Inevitable vs. Optional

Last weekend, the marathon training plan I've been running my way through, come hell or high water (or winter or high snow, as it were), came to a peak. Last weekend was the 20-miler, the pinnacle of most marathon training cycles, the final push before spending a few weeks getting rested up and ready for race day. One of the reasons I convinced myself, amidst a lot of doubt, that I could run the Shamrock Marathon (again) is that I would have several opportunities to do long runs as races and/or with running buddies. The 20-miler was supposed to be one of them, another one of those "competitive training runs" put on by my local running group. I'd have my dad (my marathon partner) and a hundred or so of my closest marathon-training comrades to tough out this training milestone with. From the beginning of this training cycle, I was never sure I could make it through long run hell if left to my own devices, but if I could run with other people, I convinced myself I could make it.

I don't know if you guys have heard, but we got some winter weather down South recently and, y''s bad. Or at least that's what my friends and family at home on the coast have been telling me. Meanwhile, I've been across the state where my little mountain town has the capability to get everything plowed efficiently. There may be snow piled high lining the sidewalks, but for the most part, my running routes have been clear and my training has been unaffected.

Until last weekend...when the 20-miler that I was supposed to run back home got canceled due to all the snow and ice and freezing temperatures and the unlikelihood that the trail would be cleared in time to be safe enough for a couple hundred runners. The Sunday forecast where I live didn't look a whole lot better either - snow and freezing rain in the morning to early afternoon and showers later in the early evening, with maybe enough of a gap between the two to fit in my long run.

Saturday night I did yoga, the first time in months that I've had what I would call a solid, long practice, as opposed to the 15 or 20 minute routines I've been squeezing in here and there. I found myself getting frustrated over not being able to get into every pose as fully as I used to - especially when we got to eagle. A couple years ago, just being able to hook my foot behind my leg seemed like an impossibility; now I can get it there with ease, but trying to hold that pose after months of slacking was a different story. As my legs quivered and my ankles and calves burned and I thought of coming out of it, suddenly another thought came to mind, a quote I had read on a running quote app last week:

The running app wasn't the first time I had ever heard this quote (and that probably wasn't even the first time I had seen it on the app since it does tend to recycle quotes), but for some reason it resonated with me. As soon as I thought of it mid-eagle pose, my perception changed. As long as I kept repeating that mantra, the pain was more bearable. It wasn't gone, but I wasn't focusing on it either, because I realized I had a choice in whether or not I would focus on it. I could choose whether or not to succumb to that burning sensation intensifying in my calves.

After I finished my practice and was planning my run for the next day, I couldn't help but wonder if all my planning would be for naught. Even if I got to run the next day, there was no way it could be an enjoyable experience. There was a chance I wouldn't have the opportunity to run outside, meaning I'd have to take it to the treadmill or the indoor track for several hours of torture. Even if by some miracle I were able run outside, it would be cold and probably wet and maybe icy and I'd be all alone to suffer through it.

But then I reminded myself: suffering is optional.

I didn't have to view that run as doomed before it even started. That was a choice I was making. It's not at all hard to see how I wound up at that perspective, but even if it were the most logical path, that doesn't make it the only one. It was a big run, yes, but in the grand scheme of things, those 3 or 4 hours I'd spend doing it - whether inside or outside, alone or with others - paled in comparison to the number of hours I'd already spent training to get to that point. How fortunate I am to have the ability to make the choice of not whether I'm able to run 20 miles, but just how I can do it.

There are a lot of things in life that just aren't optional. I've never liked that idea. The older I get I'm less and less able to give up my control, but unfortunately, the older I get the more I realize just how many things I can't control. How many things I just simply don't get a say in. Sometimes things happen that feel completely wrong and unreasonable no matter how you look at it and it just. isn't. fair. That's running, that's yoga, and that's life. There are times when it is going to be unfair and it is going to be painful, but whether or not we suffer through or make the best of it is a choice we get to make every single second of every single day.

So here's to facing challenges head on. To accepting the fact that sometimes things just suck. To breathing through it. And to choosing not to suffer.


  1. So true. Perspective is everything!

  2. I have never heard that quote before, but I'm so glad I did just now.
    Your last few paragraphs remind me of some of the things I've written lately. After a few disappointing and out-of-my control circumstances in pretty much all areas of my life over the last few weeks, I'm beginning to realize that clinging desperately to this idea of control is so useless and actually damaging, when if I could just relax a little bit I'd be so much happier than this illusion of control makes me — and that's only on a good day. I'm trying to make an effort to control what I can control — if I make it to the mat each day, what I eat, how hard I try — and let go of what I can't — the weather, namely. I think we can do this.

  3. I haven't heard of that quote before, but I love it.
    It is so hard to give up control, I hate it.. but like you said, I have been realising lately that there is no use getting caught up on the many, many (many) things outside of my control.
    KC can't run, I might have mentioned that a thousand times. He was a hardcore runner when I met him, but he injured his ankle (five fingers) and even though he's got things in his shoes and wore a boot for a time, it's still not fixed and it might never be. Every time he sees someone running in real life or on TV, he sighs and wishes he could run. So it doesn't work for me all the time, because I'm selfish, but.. I try and remember that I have the ability to run and KC would give anything for that. He only has an ankle injury, there are people out there far far worse off. It's all relative of course, but it's easier for me to remember someone right smack back in my life, than in general. Anywho. Rambling.
    I have never tried eagle pose. I am still such a beginner, but even with something like pigeon pose, I can see how far I've come and that feels so rewarding.

  4. I absolutely love that!!!! I've never heard that quote. It's a good one. I heard one I love once that's stuck with me "you can be sore tomorrow. Or you can be sorry tomorrow". Something I have to remind myself of before those runs!!

  5. Love this! I'm constantly having to berate myself for always thinking glass half empty when it comes to myself and anything fitness/weight loss related. I need to focus on trying to think positively to make the best of every situation, no matter what life throws at me

  6. What a wonderful perception changer you just threw into my universe! I remember nothing but amazingness on my 20-miler when I trained for my 26.2. Yes it sucked, but mentally it was beautiful!

  7. Great post and great quote! Exercise really is only half physical and the rest is all mind games. I'll keep this in mind next time my brain is saying, "This sucks."

  8. This quote resonates with me so much, it's actually scary!