(This article originally posted on Barefoot Monologues)
Last weekend, I ran 12 miles.
It's been six days since then, and so the triumphant feelings have dulled a bit. But the fact remains that I did it. To many of my readers, 12 miles is barely a long run. Even to me that distance isn't much of a big deal anymore. It's just four 5K's back to back; a ten-miler plus twenty minutes. I've done it before and will again. But because of how this run felt and how I handled it mentally, it was as if my glass ceiling finally got smashed to pieces.
It wasn't about the number of miles run. It was about the number of miles run with a smile on my face. It was the fact that by mile 11 I wasn't obsessing about my sore feet or about how far I was from home like I usually do, instead I had a big, fat, bad-ass grin on my face.
A little back story. The last time I reached the 12-mile mark during a run, I was crying. It was the famously hilly Great Bay Half Marathon and I had tweaked my IT band at mile 7 because I didn't know how to run downhill properly. I was in pain, I was disappointed by my performance, and I was tired of running. Worst of all, I was in a shitty mood during my first half marathon when I should have been enjoying the achievement.
Like I have done on some other regrettable occasions in my life, I let my bad attitude ruin what could have been an amazing experience.
But this week I was a completely different person. I crushed those miles. Yes, they were long...I won't pretend that they were not. It took me longer to complete this trail run than it took me to finish the Great Bay Half Marathon on roads. This run was comprised of several out-and-back mini runs, so I would never be too far from my car and could make pit stops to drop clothes or get more water (which probably helped a lot). At times I was cold, because I was only wearing a long sleeve tech shirt over my tank top and the wind got through it during walk breaks. There were too many people near the start of the trail with unleashed dogs and I kept having to strong-arm Oscar to keep him from jumping at them. The effort screwed up my form and by the last pit stop my IT band was bothering me for the first time in 10 months.
But my mood didn't falter, not once. When I hit the trail head at mile 9 I dropped the tired pooch off in the car for a short nap, and continued on for the last three miles. With better form my knee hurt less, but I still needed occasional walk breaks to ease the strain. At 10.5 I turned around for the last time and said to myself, "You got this, Trish. You're a bad-ass distance runner, and you're amazing. You're about to run 12 motherf***ing miles." It sounds dorky as hell now, but at the moment it made me smile so hard my face hurt a little. It's amazing how far a little self-motivation can go when you're alone on a deathly-quiet wooded trail.
At 11.25 the song "I'm Too Sexy" came on my iPod and I danced a little while I ran, bopping my head until I was dizzy and laughing at an old joke between my pal Lynsey and me. I thought of Lynsey and how I wished we could be finishing this run together. Then I stopped because my knee was screaming. Walking felt like a massage on my tired hips. My feet didn't even hurt like they usually do - or if they did, I was in a mental state that kept it from annoying me. I ate the last of my mango slices and praised them for giving me the best (chemical-free) energy surges throughout the whole run. I ran through the weird concrete tunnel under the road for the last time and finished the water in my CamelBak. At the very end I passed a runner just starting her journey for the day and I was glad to be finished with mine.
When I reached the car I said to myself, "See how easy it is to run these miles without that shitbag attitude?" Yup.
The truth is, no matter how far you can run, no matter how many hours you put into training, it's all about attitude. You can drop out of a race, you can injure yourself during training, but you don't have to let your discomforts and limitations determine your mood. After all that I learned on this one 12-mile long run, I know that if I had the choice to finish the Pinelands 50K in a shitty mood or DNF it with a shit-eating grin on my face, I'll take the DNF.
Because I feel like more of a bad-ass when I'm smiling.