As I was heavy-breathing through the last few intervals of my run the other day, I started thinking about my long history with this weird little pastime. I don’t need to survive by catching my dinner. I’m not being chased by anyone. And hell, I’m on a treadmill so I’m not even moving forward. So, why do it? For a long time, running was nothing more than punishment for being late to practice (one reason of many to be on time for everything) — to pair the words “running” and “fun” would have left me scratching my head in confusion. As long as I could get from home plate back around to home plate without needing oxygen, I was in good enough running shape for anything that I might need to do.
And then, I broke my arm playing softball. The tl;dr version of the story is that I spent an inordinate amount of time in occupational therapy trying to get my hand and fingers to work again and I think the thrice-weekly torture sessions wore me down enough so that when one of the therapists there asked, “Want to run a half marathon?” I dumbly nodded in response, which was interpreted as an enthusiastic “YES!!”. Thus roped in, I began what would become one of the most important relationships of my life — my relationship with running. If Facebook had been around, we would have been Facebook Official within weeks.
Currently, running and I are circling each other and giving each other the side-eye, not sure if it’s going to work this time around. For a long time — you know, before I broke up with it — running was my constant companion through ups and downs and while I might not have thought so at the time, ended up teaching me a lot about life:
Don’t leave things mostly done; it feels better to wrap things up the right way. It was one of those days where I didn’t really feel like running, but did it anyway, knowing that I’d appreciate the good kind of tired that comes from a hard run. As I cruised up the driveway, I stopped my Garmin — 4.93 miles. I sighed, whispered some NSFW words to myself, and headed back down the driveway to go to the corner and back. Less than a minute later, I’m on my driveway once again. My stopped Garmin now showed 5.01 miles. NOW I had officially finished and could go inside and relax. That’s one of the rules of running (didn’t you know?) … you can’t stop when you have less than a tenth of a mile to the next mile. That’s just how it is.
If it were easy, everyone would do it. It was March 2008 and we were lined up for the start of the Wacky Snacky 5K. Not very windy, chilly but not overly so — a good day for running. Starting out, I didn’t have any real race plan in play — I was there for the post-race food, after all (it’s the Wacky Snacky race and BOY did it live up to it’s name!) — and went out strong, figuring I’d see what I had in the tank. First mile was good, second mile was a touch faster. I knew there was a potential PR out there. At around 2.25 miles the burn started to happen. Physically, my legs were screaming at me. Mentally, my brain was telling me that I ought to slow down a little because if I didn’t, I’d blow myself out, that this was just too hard to do. I spat back at myself: “if this were easy, everyone would be doing it” and kept running, keeping an eye on my Garmin for pace and doing my best to ignore all other thoughts. I PR’d that day, by 13 seconds and took 7th in my age group. And then I ate candy and cookies and Hostess snacks, easily out-eating my calorie deficit. The fact that it wasn’t easy (both the run AND the post-race snacky binging) is what made it all sorts of awesome.
Never judge a book by its cover. Corollary: never judge a runner by their shoes. I have a confession to make — I’m a bit of a fanatic about running shoes. I love buying new ones (I can’t be the only one, can I?). And when I was running 20-30 miles a week, it was (almost) justifiable. My problem was that while the shoes I would buy at the running store were invariably awesome and fit great, I couldn’t help going online and buying shoes that I thought looked cool, regardless of whether they were stability shoes or lightweight trainers or some other type that was utterly unsuitable for my feet (case in point: Vibram FiveFingers (my poor heels and Achilles tendons!)). You can see my point a mile away: sometimes the coolest-looking shoes were the absolutely worst shoes that I could be wearing. Sometimes the boring old Asics Kayanos were what I should really have been running in. Or really, any sort of shoe that had some semblance of stability in them. Just because they looked good, didn’t mean they would work for me — there’s more to a shoe than just it’s fancy-dancy color and fashionable look.
You can’t count on motivation to get you to do something. I knew — or at least passionately hoped — that the marathon I was training for in 2011 would be my last. I wasn’t in love with the distance, or the training it required, but I wanted to have just one race where I did everything possible to give it my best shot. Which meant a rigorous training program. During that summer, I was running 5-6 days a week, including a long run on the weekend. My mileage topped out at around 45-50 miles a week and I can tell you with complete honesty — I didn’t really enjoy it. Did I enjoy some of the individual runs? Of course. I was still a runner, still got a high out of getting outside and pounding the pavement. But overall? Not much fun. And I learned, over and over and over, that motivation was never going to get me to the start line (much less the finish line). I needed to draw upon something deeper than an inspirational video to get me moving. By reminding myself every day how much I wanted a good marathon finish, I turned off the alarm, got out of bed and got the miles in, even when I utterly unmotivated to do so. I knew that a good marathon mattered more to me than the “I don’t wanna” feeling toddler-tantrum I wanted to throw. Motivation would come and go and carried me through maybe half of my training. Pure guts and a clear eye towards my goal got me through the rest. And I’ll tell you something else — there’s no better feeling than kicking butt on a training run that you didn’t want to do in the first place.
That’s just a short bit on how running has changed my brain. And now that I’m not a runner, but keep wanting to be one again, I wonder what the next lesson is that I’ll learn. Is it that no matter how hard something is, if you try hard enough that anything is achievable? Or is it that sometimes you can’t go home again and moving on is the best way to gracefully deal with life?