So during the latter half of my 32-km run last week, I was feeling very, very crappy. They say that actions affect attitude; what you do affects your thoughts, so if you want to be a good person, do good things, and do bad things if you want to be a bad person, and so on. In this case, the way my body was feeling–the sore muscles, the aching feet, the sweating, the creaking joints–was starting to affect me, and negative thoughts started bubbling up in the cauldron of my mind.
Run Phase 3: The Existential, Please-Let-This-End Phase
This is the part where I started feeling deep regret. Well, that’s for lack of a better word. If there’s a word for when you want to kill your past self for deciding on something (e.g., signing up for a 32-km race) that’s affecting you negatively now, I don’t know it.
At this point, using my legs was like riding a horse whose previous owner had abused it terribly: they couldn’t do what I wanted them to do, and they groaned and wobbled with each step. I would think “why am I running a route that just takes me back to where I started?” and “I could have passed all these places at a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the price I paid registering for this race by just taking public transportation”, and “What do I get from this? Bragging rights? I’m no bragger, so what’s the point?”. These thoughts passed through me, fueled by the lactic acid building up in my body.
Around me, other runners were struggling too, though some less than others. I noticed the ones who still had a decent gait and form were generally the ones wearing compression socks. I have never tried them, because they were too pricey for my taste, and I wanted to finish the race without any special equipment beyond the clothes on my back and the shoes on my feet. I suppose I secretly always thought compression socks were an unfair advantage for some reason, though really, if I had the income to pay for them, I probably would pay for that edge.
Every step was a cruel, taunting thing: there was so much effort and strain involved for very, very little return. I wouldn’t say I was in pain, necessarily, but the soreness in my legs made it damned close. Still, I knew that every time I lifted a foot and put it down, it brought me closer to the goal I’d set, took me further from the other runners I’d left behind (yes, I can be kind of competitive), and gave me a little bit more Stoic pride.
A bit of digression: the Stoic philosophy is based on the idea that your circumstances don’t matter, but your perceptions of and reactions to your circumstances do. So it doesn’t matter how painful or excruciating an experience is, as long as you can tackle it with an attitude of indifferent resilience. Stoics aren’t “meh” people like a lot of folks think they are; they’re actually very, very mentally strong. In fact, some of the most famous stoics in history actively sought out struggle, bathing in the coldest waters, eating only simple food, and even wearing ridiculous-looking clothing in order to steel themselves against the worst physical, mental, and emotional stresses that life could throw at them (even if it wasn’t throwing it at them yet).
As we runners plodded along Buendia in the early morning June heat, crossing the South Luzon Expressway half-dead in sweat and dirt, some half-naked and wearing their shirts as makeshift sweatbands, most of us grunting instead of speaking and dousing ourselves in water at every hydration station, I knew in my heart that we must have been the very picture of Stoicism.
The last 5 km was just me walking, plodding towards the finish line, back to where we had begun. 7 AM had come and gone, and I’d resigned myself to the fact that miracles don’t happen. You don’t post a sub-4.5 time for a 32-km race unless you put in the work for months beforehand, which I had not. So I put myself in a state of determined resignation, taking my sore muscles and creaking joints on a 45-minute excursion to the end. I was both sadist and masochist. Each step was torture, but it was torture I willingly inflicted upon myself and accepted from myself. Such a pain, but damn it, it was an ordeal that I would see through.
Skinny guys passed me. Fat men passed me. Younger ladies passed me. Older women passed me. I didn’t care anymore. One line from the Bazz Luhrmann classic sunscreen song echoed in my head: “The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself”.
At the end, they were handing out medals for the 32-km finishers. When I signed up for this race, the medal was such a powerful incentive. But right then and there, in my exhausted and frustrated state, it just seemed like they were rewarding me for nearly killing myself going over that distance by presenting me with a lovely lump of metal, which I could hang around my neck like the most beautiful burden in the world.
I wonder how many kings developed physical defects from wearing heavy crowns all the time?
Post-Mortem: Alchemizing Poison into Ambrosia
So the experience I had is arguably one of the worst I’ve ever gone through. But as I drove home, thinking about it, it was still a positive experience. If nothing else, it taught me the value of resilience: push, push, and push, and you’ll get to your goal, however weak or ugly the finish.
It gave me a reason to believe in my potential a little more: if I could finish this challenge with minimal preparation, then there were probably a lot of other things I could do but I wasn’t letting myself try out of a misguided fear of failure.
It reminded me of the importance of preparation and consistency: if I’d continued my practice runs and core exercises instead of stopping them for a month, I’m sure I would’ve posted a much better PR.
And finally, it gave me a glimpse into the heart of people: different we were, from very varied walks of life, and yet we were all there taking on this race. The thirst for fulfillment, the drive to challenge ourselves, was something that brought us all together on that Sunday morning. It was a gathering that was more strenuous and less dignified than any religious mass could possibly be, but in a way, it was more fulfilling.