The Yin and Yang

By Jenna Schifferle

Some days, you crush every hill that crosses your path. Other days, you trip down them at full speed.

And on those exceptionally rough days?

Well, a squirrelly spectator might even catch you on camera, mid-fall. If the video doesn’t go viral, the memory of that guy’s face will taunt you at every hill for the rest of your route. During marathon training, you’ll undoubtedly face these extremes, often in the same mile. You’ll be fierce and fearless one minute and completely beside yourself the next — an unstoppable klutz.

When I started running, I thought the most important thing I could do was to always push forward. The more I run, though, the more I realize the importance of taking every moment in stride. I’ve run fast miles where nothing could stop me, and I’ve run slow miles when it felt like my feet cemented into the pavement. I’ve run through ice, sleet and snow, and wind storms that suspended me in my tracks. I’ve run through sunshine and sweltering, blistering heat. Some runs have started beneath blue skies and faded into freezing rain. Other runs have turned into wild adventures after a rough start. I suppose this is part of the process: the good and the bad, the yin and the yang.

On one of the long runs I was scheduled for recently, it was hard to see the balance. My running group met at Knox Farm in East Aurora, a picturesque park tucked into a vast and stunning landscape. With the sun ascending over freshly fallen snow, the stage was set for a perfect nine-miler. My pace group took off down a slight incline on a winding path out of the park. By mile three, my shoulders were in my shoes. I started tripping over my own feet and stepping on the heels in front of me. My shoes were shuffling, and I started getting more and more hunched over. At mile five, I slowed down to a meandering crawl. By mile six, I had reached a difficult decision: to run the last three or stop. I chose the latter.

When you’re on a training plan, it can be discouraging to “quit” partway through a run. The most important piece of advice I’ve ever heard, though, is that doing this is not “quitting.” When your body is aching, and your form is suffering, you need to listen to the warning signs. Sure, there are times when you can and should push through the discomfort, but there are also times when your body just needs a break. Whether you’re a runner or not, you can apply that lesson in so many areas of your life. Self-care matters.

When I got back to Knox Farm, I was discouraged and disappointed in myself. But I wasn’t alone. Other runners had also decided not to continue on. They stood around talking and stretching, and taking in the scenery. When I finally caught my breath, I realized that moments like those are also part of the journey.

Many people think that it’s the distance that’s difficult. In reality, it’s the process of learning your limits, whether you’re recognizing them or shoving past them. The most important thing is to always fall forward. And if someone does happen to catch you on camera at your worst moment? Well, maybe you should stop and strike your best pose.

“Writer on the Run” is a monthly column written by Jenna Schifferle of Cheektowaga. She chronicles her experience training for the Chicago Marathon in October.