A runner’s choice to push their body and mind to the brink must seem unfathomable from the outside looking in, but there is something about the sufferfest that keeps us returning.
We need not look any further than Amy Cragg’s performance in Tokyo over the weekend where she ran 2:21:42, knocking six minutes off her personal best time, while also showing the world the face of an athlete determined to achieve her goals, despite the pain.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow! It was a painful finish but definitely worth it yesterday,” wrote Cragg in an Instagram post featuring a photo of herself clearly uncomfortable, yet focused and determined to cease the moment and run the fastest marathon of her life.
Cragg had been working towards this performance for months leading into Tokyo, where one can imagine she had her fair share of pain-inducing workouts. Post-race, the Bowerman Track Club – the team Cragg trains with – posted a photo of her pushing through the discomfort. The post read, “It wasn’t easy, but Amy smashed her PR by nearly six minutes (6!) and took third place in Tokyo! 2:21:42 is now #5 all-time in the US. A just reward for a winter of hard work.”
She had a goal and she was determined to reach it, and in that I believe there’s part of the answer to why runners put themselves through the pain.
It’s not only in those racing moments, but in weekly training that the choice is made to put one’s self into a position of being uncomfortable; choosing to make your lungs burn, legs quiver and mind flutter between doubt and determination. But ultimately, it’s the determination that wins that battle, you get through the suffering and you are rewarded with knowing you’ve either achieved your goals or moved yourself closer to doing so.
I found myself thinking about this while doing some fartleks on the treadmill last week. With nobody around me, no specific training plan, or workouts on my schedule I continuously found myself compelled to push into that uncomfortable place. By no means did I completely go to the well as Cragg did in Tokyo (those efforts have to be reserved), but I was still drawn to pushing myself even though at this point in training there’s no real need to do so.
I searched my mind for the answer as to why I consistently make the choice to push. Sidenote: This is something that has to be kept in check, or injuries will prevail, as I’ve learned. As I thought about why I’m compelled to find that red line, it became evident that it’s the challenge, combined with having my goals in mind. Sure, it would be easy to sit at comfortable pace on the treadmill day in and day out, but I would be miserable. I love the pursuit of something difficult and working towards the goals I set out before myself. I think this is a common thread that weaves runners together, and keeps us coming back for more no matter the depth of the sufferfest.