Posted by: Joe English | March 22, 2007

Motivation: A little bit o’ stubborn

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to be a marathon runner. It’s the time of year when runners are starting to struggle with knee problems and other injuries – and this leads them to question whether they’re cut out to be marathon runners. It’s also the time of year when people are working hard to overcome problems in their training and you get to see who has the mettle and who doesn’t.

Here’s the thing: marathon running is really hard on your body. Naturally you’re going to get a reaction when you turn from couch potato to running girl. Or even when you go from running fast to running faster. Your body is going to talk to you and probably complain a little. Maybe even a lot. And in all my time watching people hit this point in their training, there is just one thing that separates the marathon runners from the tried-to-bes. It’s something that they have inside of them. I call it “a little bit ‘o stubborn.”

Let me introduce you to one of my runners named Margaret. She has had some problems this season and missed a couple of runs, so she was behind on her training. I had told her last weekend that she could cut a couple of miles off of the run to avoid overdoing it, but she didn’t want to. She wanted to go the distance that I had on the schedule for her. So we decided that she should try it. I joined her about the time when she was hitting the furthest distance that she’d run so far and as we were running along, I asked her how she was doing. She said that she was fine, then she added, “I’m kind of stubborn.” And that’s just it. Margaret has a little bit o’ stubborn in her. She has it.

One of my runners last year, Angela, had a transected ACL in her knee. That means that the ligament that keeps her knee from moving side-to-side under impact was cut all the way through. Most people with this kind of an injury probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I imagine that every step she took felt like someone was jamming an ice-pick into the side of her knee. Yet she was out there every weekend. She saw numerous doctors, invested in braces and tried everything possible. She practically re-wrote the book on ways to train for a marathon without running. She swam, and lifted, and walked and did spin classes. Not only did she keep at it, she finished her race. Angela had a little bit ‘o stubborn in her. She has it.

I think about my own training. I was out running last night and my lower-back was in knots. I kept stopping and stretching. I even laid myself down on the track to try to stretch it out, but it was just so tight that it felt like I had a baseball shoved into my side. Yet, somehow I kept at it. I didn’t get in my car and go home and have a beer. I kept at it, because I’ve got a little bit ‘o stubborn. I have it.

In watching people deal with running problems, what I’ve found is that people react in one of two ways. They either try to deal with the problem and continue or they give in. I have runners all the time that basically say “well, my knee started to hurt, so I just figured this wasn’t for me.” Unfortunately, they don’t have that little bit ‘stubborn. They just don’t have it. And that knocks them out of the game.

There’s just no way to become a marathon runner if you can be knocked out of the game at the first sign of a problem. If you’re going to do it then you absolutely have to want it, and you absolutely have to have a little bit ‘o stubborn in you.

And this is not to say that there are times when it isn’t going to happen for people. Whether you get sick or really hurt yourself or just don’t have time to train, there are things that will knock people out of the game. But if those people have “the stubborn” they’ll be back later.

Think about it this way. If you went out and did 90,000 push-ups, your arms would hurt wouldn’t they? Well, when you go on a long run your legs take the brunt of your body-weight from thousands to hundreds of thousands of times. That’s why they hurt. And that’s totally to be expected. It is true that humans were constructed to run, but most of us are still learning to run. And running a long, long way, like marathoners do, is not a natural state. It’s a totally unnatural state for most of us. And you need to understand that when you put yourself through this physical commotion, your body is going to respond with some pain, fatigue and soreness.

But the pain, fatigue and soreness is what adapts you to running long distances. Each time you run, your body suffers some damage. Your body then fixes that damage and makes some changes. Those changes are what allow you to do it again next time, hopefully with less pain, fatigue and soreness. Over time, as you go longer and longer, your body will be less painful after each run and you’ll recover faster. That’s how we build ourselves toward making running a more natural state.

Yet it’s that little bit ‘o stubborn that let’s us push through the obstacles. Marathon runners have to have it. There is just no one that runs marathons, or ultras or Ironman triathlons that isn’t going to face obstacles. But it’s the stubborn that gets them back out there.

I find it interesting that the most frequently searched term that leads people to my blogs is something akin to “how much should my legs hurt after a long run?” I’ll handle that in my next entry. There’s a fine line between the pain, soreness and obstacles, and those true injuries that force us to alter the game. People that become great marathon runners instinctively know the difference between the two. Let’s just say that the little bit ‘o stubborn is not the same as a little bit ‘o stupid. We have to be stubborn to keep at it, but we don’t want to stupidly do things that harm us either.

In the mean-time, I hope that you have that stubbornness that leads you to keep trying. Marathon running isn’t easy. Keep at it and you’ll understand, or be reminded again, how great the rewards can be. I hope that you have it. If you do, you’ll eventually be well rewarded.


  1. That was a great post. Seems only the easy runs are actually easy. With each of the others (longs, intervals, tempos), I must always dip into my stubborn !!

  2. Nice article, thank you 🙂

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