Persistence versus talent; there is a big difference between the two. Many runners today are extremely talented and have known nothing but their wild talent. I have a friend who recently started running. He’s in his early 30’s and has been admiring race photos and running from afar. One day he decided to go out for a run. Out of nowhere, this guy is crushing half marathons at a pace less than 7 minutes a mile. There has been no training, no weeks of progressive improvement; just out the door, running 13.1 miles in less than 1.5 hours.
I am not a talented runner. Genetics did little for me athletically and I am not, by nature, fast. During my 7th grade cross country season I always finished last. Literally last, at every.single.race. My first 10k and half marathon were desperate attempts to make it to the finish line without crying (or dying). I kept working at it, though. Not necessarily to get better, but because I enjoyed it so much.
For awhile, I developed a competitive side and worked really hard to increase my speed. I enjoyed (and still do enjoy!) placing in my age group. However, I’m definitely much slower than I was in my early 20’s. Heck, I’m much slower than I was just 3-5 years ago. Perhaps it’s the ongoing issue I have in my left hamstring, perhaps it’s the natural aging process, or perhaps it’s because I never turn down the opportunity to indulge in pizza and beer (hey, you gotta live, ya know?) And though I may be slower, I still head out for every run and complete the mileage requirements on my training plan (including last Saturday’s lengthy 24-miler. Bah!)
The people I admire the most are the athletes that have to work really hard to be elite. I love the ones who embrace their lack of talent and acknowledge their unending persistence. (Of course I love watching the ones with raw talent compete as well – it’s incredible. And I’m not suggesting that those who are extremely talented don’t have to work hard.) Perhaps it’s because I can identify more with the persistent ones or maybe it’s because it gives them a personable side to their fame. Whatever the reason, they’re my favorite athletes in the field to follow. They are the ones who do it for the love of the sport.
We are all well versed with the life metaphors that running creates for us and persistence is no exception to that. Most things in my life are a result of me being persistent and finding ways to accomplish things when they were seemingly impossible. My husband and I own our home because of persistence. I have my master’s and a wonderful job because of persistence. I continue to run marathons because I am persistent.
Strangely enough, people have a tendency to give up when they are the closest they’ve ever been to achieving a goal. It’s usually that last bit at the end that is the hardest. The last year of my master’s program was the hardest; I had to work full-time, intern 24 hours per week, and handle a class load. I considered taking the year off to give myself a break, but I didn’t. I powered through, painfully and full of complaints (just ask my husband). Similarly, the last bit of a marathon training plan is the hardest. You’re running 20+ mile long runs and often more than 45 miles per week. It’s exhausting, time consuming, and can be downright annoying to spend all your free time running. However, I personally believe there is no feeling quite like crossing the finish line of a marathon.
During my first marathon I panicked at mile 18. My legs felt like they weighed 80 pounds each and I was drained of energy. At this stage of my marathon running, I had no idea how to fuel for a distance that long. At that point I remember desperately hoping I would get hit by a car so I wouldn’t have to keep running. Somehow, I continued to place one foot in front of the other. My panic and feelings of despair lasted for four miles. Then suddenly at mile 22, I got a second wind. I came to the realization that I was actually going to finish. I clearly remember thinking, “Holy shit. I’m going to be a marathoner. I’m going to do this.” And I did. Finishing something that hard when I wanted nothing more than to stop has made all the difference in everything else in my life. The greatest lesson I have learned from marathon running is to be excessively persistent.