You know how I always say to you, “Stop! Stop growing up so fast!” Well, I don’t really mean it. I know you can’t stop, and I wouldn’t want you to, anyway. That’s your job, and I can’t wait to see the strong, wise people you are becoming. But before you get too big, I want to share some things I’ve learned about endurance and stamina. They’re lessons about running, but you can also apply them to life. You might not understand them now, but I hope that someday you might.
Once I met long-distance runner Dean Karnazes. This was ten years ago, when I wanted to leave my job as an editor at Outside to pursue my lifelong dream of writing. I wanted to make the leap, but I was afraid to because my whole identity was wrapped up in my job. The day I met Dean, I was supposed to interview him for a magazine story. He was trying to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. It was taking an extreme toll on his body and mind. Dean was running four hours every morning, and then hopping into a car or plane to get to the next state. He should have been exhausted, but when I met him, he was elated. Absolutely ecstatic.
I decided to interview Dean while he was running, so I ran next to him, holding my tape recorder and asking questions. I was only going to run five or six miles, but we kept talking, and I just kept going. Pretty soon, I’d run 15 miles, then 20, and then the finish line was coming into view. I’d accidentally run my first marathon: 26.2 miles. It hadn’t been easy, but it hadn’t hurt as much as I’d thought it would. I was surprised by this, so I asked Dean his secret to running extremely long distances.
He told me, “You can always go farther than you think you can. You’re stronger than you think you are.”
His words stuck with me. I understood that they were true because I had just experienced them firsthand while running with him. If you had asked me before I met Dean if I could run a marathon without training, I would have said no way. But I did that day. Six weeks later, I made the leap I’d been afraid to take—I quit my job and started writing. It had always been my dream, and now I was finally doing it.
It wasn’t easy all the time, but I remembered what Dean told me: “If you think you can’t go on, just set your eyes on something ahead of you and tell yourself you’re going to run to that tree just ahead. When you get to the tree, tell yourself you’re going to run to the next telephone pole. And so on.” This is actually how I’ve finished many long races and training runs. It’s also how I got through 30 hours of childbirth without pain medication, rafting 98 miles through the wilderness with a broken leg, and writing the most challenging parts of my book (Running Home, forthcoming from Random House).
It’s not that following your heart won’t hurt sometimes. It will. Some days, you won’t even want to try. Many times, you will be afraid. This, I’ve learned through ultrarunning, is the sign that you’re growing. It’s the sign to keep going. Move toward the fear and the hurt, and you will eventually pass through them. They will not last forever. You just have to believe this. But you will also forget it sometimes and think you can’t, and this is normal, too. You are so much stronger than you know. You can and will go so much farther than you can even imagine.
I believe in you completely, but on the days that you don’t believe in you, think of me believing in you. I will carry you on those days.