It’ll always get better…or worse


By Gary Griffin


“It’ll always get better.” These words, spoken to me by a veteran distance runner minutes before my first ultramarathon in 1991, could be dubbed “The Ultrarunner’s Creed.” What he neglected to tell me is that it can also get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Nonetheless, after nearly 10 years of running long-distance races, I am still amazed at the amount of wisdom those words hold. A shining example is my recent date with the Pennar 40 Mile run in the searing heat of Pensacola Beach.

Throughout the ultrarunning community, Pennar is like a Brussels sprout–you either love it, or hate it. It’s a simple out-and-back, pancake-flat run from Pensacola to Navarre, always held the first Saturday in June to ensure 1) miserable, hot and humid conditions; and 2) timing with the nesting schedule of the Least Tern, abundant throughout Gulf Islands National Seashore. Trust me, these small, diminutive birds themselves experience a tremendous personality change (not to mention a marked increase in digestive activity) when they have young to tend to. In spite of the conditions, though, Pennar has become a personal favorite and, in this my 5th return (my first after turning 50), I was determined to regain my sub-6 hour form of the early 90s.

For four hours it was the usual feel-good-for-five-miles/feel-pretty-crummy-for-five miles” routine of Pennar. There’s something about the sight of the distant water tower near the finish line, shimmering in the midday heat, that triggers the body to fall apart. At 35 miles, I felt supremely confident of going under 6 hours. A half-mile later, I had transformed into a groveling, whining heap of humanity, and at 36 told my wife, Peg, “I don’t have the guts to break 6. I’m done.” She had no sympathy, but did offer encouragement, fluids and cold cloths to push me along. Nonetheless, I was cooked. Walking was a chore, running out of the question, and the thought of calling a taxi tempting.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line. At mile 39, still whining, I was faced with running a 7:28 final mile to reach 6 hours. Heck, I can’t run a 7:28 first mile! With Peg reminding me that mind can triumph over matter, and insisting that I not give up my goal, I began to run. After 50 yards I started feeling better, and some heaven-sent energy carried me on. I crossed the line at exactly 6:00:00 and once again was reminded that “It’ll always get better.”

(NOTE: Gary’s sub-7:30 mile was run after running the equivalent of a marathon and a half marathon in distance!)