Monday, March 19, 2012

26kms of hell

It was Saturday evening. I was in Stettler speaking at an event on behalf of Kidsport when the ice rain started to shatter down. It was thick and heavy and I knew that I would be spending an unexpected night in small town Alberta…I didn't even have a toothbrush!

I had planned to meet up with Martin again at 8:30am on Sunday to venture out on a 26km training run. Sadly, because of the weather, I wouldn’t make it back into Calgary until nearly noon the next day. Even more sadly, I had to embark on the long running adventure by myself.

When I finally arrived home twelve hours later than I planned, I felt a lot of resistance. Going out on your longest run ever is a little intimidating - especially when you know that you will be your only company. I was also worried that sitting in the car for 6 hours over the course of the past 14 hours would have an adverse affect on my running ability. Your legs don't have the same skip when they feel like concrete bricks.

I was trying my best to stay positive, but I could feel the negative voice getting loud. I decided I was going to stop thinking about it and just do it, so I ate a quick bagel, filled up my handheld water bottle, packed a bag of craisins, kissed Kristin and Cooper goodbye and headed out the door – knowing that sometimes the hardest part is the starting part.

Once out the door, I located the satellite on my Garmin and started on my trek. I felt a bit heavy. My legs were stiff from the drive and my right foot felt a bit tight in the arch. Nothing I couldn’t warm up and brush off though, I thought. I also felt my mind was jumping everywhere – maybe two long drives and one long run was going to be a few too many hours inside my own head!

After 5km's, I got into a groove. My back started to sweat and I could feel the warmth of the blood running through my veins. I was listening to an "iprocrastinate" podcast, trying to gain some new tools to combat my evil little procrastination demon when he rears his ugly head. At that point, life was good…except the tightness in my right foot wasn't going away. "Meh", I thought, "maybe it needs a little more time to warm up".  

The next 8K started to grind on me and I wasn't in my top mental space. I was succumbing to weakness and started to feel pretty sorry for myself. At the 13km mark (halfway), I was a mess. It was a gradual decent and I can't really identify the tipping point. All I know is that my right foot had severely cramped, I had run out of water and all I could think of was how desperately I wished I was more than half way done. It felt like I was torturing myself and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and feel sorry for poor little me. My foot was aching, I was tired, thirsty and alone. My podcast began annoying me. I was choking on my craisins. Not a good place to be when you still have 13km's to run! Someone needed to call the Wah-mbulance! 

At this point, I had a conversation with myself. I knew that I needed to push through and that although the option of giving up was present, I just couldn't accept that as my fate for today. This was going to be one of those rare moments in life where my choice would play a distinct role in defining my character and sense of self respect. 

And this was the exact reason why I decided to train for this marathon – I wanted to show myself courage in the face of adversity and push through when things were difficult. I wanted to show myself strength and the ability to persist. I wanted to overcome the negative self-talk that sometimes clouds my mind. I didn’t decide to take on this challenge so I could give up and not give a shit. I decided to take it on because it was going to help me grow and find new thresholds for my life.

I focused in and charged on, but I've got to admit that those last 13km’s were a nearly unbearable battle between good and evil. There were some pretty graphic phrases going through my mind and I was nearly in tears for the final 6km’s because I just wanted it to be over. On multiple occasions, I was holding on by a thread, dangling on the verge of giving up. My willpower and character were being deeply tested and it was very interesting to hold up the mirror and see what I was made of. Happily, there was a part of me that just wouldn't give in. I was going to find a way and that gave me great strength. 

When the run was over, I felt relief like I had never felt in my life. It was as if I had been running from a bear and finally it decided to stop chasing me. I felt proud that I pushed through. I've got to admit, it was very hard to focus on the accomplishment of running my furthest distance yet because the arch in my foot felt like it might combust. A part of me felt like a 6 year old who didn’t get their way in the grocery store. I wanted to wail and have everyone around me take notice that I just suffered. I wanted my hero cookie with extra icing and sprinkles on top. But then I realized that there wasn’t going to be a parade. There would be no procession and no fan mail. There would be no applause from an audience of admirers. This was not one of those victories that would be noticed by anyone else. This was completely a personal victory - the value was held in my acknowledging and knowing it within myself. 

We often face these moments in our lives where giving up is an option. We always have a choice of whether we push through or we call it a day. It takes strength and courage to reach deep inside of ourselves and to find a way to continue. And I am firm believer that each time we do this, we add fuel to our fire. I am also a firm believer that we need to have a reason to endure. If we don’t have a goal and we don’t have respect for ourselves, then giving up is easy. The repercussions of this are minimal and manageable. So what?! You didn’t pull through. That's OK because it doesn’t really affect anything. But when you are deeply dedicated to a goal, especially a physical one, and you skip a training session or you leave some of your effort on the sidelines, then you can be faced with the horrible glaring stare of “what if”. On game day, on race day, on whatever day, you never want to look back and know that on that one day when you made the choice to give in, that that day could have been the day that made all the difference.

I pushed through 26km’s and it sucked. It sucked more than almost any other physical challenge I've ever faced in my life has sucked. But what pushing through did for me was it gave me a sense of respect and confidence in myself. It added fuel to my fire and gave me new character. It was 26km's of hell, but I survived. And I feel like I grew because of it. 


Hilary said...

I just got a chance to read this, Kyle... wow! I know this feeling, as it relates both to running and cycling, and you express it so well. It gives me motivation to push on through next time I hit that wall. Well done!

Kyle Shewfelt said...

Thanks for visiting, Hil!

When we push our limits, we're gonna hit walls - it's kind of a guarantee :) The most important thing is how we react in the face of adversity and how resourceful we are in finding ways to triumph. Sport (and yoga!) is a true metaphor for life…