After the pain, the reward

Andre Dubus III has really nailed the sweet taste of accomplishment after a difficult run.

I happened to check out his memoir, Townie, and cracked it open to discover that it begins with a scene of a young Dubus III going for a run with his father. Dubus III, the author of four previous books including the House of Sand and Fog, writes about growing up in a broken family in a hard mill town in Massachusetts.

Invited to join his father on a celebratory birthday run, the young boy doesn’t want to miss the chance to spend time with his dad – despite the fact Dubus III doesn’t much run or even own a proper pair of shoes. He borrows a pair of too-small runners from his sister and joins his dad on a five-and-a-half mile loop on a trail.

Soon he’s feeling the shoes pinching his feet, but they don’t bother him as much as the run itself. The pace is rich and soon the terrain changes. “Then the hills came,” Dubus III writes. “They were short and steep and Pop told me to run up them hard, that it was easier that way.”

Dubus III describes that all-too-familiar feeling of struggling for breath, of the heart pounding, as he strains to keep up with his father. “The hill leveled off in the shade, then dropped mercifully before another rose up like a rock-strewn wave…there were five or six more like this, and with each one we rose higher from the water down to our left.”

Winded, Dubus III pulls up to his dad, who’s slowed down and who announces: “The big one’s coming up.”

“Big one?”

“You’ll see.”

Dubus III toughs it out and gets back to the parking lot with his father, where his dad asks if he’s up for a second lap. Thinking his father means a shorter loop that leads to the longer one, Dubus III answers affirmatively before realizing that he’s actually just agreed to another five-and-a-half miles. “The pain in my feet felt like some territory they now lived in.”

But he runs the second loop, his feet ripped to shreds. When they finally finish, Dubus III removes his shoes, revealing all his toes split open on the sides. But – and here’s the kicker – he stops for a drink at the water fountain and describes it as “a liquid angel come to bless us, and even though my entire body hurt from my lungs to my feet, I couldn’t ever remember ever feeling so good. About life. About me. About what else might lie ahead if you just willing to take some pain, some punishment.”

And there it is beautifully described: the same sense of confidence, well-being and achievement that follows many of your most painful runs, the sense that if you can push through that, then you’re ready for whatever life may throw your way.

Next time you’re out in the snow or rain, or the pace becomes uncomfortably fast, or the long run suddenly seems too long, just remember that water fountain, that “liquid angel” come to bless you at the end of the run. You’ll be fine, stronger, for it.


About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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