Thoughts on the Run: Intestinal fortitude

Andy Shearer

On the morning I wrote this column, it was rainy and 43 degrees. 43! So, I thought about the muddiest place I could go, strapped on my trail shoes, and that’s where I went – 45 minutes of splish splash, splish splash.

Afterwards, I did what every other self-respecting runner would do, I uploaded my results to the world wide web, then morbidly checked out what some of my other runner buds had done. Lots and lots of zeroes and treadmills seemed to be the order of the day.

Days like that test the intestinal fortitude of even the toughest mudder among us. What is intestinal fortitude? It’s defined as the courage to go on, even in the face of difficult conditions. Marathoners are said to have intestinal fortitude. The simplest way to describe it – GUTS!

My rainy sloppy run really wasn’t much about guts, except to not run in bad weather conditions would be to cede my intestinal fortitude in the face of such conditions. Going on the run wasn’t really that difficult. NOT going would have been much worse to me and a lost opportunity. 

Andy Shearer

Part of what makes a runner so “gutsy” is their desire to go test themselves in the face of 92 degrees and high humidity, or 18 inches of snow with 30 mile per hour winds, or raw 43 degrees with rain and wind. By the way, as usual, I will use the disclaimer that no amount of intestinal fortitude is worth being “unsafe.” The line between the two can be pretty thin, but then again, it really shouldn’t be.

As I perused the uploaded results of some of my running buds, I did notice a hint of dismay with the “fake spring” and “ugly day” statuses. And yes, there were a few who even opted for the coziness of a fine dreadmill (Misspelling? Nope… meant it!) And that’s okay, too. “Guts” doesn’t necessarily equate to overly uncomfortable or even painful in the face of such a bad weather training day. But there are times when race day dawns and intestinal fortitude had better be aplenty! Just google the Boston Marathon in 1905 or 2018. I’ll let you pick which you’d prefer.

So, what conditions would I go out of my way to avoid? Well, none really come to mind. I’ve run in hurricanes, heat waves, and below zero temps. I’ve raced in 95 degrees and I’ve raced with wind chills of minus-20. Obviously, none of us go out of our way to find such conditions to test our gutsiness, but when the day presents itself, the day presents itself. 

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One of my athletes recently asked me if he could change the day of a particularly hard workout. I responded that he could but to remember we don’t get to pick our weather on race day. He opted to run the session on the prescribed day. Intestinal fortitude must occasionally be trained as well. Those are the days that make race day feel so much less difficult.

How does one develop guts to run in such adverse conditions or push through those pre-conceived limits? By training ourselves a little at a time to move those barriers that would otherwise hold us back.  It’s quite similar to how we train to go from walking a mile to running 10 – with a modicum of patience and consistency. And of course, accepting that it’s going to be uncomfortable.

I knew this morning’s run would result in muddy shoes, wet feet, painful hands and a wet butt. But I also knew that missing this morning’s run would rob me that little training block of discomfort that would help me move the barrier a little bit more in my favor. I’ll take the discomfort every time.

So splish splash your own personal barriers a little at a time. It’s doesn’t really take a lot of guts to go out and run, but the lost opportunity of not running might results in less intestinal fortitude the next time you need it.

I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails!

Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.