It is cold when I start and my body rebels in all the usual ways. The first five minutes are the worst, and then it’s like the cement between my joints finally warms and bends and I stop feeling like the Tin Man jolting my way down the street. The flap of my iPod cord and the shifting waistband of my pants retreats from the front of my mind, my breath deepens, my brain seems to realize that death is not yet imminent and the frantic messages to STOP THIS IMMEDIATELY quiet to the point where I can ignore them for now.

There is a sweet spot in running, and the more you do it, the better chance you have of widening that spot and staying inside it for longer. At least, this has been my experience. Maybe some people run inside it the entire time, like they’re encased in some glorious bubble where the oxygen stays rich and the muscles fresh. Me, I tend to suffer for a while, then I finally enter the spot, then all too quickly I run right out the other end and suffer my way home.

I wish I could set my brain to more creative pursuits while I am running, but mostly I think about the fact that I am running. I am digging around to find the reserves to keep going. Even when I trained for the marathon 2 years ago and learned to run for hours at a time, I pretty much spent all that time telling myself to keep going.

This isn’t pleasant, really. I am envious of people who can lose themselves in audiobooks or the scenery or their own wandering thoughts while the miles pass by. I feel like running is as mentally exhausting as flying through turbulence—those flights when you become convinced you are the one holding the plane aloft by the strength of your own fretting. Keep going, keep going, come on, come on.

Still, maybe that kind of running holds its own magic. You can do this, you can do this. Say it enough and you start to believe it. Say it enough and it stops just being about running.


44 Responses to “Learning to say it again”

  1. Ulli on October 17th, 2011 9:28 am

    Were you athletic as a kid? I totally wasn’t and when I work out, I am always focused on “getting to the end”, another quarter mile, watching the second tick. I even count on the treadmill the second between each “mileage tick”…it’s ridiculous.

    I wonder if people who kind of grew up athletic and did sports in school managed to get a different mindset out of it. I wish time would FLY by when I am working out, but nope, never does. Just suffer through it somehow. I totally feel better after and I am happy I did it and I know this about myself, but i do always wonder if life-long athletic folk, who did sports in high school, have a different mind around this.

  2. Fiona on October 17th, 2011 9:35 am

    Haha, I love how you tell it like it is…for me anyway. One thing I’ve done is ditch the iPod – oh the freedom from that flippin’ cord and having to run in time. One last glorious part is wanting to chuck my guts after 5K. And yet, there I am on the prom in Edinburgh every Saturday for the weekly parkrun. I love the cameraderie, the fact that 200+ people are there for the same purpose…and the scone and coffee afterwards. I’m a group runner, not a lone one, and realising that has been good. You and Doctormama were my inspirations – so thanks!

  3. Melissa on October 17th, 2011 9:39 am

    Maybe Ulli is right. I am completely non-athletic. So I spend most of my running waiting for the end. I’m running a 5k (my third) this Saturday and I’m really looking forward to it. I think I might do better because I plan to NOT listen to my music, but instead to take in the things around me during the race. I don’t think this will help my training runs, I get so bored so quickly, it’s like I’m a toddler. I find watching TV on the iPad distracts me enough to get through 20 minutes of running, if the show is decent enough, if not, I always end it early. I’m hoping the crowd around me and the costumes some will be wearing (I’m going as a bee!) will distract me and I can really push myself to improve my time, even just by a few seconds. You were my inspiration to start running over a year ago – you can so totally keep it up and find your sweet spot, there is no question.

  4. Claire on October 17th, 2011 9:52 am

    I know that glorious bubble and I am the same way: I can find it for a little while but not the entire run. I have come to enjoy running but mostly because I like having to push myself like that. It’s nice to know others feel this way. :)

  5. Ris on October 17th, 2011 10:08 am

    Every single time I go for a run I spend the first five minutes (at least) thinking “this is awful! why would I ever do a marathon? 26 miles of this?!” I somehow always forget that it gets much, much better. If I’m going for speed or a hard workout I do obnoxious, upbeat music. If I’m going for distance I can do a podcast, but usually toward the middle. I need music to get me through that first five (ten, fifteen) minutes, and usually on the home stretch too.

  6. Jessica on October 17th, 2011 10:09 am

    I am also really jealous of people who enjoy running. I started making myself do it and sometimes I don’t hate it, but I never really like it. Every time I run, about halfway through I wonder why the hell I’m doing something so unpleasant.

  7. Pete on October 17th, 2011 10:14 am

    I never found it either. The only thing I ever thought of while running is “Why am I blowing out my knees for this?” Now a long bike ride I can lose myself.

  8. Annie on October 17th, 2011 10:18 am

    I have good days and bad. Sometimes I can really push myself and I struggle and want to give up and JUST.WALK.FOR.A.SECOND, but then I push through it and feel like a total badass. Other days I just jog slowly and dont worry about how long it takes… those are the days where the bubble stays around me the longest.

  9. Lydia (@InhabitBeauty) on October 17th, 2011 10:46 am

    I’m a new runner – getting ready to finish the Couch to 5K program this week. It’s so nice to hear that “real” runners feel the same way I do. When I get to the middle of my run, when my car is at least 1.5 miles away, I think that I must be batshit crazy to try to do this. Then, it gets better. After the run is over I wonder to myself just why I was so whiny in my head through the whole thing. I’m searching for my sweet spot.

  10. Kate on October 17th, 2011 10:48 am

    Running is such a metaphor for life, isn’t it? You’ll get back to that bubble the more you do it. I’m kind of starting over too, after an extremely busy summer and a month long snot-fest. But I’ll get there and so will you. Cuz that bubble? Is magic.

  11. MRW on October 17th, 2011 11:08 am

    I was relatively athletic as a kid, teenager etc but I never got running, didn’t enjoy it, etc. Still, I find it’s the best way to get in good cardio shape within my allotted lunch time, so I do it fairly often. Still, every time I start I have to remind myself what a good friend who loves to run told me years ago: the first 5 minutes suck, if you can get through those it almost always gets better. I find that’s true for me about 85% of the time (the other 15% of the time, the run is just shit and never gets better). So I seem to spend the first 5 minutes of every run looking at my watch nearly constantly until it gets a little better.

  12. Lisa on October 17th, 2011 11:24 am

    I am envious of people who run. The only time I will run is when I am running for my life. I tried it and I don’t like it. A lot of people I know don’t like it either and yet they keep doing it. I don’t really understand why – there are so many other things to do.

  13. Paige on October 17th, 2011 11:35 am

    Oh how I feel your pain. I am currently training for my third half…I should be up to 6 miles by this point, but I’m still struggling with 3 and wondering how in god’s holy name I managed to run the previous two half marathons. I just can’t get over the “hump” to where I can run several miles without having to take a walk break every half mile, and it is SO frustrating!

  14. Jennie on October 17th, 2011 11:36 am

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

  15. Erika Peterson on October 17th, 2011 11:37 am

    Wow, it feels so good to read this. I am the exact same way. And now that I have a few half marathons and a full marathon under my belt, I have this crazy sense of guilt when I start back up from a hiatus – like, why the hell can’t I do 3 miles when I once did 26?! Which then makes me not want to run. It’s a vicious cycle.

  16. Erika on October 17th, 2011 12:33 pm

    So, this is actually about running, right? I don’t want to comment and then feel stupid. :)

  17. Käthe on October 17th, 2011 1:00 pm

    Yes, this is exactly what running has always been for me, and I once considered myself a runner. It is like childbirth. You can only look right in front of you, down at your feet, count each line on the sidewalk you cross, one at a time. There is no getting there until the work is done.

  18. Nicole on October 17th, 2011 1:05 pm

    I grew up being an athlete and went on to play basketball in college. All that doesn’t matter. Running just sucks I think. I’m like you where I cannot preoccupy my mind with anything but thinking of everything that hurts and finding excuses to stop or walk. It depends on the day..whether I drank enough water, slept enough, or just plain if I have motivation. I hope to find the secret one day!

  19. Amy on October 17th, 2011 1:11 pm

    After 12 years of marriage which stopped being good after about the first four, I finally left my husband. I feel as if that mental conversation is what I kept doing to get through it. To know that as much as it sucked, once I made it through to the other side, it would suck much less. It’s not easy, but I did it for my children and myself. I still sometimes have to keep saying, keep going, keep going, come on, come on. What you say is true of many things in life…not just running!!

  20. Frannie on October 17th, 2011 1:18 pm

    As a kid, I was always active and in sports and I ran cross country for a year in high school. I wasn’t the fastest girl on the team, nor did I have a typical “runner’s body” but just being active and getting better was most important for me.
    When I hit a block while running, I wonder what were my motivations before I ran my 15K just a month ago?f My subconscious seems to want to say, training is done. But it isn’t, of course. It’s a lifelong effort. I tell myself that longevity and health is work and something to maintain.
    For a couple of years I haven’t felt good about certain things in my life, and then I ran after I got the OK from the doc after having my baby. After having to take it easy for so long, I was really excited that I could finally run. The simplicity of it and prioritizing that has carried over into other aspects of my life, and I’ve grown happier for it. When other things take more priority in life other than myself and family, it shows. I often always struggle with mental fatigue, but there are ways to beat that.
    Running is supposed to clear the mind, right? It helps me focus on a single goal and to do my best. I really love music so I always use my iphone. It’s a habit so I feel like I’m missing my watch when I don’t have it on. Sometimes I take a break from timing myself, and just run to enjoy the outdoors, run in a group or do something different.
    What an awesome post!

  21. Tammie on October 17th, 2011 1:20 pm

    Me too. All of it. I keep trying to come up with other things I can think about or lose myself in while I’m running, but it only lasts for a minute or two and then I’m counting down the seconds until I can stop.
    I feel like this is some fundamental failure in myself, but on the other hand at least I’m doing it. I’m out there pounding the pavement 4 or 5 times a week and going a little bit farther each time, so there’s that.

  22. Tracy on October 17th, 2011 1:21 pm

    I know you run considerably faster than me and I wonder if that’s the difference. I have trouble motivating myself to go out, but once I’m running my mind just wanders and before I know it, large quantities of time and distance are covered. But I run pretty slowly and have realized I’m not pushing myself very hard. Now that I’m trying speed work, I’m considerably more aware of how long I’m running.

  23. Karl on October 17th, 2011 3:20 pm

    Agreed; I definitely prefer long-ish runs (at least 4 miles) because it takes a mile or two for the various bits to quit pissing and moaning and just get down to it. After that, it depends…

    Out of any 10 runs, 6 will probably be just sort of ordinary. 1 will be hell on leaden legs from start to finish (ugh). And maybe 3 of them will be great, in the zone with mind relatively blank the whole way, just taking it in.

    I do find that for me it’s a lot easier to have a good run in the dark (very early morning). I figure it’s because I can’t see how slowly I’m moving.

  24. Emily on October 17th, 2011 7:47 pm

    Hey Linda! It’s been a while since I’ve visited your blog – life got busy after the Army. I’m glad I chose today to click the link in my email, because now I can share with you my new, Northern Californian way of dealing with exercise-induced physical pain. Are you ready? … Just meditate on the pain. Sounds weird, but totes works. Eventually you become detached from the pain as Unpleasant Sensation, and it just becomes Sensation. Plus it takes less determination than trying to not think about it.

    If you try it, let me know how it goes for you. Works like a charm for me, but I’m not the one running marathons. Good luck, keep kicking life’s ass!

  25. Martha on October 17th, 2011 8:22 pm

    I’m reminded of the book I read to my son this evening: “The Little Engine That Could.”…. “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” You go girl!

  26. Quine on October 18th, 2011 5:36 am

    Yes! You’re off the sofa again, that’s fantastic – I’m so glad. Every single step I take think, that’s another step I could have *not* taken, and I took it. You know you’re one of my main inspirations for a) losing 15 pounds (so far) b) running a 10k in 2 weeks. You totally can do it.

  27. Robin on October 18th, 2011 5:51 am

    I think that’s called transcendence.

  28. Anne on October 18th, 2011 6:04 am

    Slow miles are better than no miles.

  29. Christina on October 18th, 2011 6:45 am

    Flow… get into the flow and you will leave behind the thoughts of what you are doing. The days when all I can think about is the end or just getting it done are the worst days. I generally struggle with the whole run. More recently I have focused on the run itself, how good it feels, how positive I feel the next day after completing a run, the music I only listen to when running. It has helped me to let go of the potential for negative focus on the run/mileage/time it will take, I just do it and it has been a much more positive experience recently!

    Flow can be applied to anything! It has been amazing once I started to notice flow in all aspects of my life. I have found how much more engaged and lovely things are when my focus is on one thing and all the distractions are left behind!

    Check out this link for a good synopsis of flow but there are a ton of books/articles out there with more info:

  30. Nancy on October 18th, 2011 6:47 am

    The thing I love about running is the sense of accomplishment at the END! Have only briefly touched that happy place during a run where the lungs aren’t burning and legs don’t feel like lead–but one half marathon and two sprint tri’s later, I am hooked on the effort and the training and the DONE! :) Was never an athlete and only started this craziness at 40 (thanks in large part to YOU, Linda!), so it’s still “new” and buying a new gadget or a new outfit or even downloading new tunes or a podcasts is enough to get me a tiny bit more motivated to get out the door.

  31. Christine on October 18th, 2011 6:50 am

    Linda, I think you’re amazing, and maybe the motivation I need to go buy a pair of running shoes and restart couch to five K.

  32. Ivy on October 18th, 2011 7:23 am

    I really like when you write about running. Although you were describing the harder parts, it still made me want to get out there and run. I just completed my 2nd Half Marathon this past weekend and I will forever be amazed at superheroes like yourself who have trained for and completed FULL marathons. That shows more about a person than anyone could know.

  33. Ashley on October 18th, 2011 9:29 am

    Preach on, sister. I started back to running and boot camp this month after a year and a half off to have a baby (and eat cookies). Jeez Louise. It’s HARD to run when you are chasing the memory of your faster self. I clocked a 13:20 mile last week and I CRIED. But the mantra that popped into my head? “The only way out is through.”

  34. Very Bloggy Beth on October 18th, 2011 9:35 am

    I know *exactly* what you mean. My husband LOVES running, he’s been in several half-marathons and marathons, and he runs a minimum of three mornings a week, a few hours at a time. He’s always trying to get me into a running routine, “It’s so great, you’ll feel so good! Just run for a week and you’ll love it!” I really hate it, I can’t stop thinking about how hard it is to breathe and how heavy my feet feel and how bad my knee is on humid days and, and, and… I wish I could get into it like he did, he has lost a ton of weight, it’d be nice to have that side effect. But, the joy of running is completely lost on me.

  35. nicole on October 18th, 2011 12:26 pm


  36. Dave Petraglia on October 18th, 2011 1:42 pm

    Just read the 2.5 Men piece on The Stir. You are one funny lady.

  37. Rachael@Rachael Lay on October 19th, 2011 3:00 pm

    I just got back into running after a HUGELY busy work period and a long winter. I stupidly thought that I would be able to jump straight back in and run as far and as fast as I was when I stopped. WRONG!!! I started right back at beginners pace (after a particularly depressing 1st attempt which had me walking more than running) and forced myself through every single mile to get to my old distance.

    I wondered how I EVER enjoyed this crazy pasttime.

    Now, 8 weeks in, I am starting to remember how it feels when it feels good to run. I am having more and more moments with ‘the sweet spot’ and feeling less pain with each run.

    This is definitely my sport and even though I hate it sometimes, it feel great to have ‘my thing’ for exercise. Especially being an otherwise very unsporty person.

  38. Jennifer on October 19th, 2011 5:47 pm

    I try desperately to distract myself. I make lists: best parts of fall, best winter dinners, things my 3 year old can do now he couldn’t last year, what was I doing this time last year. It doesn’t help that I am technology-lazy and haven’t added anything new to my iPod in 8 months. Ugggh.

  39. Sarahviz on October 20th, 2011 6:09 am

    My sweet spot starts after about 20 minutes in, but then I can’t seem to push myself much past an hour of running. I swear, running is like 99.9% MENTAL with me.

  40. telegirl on October 20th, 2011 8:34 am

    Wow. This is *so* what I am going through and you put it so eloquently. Beautiful post, as always.

    I just started back into running after moving and taking a 4 month hiatus for general-life-craziness and good GOD I can’t believe how hard it is to get to a certain point (note that I was only running 4 miles at best before) and how easy it is to lose your ground. I am struggling but I am trying to convince myself to sign up for a half marathon near Portland in April for motivation. I’m mentally committed to it but will wait for the last early sign-up to be 100% sure I can do this. How lame is that?! This post hit me square between the eyes. I can do this, I can do this…

  41. Mandy on October 21st, 2011 1:31 pm

    Just got back from walking a 5k – finished first of the walkers (and barely behind the slowest runners) in an event with a couple hundred folks – feeling pretty freakin awesome about that!! I have started couch to 5K more times than I can count, but never finished it, so this walking 5K was a great short term goal. Perhaps running is in my future, but focusing on short term successes since I always get lost in goals that are too big to tackle for where I’m starting. It’s great to see the comments here about other folks trying to set new goals/get on track with fitness and running!

  42. Anne on October 22nd, 2011 5:35 pm

    Was this effortless? Really – I would like to know how difficult it was for you to knock this off. Would you please divulge your writing efforts?

  43. Amy on October 24th, 2011 4:47 am

    I’ve been running for 27 years. I started when I was 15. I’m 42 (I won’t make you do the math). I’ve found that when I am doing longer runs on a regular basis, it takes longer to get to the sweet spot. Also, some days you just don’t find it. I just accept that there are a certain number of crappy runs I have to do to get a bunch of good ones. I also am a big fan of the 20 minute run. My goal is to run for the rest of my life and to hopefully stay reasonably fit (and cute) along the way. A 20 minute run is easier to accomplish some days and it keeps my internal fires going and keeps me from turning into a total beotch. Oh, and I can eat chocolate any time I want.

  44. John on October 27th, 2011 7:19 pm

    Sometimes I wonder if you truly understand just how incredible your writing is? Your honesty about perseverance is as piercing as it is precise and the level of gratitude I feel when I read a prosaic post like this from you is pretty much overwhelming.

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