I’ve often read about “The Beast”, sometimes with different names, but most often from runners. I’ve done Triathlons, done 10ks in the past, I was a professional athlete, and so I thought I knew The Beast. Turns out, I had never met him. Or her, perhaps.
The idea of maxing out, going to failure, lifting until you can lift no more… those were the things I thought made up the beast. The physical incapability to go on. The wall. The Beast is stronger than that, yet more subtle. I met him 4.5 km into a 10k I ran on Saturday, just to gauge my ability to do so.
I was tracking km times, pace, tempo. I was making sure there weren’t any odd pains, focusing on form. Being smooth, going easy, spinning the earth beneath me. I was being extra careful because I was wearing newer shoes, ones I had never pushed out further than 3 miles in. All was well.
In terms of planning, I was perhaps somewhat lax. I’d had a breakfast that I would not qualify as power food, a scone from a local farm stand (plus, of course, my coffee). That was the entirety of my nutrition for the day, along with hydration that was more sporadic than effective. 2pm passed as I considered my plight, I wanted Sunday as a rest day but I’d missed lunch. If I ate now I’d likely not have a chance to get the 10k in. So, against my own better judgement I headed out.
I wasn’t going to set a PR, and the heat meant I’d be running at a pace likely lower than normal anyhow. I brought a large bottle to make sure I had enough water. A bit of a warmup and I headed out.
As usual, the first mile saw me trying to settle into a easy tempo. It was easy to push out hard and I managed to average 6 minutes per km without much effort. I knew that would be too much for 9 more kilometers so I tried to focus on slowing a bit, keeping the pace steady. 2 more km went by, and I began to feel a little bit of the bonk, the blood sugar drop I feared. I slowed a bit more, drank water and pushed on. Speed was not important, only finishing with a good bit of data in my hand.
Then, as I approached 4.5km, nearly halfway, The Beast sprang from the bushes. It is difficult to describe, but imagine a voice half warning, half sugar, whispering that you should stop. You won’t make it. You’ll get hurt. You’ll pass out. The couch at home is soft, you could drink cool water there, there’s hot pesto pizza waiting (which there was).
The temptation was strong. This run was nothing, a simple exercise in testing my ability. In fact, as I’d left the house I’d mentioned to my wife that I might do 10k, I might do 5k, all depending on how I felt. No use hurting myself, if things were hurting I’d come back in.
But there was no pain. My form was solid, my steps gentle. I wasn’t terribly dehydrated. What I was, was tired. Terribly tired, heavy and ready to return. I nearly sat. I nearly turned home.
However, I’d heard about this before. The gentle voice that offers respite, that cajoles and berates, warns and gives permission. I knew this game and I refused to play. Pushing past was, to practice extreme understatement, not easy. Although 4.5 km is really not much of any distance, it seemed that my sad nutrition and hydration had left the door open, and The Beast let himself in and made tea. It was waiting at home, if only I’d take the next left…
I pushed another km. Then one more. It was then I saw the police come screaming by towards my street. I chose to pause my run, to make sure all was safe. Perhaps this was a partial escape, but family was at this point more important. 10 minutes later after some discussion with neighbors it was determined all was well. I stood in front of my own home (the police were at a house 4 doors down). The pizza was in the oven, the shower stood waiting. 6.75km were past. It would have been so easy to walk inside. My wife walked outside to ask if I was coming in.
No. I had another 3.25km left I said. Even though the time for total would be even less useful as a metric, facing down The Beast spurred me on. I restarted the timer and pushed back out.
I finished the 10k in 1:10 not counting the break (1:20 otherwise). More important than the time and exercise was the experience of hearing The Beast, finally meeting this enemy. And, for the moment, vanquishing him. I am under no illusion that he is gone for good. He will return, with new promises, excuses, warnings and gifts. I will hear his voice in my head again, and realize who he is. He is the part of me that allowed my body to fall this far out of shape and function. And I cannot ever take his advice and counsel again.