I just completed what was easily the toughest running race of my life, the Pier to Peak Half Marathon in Santa Barbara. 4,000 ft of elevation gain, with hardly more than a few hundred meters of flat road in the entire course. The winning time was 1:38 with most runners coming in around 2.5 hours or more. I finished in 2 hours and 19 minutes (well off my best 1/2 marathon time of 1 hr 22 mins).
I finished the race without walking more than a few steps at the aid stations to help get water down. That was my goal and I was pleased with it. Running a tough race like this really helps focusing on pushing through even when things get tough. No one sets personal records on a course like this (unless it is your first half marathon!) so it really comes down to learning how to suffer and being OK with that. All growth comes when the mind says stop but you push through.
I read some advice from Stu Mittleman – a legendary ultra runner – who said that it is critical to determine the specific conditions under which you will quit before you begin an endeavor. In the heat of the moment it is impossible to make the right decision. You need to be clear with how much you are willing to suffer and deal with that. I came back to that advice often when I was thinking of walking. I knew it would be painful and it was. I’m glad I chose not to take the easy way out.