Tomorrow morning I’m running my first marathon #excited #terrified #mostlyexcited. I started running in middle school, and did cross country and track in high school. I joked that running was a way to put my height to good use [long stride] that didn’t involve a ball and hence hand-eye coordination. I kept running recreationally through college and beyond, sometimes loving it and sometimes hating it, sometimes with an attitude of joy and gratitude for what my body could do, sometimes to punish myself for “overindulging” on cookies or pizza, my caloric penance for my sins.
I have yet to talk to a woman who doesn’t struggle in some way to make peace with her body, to figure out how to resist the siren call of a society that says our worth is in the smallness of our pants size and the flat planes of our bellies. It’s taken me many years to make peace with mine, and while I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% ok [and that’s ok] I feel more comfortable in my own skin as an almost-34 year old than I ever did a decade ago, and for that I’m grateful.
Running has played a huge role in that, especially over the last year. Last fall I coached Girls on the Run, and I found that trying to teach pre-teen girls to view exercise not as a way to burn calories but as a celebration of the amazing things their bodies could do was deeply cathartic for me. Celebrating with them how strong their bodies are and the joy of exercise changed my own self-talk and I found the words I spoke to them seeping into my own subconscious on my runs. “You are so strong! I’m so proud of you! You are amazing! Look at what your body can do!” Super cheesy, yep – also super cathartic and healing for a Type-A perfectionist whose usual self talk is emotionally beating myself up. “You only ran 5 miles?? You should have run at least 6! You ran a 9 minute pace? You should be at 8:30” There’s a cheesy quote about self-talk, about how if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend you shouldn’t say it to yourself, and I’ve found that deeply helpful.
I’ve always loved running, and run a few half marathons, but said for years that I’d never run a full marathon – I’d heard from friends that it made them get burned out from training and hate running, and I didn’t want that to happen. I want to run for life, not for a medal, so I decided it wasn’t for me. Then last spring my friend Amanda ran the Big Sur marathon, and a group of us went to cheer her on at the finish line. Watching folks cross the marathon finish line was unexpectedly emotional. There was a couple in their 70s who crossed the finish line [running, not walking!] holding hands and grinning ear to ear #relationshipgoals. There was a mid-40s woman whose two young daughters were cheering at the finish line, holding a sign that said “Good job Mommy!” #allthefeels. There were ordinary people of all shapes and sizes and ages doing something really freakin’ hard, and people they loved cheering them on. I felt my eyes fill with tears and I thought “Oh crap, I think I have to do this now.”
So I signed up for the SF Marathon, excited for the chance to run across the Golden Gate bridge and along the ocean and generally enjoy this beautiful city I feel so thankful to call home. Training was fun at first – it was novel to follow a workout plan [I usually just run as much as I feel like that day] and then about a month ago I hit a wall and was totally burned out on training. I was tired of staying in on Friday nights – and skipping a glass of wine – so I could get up for long Saturday runs. I was tired of half my weekend being consumed by running and recovery. I was tired of pushing myself so hard in training runs, doing lap after lap at Kezar stadium surrounded by high school cross country team boys loping effortlessly by me [ah, to be young!]. I was tired of having to plan my vacations around when I could run and stressing over not getting enough mileage in. I was over it and I was grumpy. I asked my mom to pray that I would have “a renewed perspective” on training and be thankful that I could run at all.
The moral of the story here is be careful what you pray for.
Last week I came down with what I thought was a bad cold – which turned into a bad case of bronchitis and me not leaving my house for four days, so sick I could barely walk two blocks. Instead of doing the taper runs I had so diligently planned, I was laying in my bed watching old Friends episodes and freaking out that I wasn’t going to be able to run. I looked up if I could defer my entry to next year [I couldn’t] and my eyes filled with tears as I thought about not being able to run the race after 5 months of training. I went to the doctor and I’ve never been so happy to be given drugs! glorious drugs! in my life. I’m lucky that I’m normally pretty healthy, so not being able to breathe properly for a week was a humbling experience. It made me think deeply about what a gift good health is – that the point of running a marathon isn’t a sub-4 hour time, the point is that it’s a miracle that our bodies can physically move that distance.
The day after I got my drugs-glorious-drugs, I went for my first tentative run post-illness. I was nervous, but I ended up running 6 miles and feeling pretty good. Considering that 72 hours prior I barely had enough energy to do my laundry, this felt pretty miraculous, As I crested the hill of Land’s End, the same hill I run up every Saturday – and usually take for granted – my eyes filled with tears of gratitude. For health, for access to great medical care [which I know not everyone has], for the resiliency of our bodies. I thought about my dad, who died of a heart attack almost 11 years ago now, and of how precious and precarious life is. I thought about how proud he’d be to watch me cross the marathon finish line, how much I wish he was here, and how life is such a precious gift.
So, I’m no longer fretting about my mile splits or finish time. I’m going into tomorrow deeply grateful for the gift of health, and for the opportunity to do something I love in a place I love, surrounded by people I love cheering me on. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to do something hard, because life is hard, but we can do hard things. I’m deeply grateful for the pain, because the pain means we are alive, and it makes the joy – and the post-run ice cream – all the sweeter.