Living life one pair of running shoes at a time.

When people hear that I run marathons, a common follow-up question is: How do you run that far?

I’ve learned that it’s best to not pull any punches. Brutal honesty is the best policy. “Well,” I answer, “I put one foot in front of the other. And then I keep doing it.”

Okay, I’m not always that smart-alecky. But that’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? There aren’t any magic tricks or shortcuts. Training fads come and go. All the wisdom and cleverly-spun observations of the great runner-philosophers will not put your shoes on and lift your foot to take that first step. You do it yourself.

I ran 18 miles last Saturday, and it was…long. The first half felt fine. I was taking it slow, but that was the plan. I reached my turnaround point, sucked down my chocolate energy gel and felt optimistic.

It turns out my legs had other plans. As the miles progressed, they felt more and more leaden. Not to mention I felt that old familiar feeling in my belly — you know the one; the feeling that automatically makes every toilet and adequately-discreet shrub in a 5-mile radius disappear? Yep.

I tried every tactic I could think of. I ran tall. I told myself, This has been a good run and will continue to be a good run. I prayed for any friend or loved one who popped into my mind. As I entered the last two miles, though, it became clear: I could muster every psychological trick in the book, but the only thing that would get those miles covered would be the simple — almost cruelly so — act of me putting one foot in front of the other to move forward.

It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. I finished the run, even managing a few smiles at passers-by (well, I tried to smile. If you saw me and were frightened, I’m sorry). I found a Porta-Potty (no more detail there, I promise). And I was reminded that really, truly, there’s no secret of how to run, whatever the distance. It all boils down to just doing it.

There’s a passage in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood when one of the main characters confesses to her mother in a letter that she’s afraid she doesn’t know how to love. The mother responds, “Do you think any of us know how to love?! Do you think anybody would ever do anything if they waited until they knew how to love?!…God knows how to love, Kiddo. The rest of us are only good actors.”

It also reminds me of a recent Kristin Armstrong column in which she writes about the value of simply moving forward when you don’t know what else to do in life.

If running doesn’t exemplify that, I don’t know what does.

With running, there’s no “Aha!” moment where you snap your fingers and say “There, I’ve studied and queried and observed enough; now I’m ready to start.” There’s no mystery to it. That’s one of the reasons why I love it.

So if you’re thinking about lacing up running shoes for the first time, or increasing your distance, go for it! It may not always be easy, or pretty, but it’s not as complicated as it may seem.

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Comments on: "One Foot in Front of the Other" (12)

  1. What a great post! I get asked the “how do you run that far?” Question a lot! I try not to be sarcastic about it but my answer is similar to yours, I usually just shrug and say something like,”I just don’t think about it and I just do it.” If someone seems genuinely interested I may go into a bit more detail with tips like mentally breaking run into series of shorter runs, taking it nice and easy with the pace, etc etc…but when it comes down to it you’re absolutely right! Its that simple! One foot in front of the other!

  2. Well said!! Like you and others, I tell people, “I don’t think. I just do.” That’s pretty much it. I just do it.

  3. I don’t run nearly as far as you or Running Betty, but the technique is the same. Get out there, keep going, and meet my goal for the distance by refusing to give up. Sometimes by the end of a 10K my legs feel leaden, but as long as I don’t give up and just walk after I get tired I call it a win.

  4. troyloves2run said:

    Great post! I am training for my first half marathon. I never thought I would say this but I prefer running longer distances. I just keep telling myself to keep going, you got this!

  5. Did you see the episode of How I Met Your Mother where Neil Patrick Harris ran the NYC marathon without training? They asked him how and he said, “Step 1: Start running. There is no step 2.”

  6. Well said. And there is no greater feeling of accomplishment than crossing that finish line knowing you have triumphed over all of those self doubts and hard times when you wanted to quit, but did not.

  7. Terrific post. And, man, have I ever been there!

  8. Great post! People ask me that all the time, about distance, but mostly it has been along the lines of ‘how can you run when it is -20F’ lately? And I say, I put on all of my layers and gear that I know will keep me safe … and I head out the door just like any other day.

  9. So true and great post!! You’re right, first, it takes the desire to want to run and two, it’s about going out there and doing it. If your goal is to run a marathon or even half-marathon, then you have to commit and literally be willing to put one foot in front of the other and just keeping moving!! Sometimes the simplest answer are the best!! :) :)

  10. Trails and Ultras said:

    This is a great post. There are times when the running comes easy but, if I’m honest, there’s a lot of occasions where I have to try every psychological trick just to get to the end of a run. I’ve heard that its those runs that contribute the most to physical and mental performance though. They certainly develop my character more than the others :)

  11. This was a great one to read this morning. I’m about to head out for my long run. Thanks for the reminder :)

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