I stood at the bottom of a mammoth, sloping hill, shuffling my feet, biting my nails, adjusting my ponytail, and doing pretty much anything I could think of to delay the inevitable. The inevitable was a massive hill repeat session, one designed to crush the spirit and break the body. I peppered my brain with all the inspirational clichés I could think of, telling myself that the anticipation of the workout was worse than the workout itself, that the first step was the hardest, that the only thing I had to fear was fear itself, but I knew better. There was no way around it. The workout was going to be hard. It was going to hurt. It was going to be awful. And I was overcome with dread. No, not because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish it.
But because I knew I could.
It is a terrifying realization, knowing the extent of what we can endure. Not only can we can withstand much more than we’d like to think, but every time we do, the standard of forbearance is raised. What was previously our limit becomes par for the course. Ability gives rise to obligation and invalidates excuses. To be strong is not to carry a load with greater ease. To be strong is simply to carry a heavier load.
It is the law of integrity of endurance.
I am grateful for the workouts and races that have pushed me. That have challenged me. That have broken me. Racing is humanity concentrated into minutes and hours. It is a rare sphere in which we can push our bodies to their physical and mental limits and experience an immediate, tangible application of our strength. The race presents us with questions we are forced to answer in real time. Can you keep going? Can you give more? Can you take more pain? Are you willing to?
There is a difference between quitting and being broken. The former is something we do. The latter is something that happens to us. The former is born of fear. The latter is the result of the absence of it.
I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that running does not get easier. We train and race and become better runners. We run faster. We run farther. We run smarter. But we do not run easier. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
Running gets harder.
Every race I’ve ever had to gut out has brought with it both accomplishment and responsibility. Accomplishment, because I toughed it out when I thought I could not continue. Responsibility, because I discovered that I could continue. There is great joy in finding out that we are stronger than we ever thought we could be. At the same time, that discovery strips us of our excuse to quit.
You see, that’s the tricky thing about strength. It is not a one-and-done commodity. It is ongoing.
Life is full of daunting prospects. No sooner is one struggle scaled than another rears its ominous head. Before we even have a chance to pat ourselves on the back, we are faced with another, often more difficult challenge. It’s like running the race of your life only to discover that, instead of crossing the finish line, you have merely crossed the start of another race. A race that is longer. A race that must be run at a faster pace. It is a merciless cycle. It is relentless growth.
It is the phenomenon of strength.
Our greatest accomplishments bring both joy and responsibility. Because of them, we cannot plead inability when facing difficult tasks at hand, for to do so would be to plead a lie. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it may be long. But we know we can keep going, at least to the point of our last great struggle, because we’ve been there before. And we have endured.
Strength untested is not strength at all. Only in the action of carrying a burden can strength be seen. It is a terrifying realization. It is a somber commission. It is the responsibility of being strong.
“The Responsibility of Being Strong” was originally posted on www.TheLolaPapers.com. Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.