This is precisely how I felt after completing the second of three 16.67 miles loops during a 50-mile ultra-marathon in Tulsa this past 4th of July.
Seven hours and 33 miles into the race, I was soaked to the bone after hours of running in a constant rain, which began with a full-fledged thunderstorm at midnight. I was hungry and weary from lack of sleep. My legs were cramping, my energy level had waned, and the proposition of running one more 16 mile loop seemed insurmountable.
I’ve been in this spot before – in the Marine Corps, in running, and in my life. I have learned the key to beating any significant challenge in life is to just keep going.
When you’re tired…
When it hurts too bad…
When you’re too far behind…
When it would just be easier to quit…
When others are telling you to just give up…
You just have to push through it. And what I’ve learned when I do this is that often – not always but often – the best experiences are right on the other side of this decision.
Legendary ultra-marathoner, Gary Cantrell, the creator of “The Barkley,” a 100-mile trail ultra-marathon held in the mountains of Tennessee (a course so difficult that only 15 runners out of about 1000 since 1986 have finished within the 60 hour cutoff), once said:
“It never always gets worse.”
What I believe Cantrell means is that in our absolute depths of despair or at the peak of frustration all we see is that negativity extrapolated forward. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Our minds are skilled at telling us what will happen if we don’t stop. It reminds us if we don’t change course, we will suffer and be miserable. That we can’t possibly do what we have been challenged to accomplish. That there is nothing wrong with stopping short of our potential.
The worst thing we can do is listen to that voice.
Not on the 50-mile run you don’t think you can complete; not in the middle of a stressful year in the classroom; not in the middle of a fight in a relationship you’re starting to think it’d be easier to just walk away from; not in that moment when you think you’ve taken on more projects and responsibilities than you can possibly handle, and not during the game that doesn’t look like you could possibly win.
Because it doesn’t always get worse.
What the mind can’t see is that many of our challenges in life are leading somewhere good—that a rough experience can transform into a rewarding opportunity or cherished memory. That those painful miles, stressful experiences, and frustrating days are adding up to something. That the taxing days in the classroom are making you a better teacher; that the relationship is having growing pains while it is becoming something better; that the project has value because it is hard and forcing you to stretch yourself; that nobody knows how a game will end until it’s over and that winning isn’t all that’s important.
You know this to be true – not everything that’s hard is good, of course, but almost everything good and worth doing is sometimes hard.
What is that challenge in your own life you are struggling to overcome? I am the first to admit that running fifty miles pales in comparison to some of the challenges faced by many of you in your own lives.
Sometimes it’s going to get worse, but then other times, it is going to get better.
We all have experienced that feeling of being too sad, too tired, too frustrated, or too inadequate to go on. But if we can muster the confidence and fortitude and commit ourselves to push on for one more mile or one more day, the rewards can be indescribable.
What’s on the other side of your toughest challenges?
I’ll tell you. You. You are on the other side of those struggles. A you that is stronger, more resilient, more self-aware, and more alive.
That’s why you gut it out. Why you don’t quit.
Because it never always gets worse.
Because sometimes it gets unimaginably, suddenly, awesomely better.
After the soreness wears off anyway.