How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Three years ago, I started running, but didn't really consider myself a "runner." I ran casually, just once or twice a week and didn't have any lofty goals like completing a marathon. I wasn't even thinking about doing a 5K—no thanks! Running challenged my body (it was hard) and my mind (it was boring). Yet somehow, I made myself get outside 3-4 days a week to run. In day, night, rain, shine, snow and heat, I hit the pavement and ran, pushing myself to do something that I actually kind of hated. It took a full year of mind-numbing torture before something clicked in my body and my brain and I began to actually enjoy myself. From there, I worked on going farther and faster. In my second year of running, I ran a 5K. Over the next few months, I slowly progressed and completed 10K (6.2 miles), 15K (9.3 miles), and 10.6-mile races. What I haven't told many people is that I set a new goal for myself in 2011 (my third year as a runner): to complete my first half marathon (13.1 miles).

Last weekend, I lined up with about dozens of SparkPeople members for the race in Pittsburgh. I had trained hard. I was physically ready. This was going to be easy.

Or so I thought. Saturday's race was the toughest course and most daunting physical challenge I've ever faced.

My body was physically prepared for the distance, as I had been training for months and had even run the full 13.1 miles a couple weeks prior without any problems. But on this 20-degree morning, I was hungry, slightly sleep deprived from traveling, and extremely nervous. I really like to push myself, and I had set an aggressive goal pace for this race. For me, it wasn't enough to just do the distance. I wanted to do the distance and do it well.

I can honestly say that only about the first 5 miles of that race were easy. The final eight miles were agonizing. Fatigue burned through my muscles with every step. The incline of the course was relentless and made me feel exhausted. I was not having fun. I was not enjoying any part of this. I began thinking to myself, "Why am I even doing this?" I wanted to stop. I wanted to walk. I wanted to quit. I didn't think I had it in me.

It's difficult to will yourself to do something that's terrifying or challenging. We've all faced challenges like that in many areas of our lives—maybe even in your own fitness or weight-loss program. We want to be the best, but we don't want to try and fall short. We have high expectations for ourselves and then beat ourselves up if we don't meet our aggressive goals. It's human nature to fear failure, run away from pain, and want to give up when things get tough.

In my mind, completing the race wasn't enough of an accomplishment. I would be a failure if I stopped to walk or if I didn't cross the finish under a certain time. How messed up is that line of thinking? Could I not be a "winner" just by training for and attempting a race that such a small amount of the population ever attempts? Could I not be successful if my body was so tired that I had to walk? Would I be any less of a runner if I ran slower?

I was about 3 miles from the finish when I stopped mentally beating myself up. I was still exhausted and the finish line seemed days away, but my outlook had changed. I allowed myself to let go. I gave myself permission to slow down and coast to the finish. I mentally prepared myself for NOT reaching my goal time, and reminded myself what an accomplishment it was to even finish, no matter how long it took.

As I approached the finish line, there were the other SparkPeople members cheering for me. I tried to give it all that I had left, even though I felt like I was barely moving. I finished, and to my delight, I actually met my goal time after all. I was happy about that, but what I was most pleased about was the fact that I never gave up. I was a long way out of my comfort zone, and that scared me. I didn't want to fail. What I learned is that you never fail when you try. You just have to try. There's honor in that, no matter what goal you're working toward.

A big shout out to all of the SparkPeople members who completed various 5K, 8.1-mile, 13.1-mile and even 30K distances along with me. Some walked, some ran, many completed their first race or their first race at a new distance. Congratulations to all who participated, and thanks to those who cheered me on—and stayed at the course (it was in the 20s!) to root for the last Sparkers to cross the finish. You all inspire me!

When was the last time you got out of your comfort zone? How do you keep yourself going when the going gets tough?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
See more: motivation running


KHALIA2 3/2/2020
Excellent Article!!!!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!!!!!!! Report
LOSEWEIGHT1212 2/27/2020
thanks for this info Report
SPINECCO 12/26/2019
Congratulations! Well done! Report
GRAYGRANNY 12/14/2019
High 5 to you Coach Nicole!!!! Report
Thanks for a great article! :) Report
Great Article! Thanks! for sharing Report
Excellent Report
Bravo for you and thank your for a good blog. Report
Getting out of the comfort zone can be a learning experience. Report
Thank you so much for your thoughts. As I train for my very first 5K in Phoenix, I'm ripped with so many emotions as I run. Anxiety, fear, you name it, but your blog helped to see that we are considered runners and we all endure the same emotions. Thanks for helping me to be comfortable with where I am in the process, but motivated to continue going. Thanks, Tessa Report
Congrats on your first HM Nicole! It was a tough course and very challenging to me! Being from FL, the biggest hill we have is a bridge! I was struggling myself but I was enjoying it.

I'm so happy I got to meet you! Hope to meet up at another race soon! Report
Coach Nicole, your blog couldn't have come at a better time. Right now I'm not on top of my game and am struggling both physically and emotionally. Your honest description and openness on your thoughts while running has helped me to realize that many others out there share the same fears and reservations. Thank you for not sugar-coating your experience, but instead laying out for us the true grit and determination that is required. It is by challenging our fears that we are able to overcome them. This is not always easy, nor desirable. I too appreciate your comment about not being a failure if you try. I tend to beat myself up in the worst way if I don't meet my sometimes too high standards that I set for myself. Congrats on finishing your first half marathon. Here's to many more to come! Report
I still have in my mind that I want to be a runner, but I have such a hard time with it. Thanks for posting this blog! Report
Inspirational story Nicole. Report
Great blog! It was just what I needed to hear today. Thanks! Report
I admire you for what you have just done. We all start in different places, and work within limitations. I find it inspiring that you didn't just beat up on yourself. Instead, you reached deep within, and found a way to accept yourself. What a nice surprise it must have been to realize that you made your goal time anyway. I have trouble running too. I have had a lot of things get in the way the last couple of years, but I have gotten started again, so now I am working my way back up to a 5K. I recognized the feelings you described, and I will undoubtedly be feeling them again soon. I'll think of you to help me get things back into perspective. Thanks! Report
Wonderful blog, Coach Nicole. Congrats on your incredible accomplishment. I love that you said "You never fail when you try." That's soooooo great. Look at the amazing thing you did! And was cool that you were in Pittsburgh - that's my hometown! Report
Nicole – Congrat’s again on your 1st HM!! Your time was AMAZING!! It was so great to meet you and know I wasn’t alone in my struggle with those “hills”!! ;) more importantly…we did it! None of us Sparkers let those hills define us or beat us! So happy for you!! What’s next? Report
Good job, Coach Nicole! Congratulations on your first half marathon. Way to go! Report
Thank you so much Coach Nicole for posting this blog! I have been struggling to be a runner, I just really don't like it but like you I know it's a great tool for weight loss. I keep waiting for the "runner high" but so far I just push and push through it. I had an injury several months ago that I had to stop running but I start back up through the 5k challenge through Spark - I sure hope I can do the 5k next month!

Thanks for the inspiring blog! Report
Thanks for posting a really awesome blog. I just ran my first half-marathon yesterday and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I hit the wall at mile 10 and had many of the same thoughts about finishing. I came in ahead of my best estimated finishing time by over five minutes. Congratulations on your achievement! You are very inspiring! Report
Thanks for motivating me to keep running. Congratulations on completing this race. Very inspiring! Report
Despite all the 'inspiring' stories on SP. I am rarely moved by them, but this one did it. I started running last year and like you Coach Nicole I didn't like it. I kept at it because I believe it is an effective way to lose weight. It helped to work towards something so I planned to do a 5k before year's end. Just about the time when I felt ready to enter one I hurt my back and had to take some time off from working out and running. Healing time flowed into vacation time into the winter holidays. The more time I took off the harder it was to return to running. More than six months later I am still making excuses about starting to run again. I am afraid to hit the pavement again because it will be hard and it will be starting all over again from a 15 min/mile. Thanks for the reminder that there is success in merely trying. I think I'm going to try in the morning. Report
Congratulations Nicole! I'm hoping to try to do my first 5k and 10k races this year. It's a start, but it's moving forward! Thanks for your encouraging blog! Report
What an awesome job. Congrats Report
I am constantly second guessing my ability during my training and concerned that I have bit of more then I can chew. I just signed up for my fist Half Ironman...I hate calling it a half, makes it seem like it is not as intense. I am very nervous and wish my training will start picking up.
That is SO great that all the Spark people were able to meet up! I am going to look for other Spark people in my ares for support...but I live in Europe. Report
You go girl ! ! ! ! ! CONGRATS! Wonderful achievement. Keep up the good spark! Report
Soo encouraging. It was my goal to at least do a half marathon this year and if I could do a marathon by the fall. Well the half is next month and I have not been training, so your story is encouraging me to get out and start back running. Thanks Coach. Report
Way to go Nicole!!!!!!!!!!!! Report
Congratulations, Nichole! You are a true winner and a great example to the rest of us! Report
Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing. Report
The best thing in the world to keep you going when the going gets tough is Spark People. Spark People is the place you can come home to. Report
That is an incredibly inspiring story. Thank you. Report
Awesome Nicole!! I signed up to train for my first HM this year. I trained for 6 wks and then during the week that I had to run 8 miles, I hit the wall and struggled through body pain, pulled a hamstring and then decided to pull out of the HM altogether. This is the first time that I didn't beat myself up for not finishing something I started. I was proud of how far I had come on my running journey and I realized that I can always train again once my body heals. For me, it signaled that I had really owned my efforts and gave it my best, because I didn't beat myself up or anguish over pulling out! This is why I run, for this type of clarity and victory over my emotions! Report
Congratulations, Nicole, on finishing your first half-marathon. It is a great feeling (runner's rush) when you finish. I know because I finished my first half-marathon a year and a half ago and it was best feeling I have had in a long time because I finished. I did my second half-marathon last September and got the same rush. For both races I wasn't sure if I could finish the race but like you I didn't give up even though with the second one my feet were hurting me so bad (I later found out race that I had my shoe laces too tight). I was able to keep going because I knew the feeling I would have when I did finish. I am so happy you accomplished your goal. Good luck your next race! Report
I think this is your best blog yet. It speaks to us all - fast - slow - or waddlers (such as I). Thank you for your honest assessment of yourself and what it means to win.
TerrBear Report
Awesome! Congratulations on finishing the race, and meeting your time goal!

I'm going to be trying my first 5k this summer - totally out of my comfort zone, since I only "dabble" in running occasionally (usually when we're camping in the summer). And I'm shy, so running a race with a bunch of stangers is scary for me - although a neighbor of mine sounded like she'd like to run it, too.

I use mantras ("I am strong. My body can do this. My body WILL do this.") and visualization (picturing 6 pack abs or toned arms) to get me to keep going when I want to quit pushing myself. Report
Congratulations and thanks for sharing. Your story inspires me. I will remember your story when I feel like giving up.

That's a mighty fine looking group of people. I'm glad you stuck with it. You're definitely a winner in MY book! Report
Way to go. In will now go for a wal. Baby steps for me. Report
congratulations on your will power to finish. I doubt that I could have done that . I like my comfort zone too much. Report
Congratulations on your first half marathon. I think a big mistake people make is underestimating the half marathon. Especially your first. Most start out too fast because of the excitment of the crowd.
You should be very proud of yourself Nicole. Now on to a marathon! Report
Congrats on your first half marathon! I've just started a running program for myself--running my first 1/2 on the 28th--and I can really relate to how you were feeling at the beginning three years ago. It's a chore, and I tell myself I love it, buuuut...there's a long way to go. I'm so inspired by your determination! I hope there are more HMs to come for you. :) Report
Congrats on setting your 1/2 marathon PR! I'm glad you finally decided to just let go. For your next race (hopefully there will be one) start that way and you'll find yourself much happier throughout the whole things. Hey, I have the perfect one, come join me in Savannah Georgia for the inaugural Rock n Roll. I know Coach Nancy was considering it. Report
Congratulations on your HM and more congratulations on not giving up. When you wrote about the last eight miles being difficult I thought of the slogans from a company that makes t-shirts, etc. with funny comments written on them. The one I thought of is, "Who moved the finish line?". I think we've all had races in which we've felt that someone moved the finish line! Report
Congratulations on your accomplishment!!!

Transforming my sedentary - unhealthy lifestyle to a healthier one, has definately taken me out of my comfort zone more than ever!

Reading your blog has given me a new perspective on how I view what I have started for myself. By starting, I've already succeeded; by continuing to exercise and eat healthier, I'm succeeding every day! By slowly chipping away the extra pounds my body carries, I'm succeeding - - - as long as I keep going I SUCCEED. I like that :)

Thank you!! Report
Thank you, Coach Nicole, for sharing this story. You put me right there with you as you tell about your mental-emotional process in the last 5 - 8 miles. And congrats on working 3 y to reach your goal. Russ Report
Nicole, I had heard that you had a great time for your first ½ marathon. Congratulations!
I run with a group, and I am always one of the last to finish. This morning was a scheduled 10 miler, with an optional extra mile at the end. My run was a bit like your race experience. By mile five, one of my always bad ankles started to feel like something had broken. My energy was gone, and I knew very well all the hills yet to come. How am I going to get to the end today, and should I consider giving up on the race in four weeks?
Just after the five mile mark, I was on a section of road where the returning group passed going the other way. Their cheerful hellos and good mornings were a real pick up, just as you were cheered by all the sparkers you ran with. Friends can give you an amazingly positive attitude adjustment. By the end of the 10, I even decided to tack on the extra mile.
Great blog post!!! It really helped me to see that I am not the only one who sometimes seeks perfection and sets goals to high and than has to adjust my expectations, tweak my plans and keep on keeping on. When the going gets tough I know that keeping going is the best thing to do and slowing down but accomplishing what I set out to do feels so good in the long run!!! WooHoo! Smiles Barb Report