I rounded the last corner of a pancake flat loop on a dusty gray dirt road flanked by corn and soybean fields deep in the heartland of Michigan. Of the 5 1/2 mile loop, I had only 3/4 of a mile left to run. That's when it hit me hard.
If I stooped just a bit I could see beneath the outstretched limbs of the roadside trees, exactly 1 mile to where this track ended along Old State Highway 21. The combined red and yellow of the "Stop Ahead" sign blended through the heavy morning air into an orange dot just to the right of a tiny dusty-rose "Stop" sign. My loop ended at the black mail box 1/4 mile shy of the pink sign. There was no good reason for fatigue after enjoying a slow pace and ridiculously little elevation gain.
But it hit me amazingly hard anyway - the need to quit. My legs said stop. My lungs agreed. I managed to stumble over unseen stones and for a few steps my mind raced in search of excuses.
It's hot and humid.
Well, it's going to be hot soon anyway - humid it is. Stifling. I guess 75 degrees is hot for 7 am.
I'll run longer tomorrow - no sense pushing it this morning.
I think I'm developing a blister...
Those thoughts and worse assailed what little resolve was left to guard my objective. I kept running. Why? To whom would I boast? The run was not destined for the record books. I had some legitimate pain and I was bored of running on that dismally uninspiring dirt road. So why not walk the 3/4 mile?
And why not walk the home stretch so many other times? I have struggled with what I coined "Home-Stretch Lethargy" near the completion of more long runs than not. 20 miles, 10 miles, 5 miles, or 3; it makes no difference. There is a seduction I can't explain which whispers to a weary body within grasp of the goal. "Must you really push so hard?" "Who cares?" "You could use a longer cool down today," it coaxes.
Is that seductive voice part of me? How can the same mind that drives me to run for hours on end resort to cowardly treason within sight of home?
And yet I know that it is a part of me. Its source is that same dark corner where rests all doubt and fear. The corner is a banishment, not allowed the light of cognition. But it exists. Within lurks a seductress opportunistically watching for weakness, pain and lethargy to combine with the lactic acid. As the end draws near the toxic voice disguised as pain itself begins to caress my will.
And I must make a choice. Not a fixed choice, rather one that must be remade each time I crash against the pavement with a blistered foot.
I can quit at any time, and I will hate the quitting. I know I will.
So I run on. I finish. And I'm happy I did.