Running with the Devil

Years ago some brilliant storyteller created the perfect metaphor for the inner workings of our conscience… the devil and angel on our shoulders. We’re all familiar with the visual, a devil appears on a shoulder whispering in a character’s ear and suggesting the least scrupulous way to deal with a situation, while on the other shoulder an angel appeals to the person’s more decent nature, steering him or her toward goodness and nobility.

As a runner, this apt cliché often comes to mind during half marathon training. As my mileage steadily increases and the workload gets more demanding, my brain seeks to derail me via a doubting voice inside my head.

Do you really NEED to wake up early and run two miles tomorrow? Skipping it probably wouldn’t be the biggest deal in the world. In fact, more sleep might actually help your running.

This fiendish little demon makes a pretty compelling argument. Eliminating two measly early morning miles wouldn’t thwart my progress. And extra sleep is always good. But I eventually dismiss the thought. I must keep to the plan. I must rise before the sun, throw on layers of clothing and make my way into the darkness.

rainy road2
The running devil tells me this is bad running weather… and that I should stay home.

Morning runs are not the only thing this running devil wishes to talk me out of. Some of his most persuasive arguments are saved for the lengthy, strenuous workouts in which long distances must be covered, no matter the weather or my mood.

Seven miles is a noble goal, but why not run six? Just take the next left and cut the course short. Removing that extra mile would get you home quicker, which means relieving those aching legs and sore feet sooner rather than later. Plus, it’s dry and warm inside your house. And there’s chocolate milk!

I could do that. But chocolate milk is for closers. I cannot alter the course. The plan is to run seven miles, so I must run seven miles. Short of sustaining an injury–

Your legs are REALLY quite sore…

–I have no excuse to shorten my mileage.

When the running devil really wants to pee in my punch bowl, he offers up his skepticism regarding my ability to even run 13.1 miles.

Have you noticed how sluggish you’ve felt during training? I have. Very disappointing. And you’re not even running that far today. This is a fraction of the distance you’ll have to endure at that half marathon. Are you sure you’ve run one of these before?

I’m tired and exhausted and it’s all starting to make sense to me. Why am I doing this again? What’s the point exactly? Aren’t there easier ways to exercise? Can’t I just get one of those battery operated contraptions that build up my abs while I sit there motionless?

The running devil thinks this is a nice route… but it would be better if it were shorter.

Thankfully, I have a secret weapon. My stubbornness. While this quality has led to an unfortunate number of domestic squabbles, it has proven to be a valuable asset when it comes to running. It allows me to defy my devil. It keeps me moving even when my legs feel like crap, no matter the distance or the time of day. I will run the miles outlined in my training plan and I will finish the race.

It has been said that the devil takes many forms. Sometimes that form is the voice in my head; the one telling me to stop or take shortcuts or eat half a dozen donuts for breakfast. But I will fight off his malicious suggestions and he will never win.

I’ll win the dozen donuts for breakfast one.

Okay, you’ll probably win the donut one. But only after I finish my half marathon.

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