The Journey – 319.5 Miles:
The A2B Journey made its way to Roach Dry Lake Bed in southern Nevada.  This now desolate area has some history.  In the early 1900’s, it served as a siding area for the Union Pacific railroad.  (A railroad siding is a separate low-speed section of track that separates from and runs beside a main line.)  Later, in the 1940’s it served as one of the test sites for experimental military aircraft developed during World War II. The list includes the XP-56 Black Bullet, N-9M Flying Scale Model Wing, and MX-334 glider.

Today, it is mainly used by off road vehicle enthusiasts, especially motorcycles and ATV’s. Also, it is common to find land sailing vehicles speeding across the lake bottom.

The Run:
I decided to skip the morning run to do an evening run with the running club.  The course du jour was relatively flat by Charlotte standards.  It started and finished on a very nice greenway.  The rest of the route (about 80%) ran along busy streets.  This means that most of the run was on concrete sidewalks.

Many runners do not like running on concrete. It is a very unforgiving surface.  They often prefer softer surfaces like asphalt or dirt trails, which are much more knee/leg friendly. When opportunity and safety affords, runners like me will move off the sidewalk and on to the street surface.  Asphalt-paved golf cart paths are one of the reasons that runners enjoy training on golf courses.

There is a large class of runners that avoid hard surfaces altogether.  Instead, they choose trails paved by Mother Nature. Without a doubt, dirt trails are the easiest on the runner’s legs.   Of course, the big perils of trail runs are roots and rocks.  Countless ankles have paid the price of misplaced foot landings.  So, depending on the terrain, trail runners become quickly accustom to watching and planning exactly how and where their feet hit the ground.  Aside from that risk, trails offer the most variety for training and scenery.

Back to the run.  Because of the large gathering of runners, the first half mile went slowly as the group sorted itself by pace.  I was very eager to get a good run in.  So when the string of runners thinned out, I shifted into what felt like a slightly faster than normal pace.  It felt really good!  I decided to stay at that pace or faster throughout the run.

In the last 2 miles, I began to feel some tightness and burning in my quads.  I chose to distract myself from the pain, a common strategy for runners.  I maintained my pace with a small increase in the last half mile.  In the end, I was happy about my choice to push through, as I was rewarded with a new PR!  Very cool!!

The Mind:
Sometimes, when I think about my running, I am reminded of a phrase I once saw on a t-shirt.  It said, “Running is a mental sport…and we’re all insane!”   That more or less sums up where my thoughts were on tonight’s run.

At first, I had to pay attention to the crowd of people around me, being sure not to bump into or step on another runner.  Then as soon as space became available, I focused on opening up my stride.

In the last few miles when my legs began to protest, I considered the risk of injury.  There was no pressure. Nor did anything feel like it was going tear.  So I dismissed the idea.

Next, I thought about pulling back a little in the hope of a more comfortable run.  As mentioned previously, I decided to press forward at the same pace or better.  I used high-energy music and focusing on runners in front of me as a distraction from the burning in my legs.  This dissociative strategy worked well in this case.

As I continued along, I wondered about a couple of things.  First, where is the line between pushing through pain and avoiding injury?  The fact that the pain did not ‘feel’ like pre-injury pain is hardly a definitive diagnosis.  So, there were still risks.  Yet I was pretty confident.

The next thing I thought about was the drive to push through pain. Why?

Sure! I set a new PR. But PR’s are generally quiet achievements that often matter only to the individual.

I remember the intense stinging soreness that I felt with each stride.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am sure that there was a voice saying, “Dude! You are going to pay for this later!!”  But I had just passed another runner, the music on my iPod was fantastic, and I was headed toward a new personal best!  I was alive and happy!

But still, why do it?

I vaguely remembered a quote that perhaps sheds a little light on the question.  The quote is from Dean Karnazes, a famous ultra-marathoner.  (Ultra-marathoners REALLY ARE insane!  Completely mental!!!  I have tons of respect for them!)  Dean said, “People think I’m crazy to put myself through such torture, though I would argue otherwise. Somewhere along the line, we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. Dostoyevsky had it right: ‘Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.’ Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is a magic in misery. Just ask any runner.”

There is a lot more that I thought about and that I could write about these two questions.  (I’ll save some of it for future blogs.)  But I am interested in your thoughts and opinions.  Let me know what you think.

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