During my Epiphanies of November Through March, I swore up and down I would stop being so hard on myself for running shitty races. But fast forward to the present day, here I am, judging myself for not being a “perfect runner.” For running slow times. For losing focus. For dropping off, physically, halfway through. For considering quitting.
Have you ever been here, fellow runners? The best I can compare it to is trying to train with one’s mind in a taper and one’s body struggling to recuperate from an existential chest cold.
When I started marathoning about three years ago, running was a constant high. There was a lot of change in my life, and running became an anchor. I was also training in some of the most stunning places in the world, and that helped soothe me, and solidify my love of the sport.
There was a lot of exuberant crying over first finishlines. When nothing seems to be going right, but you find you can push a previously non-working body to do things that work, it is like discovering the Holy Grail! And when you get to cross a finishline to cheers and someone puts a medal around your neck? Oh. My. God. It’s like you’ve just won the Olympics, AND made out with Jon Hamm right there in Central Park.
Running made me feel connected to myself. It made me feel like I knew what I wanted and when I wanted it. And I kept getting better at it. There was occasionally a bad race — but for years, every race was better than the last!
There are perfectly logical, rational reasons for me not to be running perfect miles: travel; health; lighter training. I don’t have the time or stamina to train like I did before, and I haven’t run the number of long-distance races by this point in the year as I did last year.
The health thing is a big one — it’s a weird one; a shape-shifter. Some days are better than others, but mostly, the best example I can give is that while running used to make me feel like I understood my body, right now, I feel like I am an adult, and my body is an uncommunicative teenager. For instance, I take one look at Harlem Hill in Central Park, and I start handling it like I used to, and my chest cavity sends the signal back to my brain that says,Bitch, please! In other words, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And totally off texting some pimply boy from fourth period math class while I’m trying to run up a damned hill.
(I know I’m using that flesh thing out of context, but bear with me.)
It sucks hard, and I get angry, and I get frustrated, and I’m sad, and I think: This is absolute crap. I do everything right, and I drag myself out of bed, and I have to get up earlier than a lot of people because I have to walk my dog before I show up for these races, and why am I not running like I used to because I’m here, I show up and…
There’s no Attendance Award in running. You start or you don’t. You run your goal splits or you don’t. You finish…or not. Sure, they’ll give you a medal at the end when you finally get there, but you’re still running against yourself.
I want to love this again. I want to wake up, and put on my pink compression sleeves, and attack my training like it’s what I live for. I want to be able to push. I want to train back to where I was before.
And I want to be able to accept that I might not be physically able to do that. At least, for now.
That, friends, is one of the hardest things I’ve had to write in recent memory. It’s the difference between running my goal splits, and…not. It’s the difference between running six marathons a year plus twelve half marathons (which sounds superhuman, looking back), and running two marathons plus two half marathons.
Most importantly, it is the difference between proving something, and learning tolove something again.
I suppose, if you’re not a runner, this post isn’t as relevant to you. But let’s be honest. Once you have had those finishline moments — those times when you’re not only wearing a medal but you also feel like you’ve just made out with Jon Hamm — you’re not really going to settle for less, are you?