This afternoon I had one of the most intense runs I’ve ever done (usurped perhaps only by win-sprints in an August heatwave of last year which ended in a CAT scan). There is an outdoor track I’ve mapped through exploration that takes me through my general neighborhood and back home, varying greatly in intensity. A lot of smooth, level suburbia interposed with some grueling vertical miles up ravines at nearly a 45 degree angle. It usually takes me about 45 minutes on a good day or an hour if I’m feeling tired to run the whole distance.
Today I resolved to run it in 30 minutes.
There was no compelling reason why I came to this passion. Coming home from work I felt I needed some exercise, and I wanted it to be intense. So, walking up to the cemetery gates which marked the beginning of my route, I set my timer. 30 minutes.
I’d like to say I regretted my decision right off the bat, but that wasn’t the case. I relished the opportunity to get raw and really push my body. Pounding music blasted from my play list as I shot through the streets. It was exhilarating to bound past leisurely families, the strolling elderly, and, deliciously, other runners. This was of course until I encountered the first hill.
Quickly my pace slowed as I tried to muscle my way up the steep incline. My lungs burned, demons began slashing at my leg meat. I bared my teeth out of some billion years-old habitual mechanism. Snot poured onto my chin. I kept my eyes riveted to the 2 meter stretch of pavement disappearing under my feet. Every line of sidewalk I passed a chant sounded in my mind: perfect! perfect! perfect!
My cardiovascular system was taxed to the limit, and I knew I had two more of these hills to climb. I began to get more intense, more belligerent towards myself. C’mon, push! HARDER DO IT 30 MINUTES LET’S GO!
The second hill was a fist in the face. My upper body withered and curled up close to my chest. I hunched down to the ground and felt like I was crawling up the incline with my toes. I was listening to some excessively angry rap and felt the adrenaline well up inside me. It was at that moment I begin to get a panging pain in my left ankle. Far from serious, a small ache began to develop with every step.
I was just about to ignore it, force the pain away and continue my intense workout, when I stopped (figuratively).
I turned off my music, slowed my pace, and began to talk to my body. Hey, left ankle. How you doin’? What’s going on down there? I altered my form a little bit and the pain went away. I began, rather than yelling at my flesh to push further through all adversity, to encourage myself with a gentle motivation.
Yes. Yes you’re doing great! Keep going. I know it hurts but I need you to be stronger. We must grow stronger. Yes good job lungs. Good job legs. Way to go heart! Ok we need to go faster now. Just a little bit. 2% faster. Yes good…keep your knees up. Incredible, keep going!
I kept the pace, I was approaching the end! 5 minutes left. One last hill… Not the steepest, but the drama was not lost on me. One more obstacle I know you can do this! I continued to motivate myself in this way, in a way that was intense, but gentle.
I finished the circuit at 27 minutes.
I realized this afternoon that intensity is not enough. Pure Intensity ignores pain to the point of heedlessness. Intensity pushes physical boundaries with avarice, only to halt at injury. Intensity berates. Intensity is cruel.
There is a gentle intensity which at the same time cares for the body, but knows the suffering required in growing stronger. Like a parent or teacher who is tough and seemingly cruel, but only to the greater purpose of success and growth.