“You get good at what you do.”
That was the thought in my head as the race started and within the first mile, I was at the rear of the pack of 200 or so runners. I had still over 25 miles to go and my legs were already hurting.
They were hurting because a week prior, I had just run twenty miles…for the first time in my life.
Three days before that, I had just run 16 miles for the first time in my life.
And four days before that, I’d run my first half marathon in about twenty years.
In December I started listening to David Goggins‘ new audiobook ‘Never Finished’. While I found so much of the book inspiring, there was something he said in particular that sent me back in time to a turning point I hadn’t considered to be one in which I had any agency or choice.
In my twenties, I loved endurance sports. Although I’d never run a marathon, I loved running and cycling long distances. I once spent a summer cycling the west coast of the USA from Portland, Oregon to San Diego, California, and then over the mountains and through the desert to Las Vegas, Nevada. It was hard and hot and I loved every minute of it.
But somewhere around 2010, my knees were hurting badly and so I went to see some doctors about them. Two doctors’ prognosis was that I needed surgery and another’s was that I should probably turn away from running and cycling and find a new type of exercise.
I didn’t stop immediately, but in hindsight, I can see that thought got in my head and ate away at my running and cycling. Within a few years, I had found my way into a CrossFit gym and soon I’d all but forgotten about my love for endurance sports.
When David Goggins talked about running on injured knees, despite the pain and damage it was doing, I remembered that moment in the doctor’s office. It was just another day for him, just a small comment, but for me, the opinion he shared was an existential death. I remember the heartbreak I felt when he spoke.
What I didn’t realize at that moment was how I was simply accepting his opinion as my destiny. I was under the spell of authority.
Since then, I’ve transcended this spell in many ways. I’ve come to be the owner and CEO of my health, healing my body of things that I was supposedly destined to live and die with – or from – like allergies and even multiple sclerosis.
What if I hadn’t listened to that doctor? What if I’d just kept running? This is what Goggins’ inspired in me as a curiosity.
It’s not that I didn’t run at all. A couple of times per month I would run 2 or even 3 miles. But never more than that and not too frequently. I was hyper-aware of my knees and at the first sign of pain, I would back off, fearing I’d do further damage that had already cost me my love for endurance sports.
But I was now suspicious this backing off was based on bullshit. Not the kind of bullshit where there is no truth in it at all. But the kind of bullshit where it’s blown up and exaggerated into something much more dramatic than it actually is.
I was turned on by Goggins’ perspective that pushing through and past pain – and even injury – is worth it for the mental toughness it cultivates and also for how the body gets the message that since you aren’t going to stop, it better find a way to heal itself.
I hadn’t heard of this before – that by demanding more of the body you can call out a higher order of healing. Whether it was true or not, I didn’t know. But I was certainly inspired.
So I decided to try running further. On the 18th of December, I went out for a 5-mile run. To my surprise, my knees didn’t hurt afterward. Nor did they the next day, so on the 20th I went and did it again. I thought for sure that they would hurt now…having put in a 10-mile week for the first time in over a decade.
Zero pain. And I’d felt strong on the run too. What was going on here?
Two days later on the 22nd Dec, I went out again, this time pushing it to 7 miles. Then on Christmas eve, I went out again and pushed it to 8 miles. The day after Christmas, I went for a 10-mile run and I felt fucking fantastic.
Could I have been running all these years?
Being out there, running alone on silent farm roads and filled with endorphins, all of the bliss of endurance sports was coming back to me. It felt like an old version of me, an old brother of joy, was being resurrected.
My runs had not been on flat ground by the way. They had been from my house straight up the volcano we live on. I was going a bit further up each time.
“How many miles is it to the summit?” I wondered.
Curious, I popped into Google Maps, my driveway to the summit of Haleakala.
Total Distance: 26 miles.
“What’s the chance in that?!” I thought. It’s exactly a marathon’s distance from my house to the top of the mountain.
I considered this a sign that I should run a marathon.
We had some friends and family over for dinner and I shared that I’d like to run a marathon.
“There’s one in Maui in January,” said my friend Kevin.
“January…do you think there’s enough time to train for it?”
“No, probably not.”
When he said that, it spoke to me in a new way. I heard his answer not as an ending, like how I heard the doctor ten years ago, but as a challenge.
Not a challenge to train for it in the 3 weeks between then and the race, but to run the marathon without training for it.
Why? Because I’d become inspired by the possibility that we limit ourselves from doing things, not because we aren’t capable, but because we believe we are not capable.
Just one week prior, I thought it wasn’t safe for me to run more than a few miles per week…and now I’d run over 30 miles in a single week and felt great.
What more was possible for me? How far could I push my body and myself if I didn’t fear injury?
I didn’t sign up for the marathon then. I was somewhere between committed and curious. Which is also why I didn’t tell many people about it.
When my brother-in-law Dimitrios got wind that I was considering running a marathon, he said, “Don’t you think you should run a half-marathon first?”
He had a point, but I wasn’t about to shrink my goal of running the marathon without training, so the next morning, on new years day, I put my shoes on and went out for a 13-mile run at sunrise.
“I took your advice,” I said. “I ran a half marathon this morning.”
This was the furthest I’d ever run when I was younger as well. But could I run even further than this? Could I run twice as far in just two weeks from now?
The race was two weeks out and I was really wanting to commit fully now, so I searched everywhere online for 2-week marathon training plans, or even 4-week marathon training plans thinking I could compress the advice to 2 weeks. But I found nothing except people saying that the amount of time was too short to train. The only useful piece of advice I found was that, for people with the absolute shortest training plans of a few months, if they could get themselves up to a 20-mile run, then they should be able to push themselves an extra 6 miles on race day.
That’s what I’d been doing for the past week. Since I’d run 5 miles, I figured I could push to 7 and then 8 and 10, and 13. So I told myself, if I can push myself to 20 miles in the next week, then it’s game-on and I’ll sign up for the marathon.
On Thursday 5th of Jan, I ran 8 miles up the volcano we live on, from 2000 feet to about 4600 feet, then turned around and came back home. I’d just run 16 miles, which was the furthest I’d ever run in my life. It was hard, my muscles were sore as hell, but my knees didn’t hurt at all and I felt amazing.
That Sunday was my deadline for the 20-mile run. I wasn’t going to sign up for the marathon if I couldn’t run 20 miles without stopping or walking and I wanted to do it in the same kind of flat sea-level road conditions as the marathon, so I drove to the coast just before sunrise and hit the road. Somehow, 20 miles felt a LOT longer than 16. The road seemed to go on forever. The batteries in my headphones died. I ran out of water since the sun had come up and it got hot. I had to pee so badly that I had to stop to relieve myself. I had brought some gummy runner snacks that were making my stomach turn, but I needed the calories. And while my knees didn’t hurt, my legs were aching badly. The heavy increase in miles was catching up with me. The high of adding miles quickly without cost was gone and I was paying the price for it – not necessarily in injury, but certainly in pain. I began to get why a marathon is a significant distance. For me, beyond 16 miles was very new territory physically and psychologically.
But what I was learning from David Goggins was awakening an old spirit within me. And the reward of constantly winning in the face of physical pain and psychological noise was filling me with strength and vigor.
Wobbly as hell and holding onto the door handle of my SUV, I opened my running app to stop the workout, recording that I’d just finished running 20 miles.
The next day, my friend Rob saw my post about the long run.
“Are you training for something?” he asked.
Despite my promise to myself, I still hadn’t registered for the marathon. So I took his message as the final straw and replied to him thanking him for his question and letting him know I’d be running a marathon on Sunday 15th Jan.
That’s when I signed up…on Monday 8th of January, just two weeks into running long distances.
During the week leading up to the marathon, I knew there was nothing I could really do to better prepare my body other than stay loose with a couple of short 5-mile runs, so I did that and put the rest of my focus on my mind.
My body was not going to be ready to run a marathon in the same way it hadn’t been ready to run a half-marathon, nevermind 16 or 20 miles.
I’d been pushing myself on these runs because I was enamored with the possibility that more than half our potential awaits beyond the threshold of pain, discomfort, and limiting thoughts.
I was committed to running this marathon precisely because my body was NOT ready for it.
For me, winning the race was going to be simply finishing it without stopping and without walking. I wouldn’t even give myself the chance to pee this time, so I’d better do a better job managing my water intake.
I put my focus on seeing myself finishing the race. And I practiced contending with the thoughts that would come up encouraging me to stop or walk…thoughts I’d had already in my recent runs and ones I knew I’d be meeting again.
Consciously, I was feeling good about it. I wasn’t nervous at all…or so I thought. By Friday my stomach wasn’t right. And although I took it easy that week, my new WHOOP activity and recovery tracker was showing that my body was stressed. The doubt was creeping in.
What was different now though is that I’d committed. And once I commit, doubt becomes fuel.
I sat with the existential question that Goggins’ points out inevitably comes up while enduring anything difficult.
“Why am I doing this?”
I dove into the meaning and etymology of the word ‘enduring’ and discovered that it comes from an Old Latin word ‘indurare’, which essentially meant ‘to strengthen the heart’.
I wrote the following in large letters on the whiteboard in my studio…
“WHY AM I ENDURING THIS?”
As I reflected on this and its application to lots of different things, I found myself coming back time and time again to a simple answer: Endurance is an end in and of itself.
If to endure is to strengthen the heart, then I am enduring this because it strengthens my heart.
In the Old Latin sense, a strong heart was equated with not only courage but also a strong will.
What can I do with a strong heart? What might I create with a stronger will?
The infinite value of a stronger heart and will is immediately obvious to anyone who dares welcome that possibility for themselves.
When I was almost home from a long run the week prior, a tinted-out pickup truck pulled over aggressively, nearly hitting me. The driver, in dark sunglasses, opened the window and shouted at me to stop looking at him with “crazy eyes”. I was so confused because I couldn’t even see him through the tinted windows. Nevertheless, he seemed intent on picking a fight with me. He was cursing and threatening me and tried to bump me with his car as he pulled further off the road.
Inside, I could feel anger rising. I could hear the thoughts tempting me to break the glass with my metal water bottle and then break his nose. But all of that was just noise. It was pain and noise, the same kind as in my legs and in my head while running way beyond what I was supposed to be able to run.
So instead, I apologized to him. I told him I loved him. When he didn’t like me calling him brother, I apologized again. I shared with him about my family and I asked him about his. There’s a good chance he was on some heavy drugs, but nevertheless, the barrage of my love somehow got through to him enough for him to tell me that ‘next time he sees me he won’t have so much animosity’ before he peeled out and took off.
This is why I am enduring this. I am inspired to endure pain because it makes my heart and my will strong.
With a strong will and a strong heart, I hold my freedom in place and I allow love to move through me.
This is my will to power.
It is a good power and cultivating it was worth all 26 miles of pain at the Maui Oceanfront Marathon.
I finished in 5 hours and 12 minutes, which is extraordinarily slow. But I ran the entire thing, start to finish without stopping or walking a single step. However, I did stumble my way from the finish line directly into the portable toilet.
In the days afterwards my legs were still sore. My calves and ankles hurt the most, probably because I ran in sandals – which is a whole other story. But guess what didn’t hurt at all?
My fucking knees!
Loving you, JP