A few weeks ago, I ran the Chicagoland Half Marathon. It was my first in-person race since January 2020, and I was not looking forward to it.
I had actually purchased the bib for the 2020 race, but because of COVID, the race had been cancelled, and participants were allowed to transfer to another race or save their spot for 2021. I deferred but forgot about the race. Because of my school schedule and preparing for my licensure exams, running slipped down my list of priorities. I ran a few times a week but never far and never fast.
Going into the race, I knew I would be undertrained. I could complete it, sure, but it was going to be sloooow. Also, I was going to do most of the running alone. For safety precautions, the race instituted staggered starts and those who I knew running the race were starting earlier. My start time wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. Additionally, the temperature was expected to be in the 80s by mid-morning with a high humidity. I was out of shape and alone on a very hot day. Not to mention that the course was an hour’s drive from my apartment. This was race was going to suck.
Even though I had already paid for the bib, I had mostly forgotten about the race up until a few months before and it wouldn’t have felt like too much of a financial loss had I not shown up to the run. I could have accepted that this was race was more hassle and struggle than it’s worth and slept in that day.
But, of course I did not. Even, when I thought about the idea of not running it, I couldn’t entertain it seriously.
I am a sufferer. I like to do hard things (while complaining about those hard things). I like to count up all the disadvantages against me and still go for it. I was going to run this race because it would be difficult and awful, and I would get a medal at the end to prove my ability to endure the tough conditions.
As predicted, this race sucked. It was hot and sticky and the first and last three miles were on a concrete road adjacent to major highway. I started slow, and only got slower, finishing the rase with my worst recorded time in the half. I got passed by a lot of people, some who likely had less running experience than me. The last mile and a half felt like five, and once I reached the Finish line, I couldn’t go a step further
During the race, I wondered why I default to hard. For most of my life, I have chosen or found my way to the bumpiest road. If I can do this really hard thing that most people would not want to do, and later talk about it, I will have proved my worthiness.
Sometimes I have earned grit and strength along the way and reached a level I couldn’t have on an easier path, however, there are also times when I just suffer for suffering’s sake. As many writers and philosophers, including the Dalai Lama and Haruki Murakami, have said: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Many, many times, I have specifically chosen to suffer.
That might have been a coping mechanism for a younger version of myself, but I am not sure that it serves me anymore. I don’t have to take the most challenging road just to prove something to myself; I can find value in other ways. Instead, what if I lean into pleasure and joy? What if those are my motivating factors from now on?
In the end, I am glad I ran that race because it will likely be my last in Chicago as a resident. However, I will think twice about what I am willing to endure and for what reasons. Just for a story and to prove that I am capable of suffering are no longer good reasons. Whether in running, my career, my relationships, I no longer want to do things just because they are hard. I want more joy.