Good miles/bad miles.
I laced up my shoes, pulled on my gray hoodie, and headed out the front door for a quick run to Bear Pond, maybe even around it. Here in Maine it gets dark early, but it gets dark slowly, so I figured I’d have enough light. Fifty strides into the run, just clearing my driveway, I really, really wanted to turn around and take the day off. I deserved it. Everything hurt a little, even my fingers. It started to rain and the breeze in my face freshened. I felt awkward. I thought I probably needed new shoes. I’d had a lousy lunch. It was too late, later than I thought, darker than I’d planned on… I’d never make it. Turn around. A pickup blew by, rattling 70mph on a 30mph road on 20mph tires. This is stupid. I wasn’t training for a race or anything. Turn around. Call it a day, you old fool.
But I didn’t. You know why. Every run has its ups and downs. I feel like most of my runs have good miles and bad miles. Sometimes the good miles are floating and euphoric, sometimes the bad miles are heavy and discouraging. Here’s the thing: they don’t always start good and end bad. In fact, that almost never seems to happen to me. There’s usually no pattern, but more often than not, they start out rough and end butterscotch smooth. One of our former team leaders used to tell his teammates, “Never judge a run in the first ten minutes.” Solid advice.
As a coach, there were times I’d see a kid struggle early, or in the middle of a race, and hope he or she knew they were just having a “rough patch”, and to not give in or give up. I didn’t really have to tell the experienced runners this simple truth… they acquired it through experience and self-examination. The new runners, though, needed to be reassured. “It’ll get better”, I’d quietly tell them out on the course, “Just hang in there until it does”. And it would get better. Sometimes in a race as short as an 800m run, there’d be “good miles and bad miles”, that is, irregular and unpredictable periods of discouragement and confidence, rarely linear or steadily regressive.
It’s one reason it is so important to have great teammates or training partners. I never, and that is after careful review, had a race or run where my teammates or training partner and I struggled at exactly the same points. They always seemed to be breezy when I was on the rocks, and vice versa. I knew I could run with them, and they knew they could run with me. Just stay together until you feel better… they will certainly need you somewhere down the road.
It’ll get better. Just hang in there until it does. That’s the lesson. It’s a hard-won lesson that will never let you down. I think runners internalize this truth without even knowing it. It’s one reason we’re working hard to establish Team Long Run (teamlongrun.org), a Maine-based running nonprofit for kids. We’ve seen that it’s a learnable life skill, and you learn it best “in the field”. It’s so important to know that there will be good miles and bad miles at school. There will be unpredictable ups and downs at work. There will be irregular periods of euphoria and discouragement in relationships… all kinds of relationships. No matter what you’re working at, things that seem heavy will become light as long as you don’t give in or give up. It’ll get better, just hang in there until it does.
So yes, I kept running that evening. It stopped raining; that breeze was a clearing west wind that hurried the clouds out over the Atlantic, making room for a sharp and golden sunset over the pond. I loosened up, the aches and pains just melted away as my pace gradually quickened. By the time I slapped my mailbox on the way in, I couldn’t remember a better run.