I see her in the girl that effortlessly breezes past me on the bike path as I painfully slog through my training run. She’s in the pictures on my wall. She’s in the stashed tubs of running clothes that are too small to be even close to respectable, much less comfortable. She’s the ghost of Laura past. The ghost whose last act was to race a marathon exactly as she wanted and then fall of the face of the planet, never to be seen again.

We all have these ghosts hanging around, often haunting us long after we’re done with them. I think about the person I used to be — 5, 10, 25 years ago — and even though I can see the evolution from then until now, it’s clear that there existed aspects of myself that are long gone. And like anything else, some I breathe a huge sigh of relief to be rid of and others I’d welcome back with a warm hug and a cold beer.


The morning of the 2011 Chicago Marathon, ready to rock ‘n’ roll. This girl is gone (though the accomplishment lives on).

But of all my past selves, I think an inordinate amount about my fairly recent, formerly in-shape, runner/triathlete self. Just below the surface, my brain berates me for letting her “get away”, for allowing myself to become so out of shape. Thing is, that girl — that marathon running, triathlon racing girl — she’s not me anymore. And it’s not that I let her get away, it’s that I made a series of decisions to change my life and marathon running and triathlons weren’t part of the new picture. I was using training to avoid facing other problems; in the end, that strategy wasn’t doing me any good.

Spending energy trying to get her back is moving in the wrong direction. I’ve talked about this before; it seems to be a challenge that I recognize but haven’t yet conquered. It’s getting easier, but there’s still this whiny toddler in me stomping her feet and just wanting to go back to how it used it be.

Some of the difficulty while forging this new identity is that it closely resembles what I used to be — no matter what changes life brings, being active is a part of it. And therein lies the problem:

I go to Swallow Cliff to do stairs and I’m reminded that this wouldn’t have been so hard just 4 years ago.

I get emails about fun half marathons and remind myself that I can’t just sign up because I can no longer roll out of bed and run 13 miles like I used to.

I’m in my basement doing strength training and look at the wall where I have my lift PR’s listed with weights that are ridiculously beyond what I could do right now.

It’s something that I constantly fight against — the almost compulsive need to compare Laura Now against Laura Then.

Life keeps circling around, bringing us back to the same sorts of things, over and over again. Rooted in the fact that we all have certain in-the-bone desires and joys, we are always moving both towards and away from something familiar. But, that something is not the same familiar thing. No, it’s kinda sorta like the old thing, but not quite the old thing. Every life has recurring themes, though I would argue they are variations on the theme rather than simply recurring themes. And it’s up to us to notice these themes, make sure they bring us joy and figure out how to change them to fit our current selves.

For me, I keep coming back to the theme that being active is not just important, but part of what makes me who I am. But that activity? That part, I think, needs to change. Take softball, for example — not only my first love, it was something I was good at and played at every single opportunity. There was a time when I was playing adult recreation league games almost 5 days a week and wanted nothing different. But then, it started getting more difficult … injuries cropped up, recovery time after games stretched longer than 24 hours and an early work schedule made late games untenable. I scaled down to two days a week, then one and then finally gave it up.

It was a rather bittersweet decision, but I knew I needed to move onward. Soon after, mountain biking entered my life. See — kinda sorta the same … rough and tumble activity that makes my heart sing. Same, but different. Familiar, but new.

In this vein, I’ve been thinking about what my new thing might be. I’ve been saying for a long while that I want to run again, that I miss being a runner. And yes, that’s true, but I’m starting to come to the conclusion that running might be me moving backwards rather than forwards.

I loved the feeling I would get while running — the working hard and sweating and moving — but I think I loved even more the fact that it was so damn quantifiable. Ask anyone — my competitiveness is legendary. The ability to track times and pace and rack up personal bests was like crack to me. Being able to get on a racecourse and measure myself not only against past times but against all the other people out there? It was a high like being the best kind of drunk, you know, where you really are funnier than you would be sober and aren’t yet falling down, spilling your drink or convinced that your karaoke singing is good enough for you to Make It Big.

And right now there isn’t much that I do that falls into the same sort of category. Yes, I continue to challenge myself with my workouts, always striving to achieve more than I did before, but that isn’t quite the same.

I know that I miss that. And I think that I need to figure out some way to incorporate that into this new identity, but I don’t think running is it. I love the racing venues and the community of people, but it’s been frustrating to be so slow and whenever I try to ramp up my training, I injure myself. This body doesn’t appreciate me lugging around 40 extra pounds while trying to run, apparently.

Right now I’ll be happy with pushing myself up the stairs at Swallow Cliff — more and faster, please — but I’m keeping an eye out for something else to compete in. I don’t know what it is right now, but I’m looking for it and letting the universe know that it can send something my way anytime it would like.