On a mission or maybe a vain quest, I joined my town’s community center to lose weight and get back in shape. I should have taken the fact that none of my jeans fit anymore and that I have to wear sweat-pants now, as a sign that maybe I had started to let myself go. That no longer being in a band meant I didn’t worry about what I looked like onstage or that I’m in a committed relationship and don’t have to worry about getting laid anymore. All these things formed a perfect storm of negligent rib eating and gourmet New Hampshire pie binges.
I have been working-out at the community center for a month and it has been brutal. I didn’t realize how out of shape I was until I tried running a mile. The community center has a jogging track upstairs looking down on the basketball courts, and I was only able to only run 3 laps—14 laps is a mile.
I tried again, 4 laps.
I tried again, 2 laps.
I once got up to 5, but that was it. I always stopped when I felt any kind of pain shoot through my body. Sometimes the ache would be in my ankle, sometimes in my stomach, and the worst was in between my shoulder and neck.
I’d stop running and walk around the track, catching my breath and feeling annoyed with myself because I knew I was doing the bare minimum. I understood that the pain was not stopping me physically; I was not risking injury I was only stopping because of the mental and emotional discomfort.
While walking, I reflected about writing certain books and how those paralyzing moments of worry and doubt would always come and how I had pushed them aside and continued to write.
Could it be the same for running?
The day came when I finally said to myself: fuck it, pain or not, I am going to run 14 laps. I am going to run the mile.
I felt great for 2 laps and then I hit lap 3…PAIN. My stomach ached. I would have normally stopped, but I pushed. I told myself: I am not injured. I am not in danger, I am just using muscles that NEED to be used.
I hit lap 6 and the pain decreased in my stomach and moved all the way down to my ankles. Holy shit, it hurt. My ankles felt like they were on fire and an invisible man was kicking the back of them every five seconds. But I told myself; the pain doesn’t mean I have to stop.
I kept running.
Lap 7. Half way. This was my original goal that I couldn’t even make, but I was doing it. I started believing it was possible to do the other half.
That enthusiasm and faith wavered when I got to lap 9. My ankles hurt worse and a sharp pain struck in between my neck and shoulders. OH MY GOD, I can still recall that pain. It felt like Freddy Krueger stuck his whole knife-gloved hand in-between my shoulder and my neck. But I was able to breathe; my legs were able to keep moving forward. The pain spread throughout my body but I reminded myself that the pain had no control over my ability to keep on running.
When I rounded lap 11, I understood that the pain wouldn’t go away but I could choose to still finish the mile. No matter how horrible it felt, I was going to keep running. I focused on breathing and kept my stride.
Lap 12 passed and the pain struck harder, but I didn’t equate it with stopping.
Lap 13. That was going to happen. I wasn’t going to die. I just had to keep going.
Last lap. Everything in my body ached, but I was going to finish. No way in hell was I going to stop now.
I made it!
I fucking did it!
The physical pain was worth the mental euphoria I felt by finishing that mile. The shitty fountain water I drank after that mile tasted better than any coffee, beer, and liquor I have ever consumed. I survived the pain; I didn’t stop because of it.
Many times I have seen hardship and pain as stop signs. I can dubiously equate them with injury, but injury is incapability and I realized running this mile that there are very few times when am I actually incapable of starting and finishing something. The pursuits and passions in my life that are worthwhile will always have some pain and bullshit attached to them. As I sat there, out of breath, with sweat dripping down my beet red face, I realized that if I can power through the pain and discomfort I can go very far, and pass many mile markers.
Christoph Paul is an award-winning humor writer and publisher of New English Press. His most recent books are Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks and Great White House 2: Billary Bites Back, and Horror Film Poems. Find him on Twitter @Christophpaul_and Christophpaulauthor.com.