Allowing For Miracles: Great Runs Under Imperfect Circumstances

It’s 7 p.m. on a Saturday. I’ve just wrapped up a 31-hour workday covering Transgrancanaria, in the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. The race started at 11 p.m. the previous night, and for the next 19 hours I exerted a just-in-time, don’t-blink effort of sharing the race with the world. I’m physically and mentally exhausted. By all accounts, I should grab a quick dinner and go to sleep. Instead, I lace up my shoes, pop in some headphones, and step out of my hotel into the last light of the Gran Canarian evening.

I roll down the short decline to the ocean-side promenade with ease, while the effort of the gentle climb that follows leaves me thinking that this might merely be a slow, token plod that keeps my run streak going and gets me two or three miles closer to my weekly mileage goal. I look back to the east over my shoulder and catch twilight’s last gleaming over the Atlantic. It sparks something inside of me. My legs are already moving freely and I open up my stride as I snap a few photos of the sunset behind me.

Gran Canaria Sunset Run

Last light over the Atlantic.

My pace quickens as I weave my way through the throng of vacationers walking along the sea. Avoiding obstacles saps my momentum and slows my forward progress, but I repeatedly accelerate with ease, much to my surprise and enjoyment. I click off low-seven-minute miles despite the constant obstacles.

I turn around 2.5 miles in, satisfied that I’ll be left with a mere two miles on Sunday to match my weekly goal. I find another gear on my return trip. My cadence is quick and my stride lengthens. There’s power and enjoyment. I drop below seven-minute-per-mile pace. The crowds have thinned a bit, as folks have settled into dinner or their hotels. I cruise along, reengaging my effort whenever it wanes. If not invincible, I feel in control. I feel fast.

Back outside the gate to my hotel, I bend over, putting my hands on my knees. A big smile spreads across my face. Wow… where did THAT come from?! I still don’t know, nor do I really care. What matters to me is that it did happen and that it wouldn’t have happened had I, first, not gone out for a run and, second, not rolled with the good feelings. In the end, it was one of my best runs of the year, and, in fact, for quite a while longer than that. It was a little miracle, a great run on a rough day, five miles for which I’m thankful. It’s also one for which I’m responsible.

Of course, such “miracle” runs don’t need to come in the form of an unexpectedly fast run. It’s now Tuesday morning, and I wake well before first light, after too many consecutive nights of insufficient sleep. I’m now in Madrid for an overnight layover and want to explore the Casa de Campo, an expansive park immediately to the west of center city. I set out at first light. Out to the Plaza Opera, over past to Royal Palace, and down to the river. Once across the river, I run west for a few hundred meters of flat before climbing up to a pond where I see pastels reflecting off its surface. I look to see the palace and neighboring monumental works silhouetted across a canvas that’d make Monet blush. I run counterclockwise around the pond to absorb the sunrise fully-reflected on its surface. It’s a sublime sight, one that I’d not have seen had I opted for an extra 90 minutes of sleep.

Casa de Campo sunrise - Madrid

Sunrise over Madrid from Casa de Campo.

These two miracle runs remind me of one of my favorite such runs. Back in the spring of 2006, I was finishing up my final semester of law school. I was working full-time through school, so time was in short supply. Still, I was training for Western States and I decided to jump in a local road marathon as a training run. It was actually my final weekend of law school, and I was living on three-to-four hours of sleep a night courtesy of exams. On top of that, some mishap delayed me, and arrived just minutes before the start. As in my post-Transgrancanaria evening run, my legs just started moving. I went out hard. The pace was far faster than that at which I’d trained at, but I rolled with it. Boy, did I ever. No time like the present. Two hours and 47 minutes later I earned a big marathon PR and a couple hundred bucks spending money. Good sense would have had me sleep in and it certainly wouldn’t have had me go out at breakneck pace, but what the hell.

Sometimes good things happen when you least expect them. That’s my entire point here. You can have plenty of great runs that you set yourself up for perfectly. You’ve slept well. You’ve eaten the right food at the right time. The weather’s great and so are you. By all means, cultivate and embrace those runs. However, you shouldn’t rule out a great run from happening under imperfect circumstances. We all have a plethora of days when many or most things suggest that we’ll have a bad run or that, perhaps, skipping our run might logically be the best option. Logic isn’t always right. Instead, if you give yourself the opportunity, sometimes miracles will happen.

Call for Comments

  • Do you have runs that are seemingly miracles?
  • Has this ever happened in a race setting?
  • Are you able to cultivate such “miracles” on the run? If so, how?

There are 3 comments

  1. Andy M

    Great piece, Bryon. We all love miracles, though we also love to try to understand and explain the inexplicable, right? Like, maybe your sublime sunset jaunt was fueled by the preceding 30 hours of hi-test exposure on the TGC course?

    Then again, a little magic never hurts either!

  2. Kevin

    Excellent article and, as you suggest, sometimes you have to overcome the pre-existing mental block before starting a run under difficult circumstances that’s it actually possible to run well. Sometimes it’s pure adrenaline, others times it’s the setting or maybe it’s a clear mind after finishing an exam, work project, etc, but those runs are the most satisfying when you don’t think you have the energy.

  3. Wesley Hunt

    Really enjoyed this, Bryon…spot on. When we stay present and maintain perspective and a positive attitude, there’s always the potential for these sneaky-good runs. Thanks for your coverage, thoughts, and beautiful photos.

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