while I wanted to run a local marathon this fall but I remembered to “play the tape all the way through”, as you said – if I’m going to think about the high of the finish line, I also must think of how hard it is to do 2+ hour runs EVERY weekend and run 40 miles a week all summer long, in the sweltering humidity, always feeling tired and like I lack free time, etc. If I’m gonna commit to that finish line medal I have to commit to ALL that goes with it.

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  6. I can’t even imagine running a whole marathon. I half trained for one once and I think I cried after 8 miles haha. The most I’ve run is a 5K with my sister, and it was the fun kind with glow in the dark necklaces, tutus, and music! 😜
    But I love the lesson about not quitting when the going gets tough. I feel that ALL THE TIME with acting and writing. Like just F this! But every growing pain I go through just makes me better. Everything else will eventually catch up! “Don’t quit before that miracle happens” gave me chills and is quite synchronistic (is that a word?) because I’m revisting the book “A Course in Miracles” right now to reprogram my thinking and do just that!

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    1. The first time I saw that message “Don’t quit before the miracle happens”, it was painted with a rainbow on a concrete wall of a church basement. I hadn’t been to a church in like 15 years–now I am in them all the time for AA meetings. Life is funny. I think I’ll remember that wall for the rest of my life. I was sitting there like, “Where the fuck am i, what is this life?” And then I saw that sign and immediately felt at ease–I knew as crazy as my surroundings looked to me, I was in the right place. They use that don’t quit line in recovery all the time–I find myself repeating it to newcomers all the time cause it’s something i held onto so strongly in the beginning and still use now. I try to remember the rainbow when I’m in that storm.

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  7. This is something my parents stressed over and over. We were never allowed to quit. We didn’t like softball? Then we wouldn’t sign up next year, but we were too finish this year. My parents said that when we signed up, we made a promise to the team, coach, and ourselves, that we would do this, that a promise like that wasn’t to be taken lightly.

    Quitting gymnastics was the hardest decision I have ever made. My parents understood my reasoning and drove me to the gym so I could tell my coach in person that I quit. Since gymnastics is a year-round sport (and we weren’t in the middle of the meet season), my parents supported my decision. Still thinking about it brings so many thoughts to my head. A part of my feels like a failure because I wasn’t able to stick it out and a receive a college scholarship, but I know I made the right decision that day because my body was in process of breaking.

    However, despite leaving gymnastics, I still view quitting as not a viable option. Unless serious I suffer serious or injury death, my resolve to reach my goal does not waver.

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    1. It’s funny, I think that was the emphasis of a lot of parents–and probably still is. I think it’s an imperative things to teach and a valuable idea to have in your heart and your brain–it’s great to be a person who doesn’t give up.
      That being said, I actually think that as an adult, I have had to learn that sometimes it is really ok to quit–and even wise. I’ve followed through with some dumb shit in my life that really didn’t serve me, all in the name of not quitting. Older and hopefully slowly getting a little wiser now as well!

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  8. Lovely. I can relate to that feeling and have only run one marathon: checked it off the bucket list and went back to running 10-milers, 10K’s and halfs. They are still an accomplishment but not so hard on the body… Getting rest and self-care is super important whenever we get sick. The body can take a LOT of stress, but it breaks down when stressed too much over time. If we allowed ourselves more of a seasonal approach to training and rest, I think we would be better off. There are seasons to strive, and there are seasons to recover and rejuvenate. When we respect this balance of nature, we seem to thrive more long-term.

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    1. I need to find a 10 miler– I’ve never raced one, but I LOVE that distance. Just long enough but nothing crazy! I am with you, I just don’t want to be that hard on my body all the time–it’s definitely communicated to me that it prefers less mileage and other types of conditioning, so I am trying to listen to that! I think you and I seem to be on the same page. I am really grateful that my body allows me to push it and it will take on all sorts of extra stress–but in turn, I want to respect it and nurture it and not put it through that all the time. And for just as you say–for the long term. I want to be logging miles for as long as I can–even if it means shorter runs!

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  9. You are right, there is no way to really prepare for those last 6 miles of a marathon. For me, miles 18-22 are the worst. But everyone is different. I was lucky in my first marathon to have a friend jump out of the crowd at mile 20 and run the last 6 with me. I was lucky in my last marathon that the last 6 miles were net downhill. You just never know. My worst one was in the rain and I honestly thought I’d die from mile 13 on. Each one is different, almost as if they are different distances. You are so right not to quit until the end…because you just never know what you’ll get to experience!

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    1. How many marathons did you run Dawn?! Always sounds to me like you had quite the career, really impressive.
      Ugh–you know I hate the rain–I was so bummed when it rained during mine! You are right though–I made it till the end, and it really was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything!

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  10. tim

    Great piece Cat,

    Those last miles are where ALL of the magic happens even though they may be like a living hell. You can think that you know about yourself but it is only when you step ‘beyond’ and ‘through’ that you really learn something. When I look back on my first marathon (which had me sitting in a chair at 23 miles being offered a lift to the finish on a quad-bike) I am SO glad that I struggled like I did because I learned far more from that suffering and from overcoming it than I would ever have done from just running smoothly all the way to the finish line (which I have also done).

    I’ve noticed that whatever distance I am running there is always a point where I have absolutely had enough. When I ran a 50 miler it was at 32ish miles, when I ran a 30 miler it was at 19ish miles, in marathons it has been anywhere from 16-23 miles (and it happens with shorter distances too). I think your brain knows what you have set out to achieve and at about 60% of the way through it tells you it’s had enough and starts to shut you down. The magic occurs when you push through this point, a process that can take quite some time/distance. But it’s worth it – you discover that there is so much more to give and so much more to learn.

    I reckon that most of live our lives in the zone of that first 60% (I know that I do most of the time), and, like you, I think having had the experience of forcing myself to squeeze out some of the remaining 40% is an invaluable lesson and one to bring to mind whenever things seem like they might be getting tough.

    Good luck!

    Tim

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    1. Hey Tim! So wonderful to hear from you! Everything you’ve said here is really so spot on. It is the ‘beyond’ and ‘through’. It’s not an area that you can practice going through–whether it’s miles or just hard shit that life throws at you–you can’t really know it till you’re forced to face it, right?
      I remember you telling me about that first marathon of yours –it was a brutal story, but honestly, I got it right away–I related to it cause so much of my life has been that way. The struggle–the suffering, it’s what has built me–it’s taught me everything. Smooth sailing sounds ideal but I can’t imagine I’d understand what I do so far about life it that’s the way things tended to go for me. I learn from the bumps–always have and at this point, should always expect to I guess!

      I am SO glad you’ve said this about the 60%, it makes so much sense. I’m thinking maybe this theory is why I had such a great run on Sunday! I’ve been sick so I got on the treadmill with zero expectations. I thought, if I get two miles in–great. More–great. I ended up running 5 with a solid 2.5 miles at tempo pace. It felt like I never got to that shut down point because my brain had no expectations!
      Pushing myself to live in that 40% more often, I think that’s really the challenge. You see I ran the one marathon and I’m like–“oh boy, no more of that!”. I guess if I’m not going to force myself to do it in running I’ve got to push in other places.
      Thanks Tim. this was great. x

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  11. I still haven’t had an easy marathon – I keep waiting but it never happens! My current solution is to aim for Ultras in order to make the marathon feel shorter haha 🙂

    Great post – as ever you inspire me to keep focus and keep working. I’m going to need that over the next month of training…!!

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  12. I kind of wish you could do a second marathon because the second one is SO MUCH easier than the first for many people – the training you just need to get distance ramped up because you know how to feed yourself, the race you know you’ve done before. The horrible emotional rollercoaster also evens out. BUT I know it’s not for everyone.

    Also, flu depression is a thing and doesn’t mean all those thoughts are valid once you’re recovered. You know that you don’t know what you can do until you’re having to do it. I’ve always been the biggest medical wuss in the world and hate being depleted, but I got through unsuccessful fertility treatment (honestly the worst bit was the treatment not the unsuccess) and a middling-seriousness operation last year that had me spending six months knowing I could have cancer, and I survived both just by pushing on, one day at a time (not said lightly, I know what that phrase means).

    Glad yoga went well and you have been mindful of self-care. I’m embarking on my More Sleep Until The Marathon programme now, which is all about that. It’s a good and strong way to be. You’ve got this, whatever it might be.

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    1. I haven’t sworn off marathons forever Liz ;). I just know they are not something I want to do on the regular. It’s been the biggest gift though–to have that monkey off my back. Now that I’ve done it, I can enjoy running and explore all the sport has to offer and all it gives to me. I believe you that it gets better–it makes sense. Almost everything improves with practice, right?
      You’re def right-we don’t know what we are capable of until we are forced to step up to the plate. A friend and I were talking about this the other day. She was saying that there is no way she would be able to step up like these kids in Florida have after the shooting at their school. I basically told her just what you said–that you don’t really know until it happens, we are capable of things that we could never plan or even think of.

      Yes, MORE SLEEP! I remember you emphasizing this big time when I was getting down to the wire. Hope you are able to get into a nice sleep groove–you’re right, it’s restorative and so key!

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