Going the Distance

“There are only three motivating factors that effect permanent change in human behavior: pain, fear, and ambition.” – Steve Hogg

It has been more than two weeks since I injured my calf. I’ve hardly run at all. That wouldn’t be such a big deal, but as you can see in the top right corner of this blog, I have a half-marathon to run next week. Have you ever run a half marathon after a month of mostly cycling? Neither have I. Come to think of it, I’ve never run a half marathon at all.

I’ve been out running a bit lately, but I haven’t done anything more than three and a half miles. And each time, my calf came away sore.

Then, this past Tuesday, I needed to go help out with a boy scout activity involving the physical fitness merit badge. At first, I figured I’d just ride my mountain bike alongside the runners, but then I got to thinking it might be a good idea to run the mile run with the boys. After all, if I’m going to get injured, it’s probably not going to result from doing mile repeats around my neighborhood with a bunch of 12-year-olds.

The first lap I did with the boys, there was an overweight kid and a skinny, basketball-playing kid. When the timer said go, the skinny kid took off like a rocket while the overweight kid started off steady. The skinny kid’s surge lasted about … 200 yards. Then, it became a game of survival for him. He walked, he moaned, and he gutted out the rest of the run. The overweight kid, on the other hand, kept going steady the whole time. He was moving his head around so much I thought he might make himself dizzy, but he was moving.

That mile lap time? About 11 minutes. I think that’s the slowest mile I’ve “run” in a long time.

As we were getting ready for the second lap, an older kid (the overweight kid’s older brother) joined us. He warned me that he runs “all out every time I run.” He also mentioned that he’d previously run a 5:15 mile and competed in cross country. That was okay, though, because I know how to strategically handle a faster runner.

We took off and he started at a moderate pace. It was clear he knew not to blow himself to pieces; it was also clear we’d be negative-splitting this mile run, which was not the fastest strategy. I hung on his shoulder as we trotted our way around the first two corners.

Then, at about the halfway point, during a long straightaway, the pace started to feel a bit easy. I knew we could run it faster, so I picked up my pace just a notch. As we rounded the third corner of the rectangular course, I looked back and realized I’d lost my running companion. Then I picked up the pace a little more as the finish line came into view. I crossed moving quick but feeling still pretty good.

My time? 6:17. Not bad. Somewhere along the way, I facetiously said something about running another mile later with the boys (because I knew they wouldn’t want to do it).

As the activity came to a close, the sun had just begun to set. The overweight kid was about to walk home when he turned to me and said, “Are you going to run one more mile?” I said, “I can. Do you want to?”

To my shock, this kid—the same one I’d watched pant his way through an 11-minute mile earlier—said, “Sure.”

So off we went. And it was a gorgeous night for a jog. We watched the sun set in the distance as I asked him about what he enjoys doing for fun and as he quizzed me for fitness advice. Then, he confided in me that he’d taught himself just to keep running the whole way through the mile, no matter how slow he ran.

I started to realize this kid had placed some trust in me and maybe even thought I was kind of cool. “Aren’t you in college?” he asked me.

“I graduated from college seven, almost eight years ago,” I admitted.

We had an enjoyable chat, and I hope I left him feeling confident about his own abilities rather than intimidated.

I couldn’t help but think, as I ran the last half-mile to my house alone, that even if I don’t finish the half-marathon next week (which is really not an option), I’d already gone the distance when it counted.

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