Archives for posts with tag: Running

The pain was sudden, intense, and sharp. I yelled as an electric shock ran down the back of my leg, causing my knee to buckle instantly. I didn’t have time to react as my left leg gave out underneath me. I was practically to the floor before I was even aware that I was falling. Luckily, my husband caught me, stopping me from hitting the concrete.

“What just happened?” The surprise was quickly morphing into concern as he looked at me.

“I don’t know. I was just standing up, and it’s like someone stuck a cattle prod on my left butt cheek. It felt like I was electrocuted!”

The next day, I saw my primary care doctor, who is a specialist in sports medicine. After an X-ray and physical examination, she stood back. “Well, it looks like you are having a combination of issues. I’d say you probably have some bursitis in your left hip, some IT band inflammation in your left knee, and you have what’s called ‘piriformis syndrome’ in your left hip and buttock. Basically, you have some big inflammation all down your left leg, and part of that inflammation is squeezing your sciatic nerve, which is what created that electricity feeling and caused you to fall. It’s serious, but totally something we can take care of with anti-inflammatories and physical therapy.”

But physical therapy just wasn’t a viable possibility for me. In order to come in two to three times a week, I’d have to find a sitter for the girls—spending quite a large sum of money, taking quite a large chunk of time—and results could only be promised insofar as I was able to continue the exercises at home (if my issues responded to them at all). My doctor understood my concerns, and she suggested that I learn a few stretches to do at home. “You could also look up some good stretching videos online. Like yoga.”

Immediately after leaving my doctor (a prescription for powerful anti-inflammatories in my fist), I texted my friend, Sara, who has been practicing and teaching yoga for 7 years.

Three days later, I had my first yoga lesson. I spent a good five minutes, just trying to stand in Samasthitih (saam-i-sittee)—the neutral standing “pose” that is seriously just standing with your weight equally dispersed between your feet, and your arms at your sides. I realized that my weight was primarily on my right leg. (I was naturally trying to spare my injured left leg by taking my weight off of it.) I was amazed that I had never noticed before just how off-balance my body had been feeling. Finally, I found my center, and learned Sun Salutation A, and the first couple of standing poses in the Primary Series (the sequence that all practitioners learn when they first start Ashtanga yoga).

It has been three months since I first started Ashtanga (for clarity, most people know it as “Power Yoga,” but that’s really a misnomer). After three days, I stopped taking the anti-inflammatories. They just weren’t necessary anymore. After two months, I ran a 5k with no prior training other than yoga. I haven’t experienced any recurring pain from my injuries (though my left hip is definitely tighter than my right, and requires a little more caution when manipulating certain poses), and my overall strength and endurance have skyrocketed. While I’m not “back” at running yet (the 5k was for a charity and put on by my cousin. I try to do it every year), I have started walking again, and the paces that I can now maintain just astonish me. Whereas walking a 15-minute mile prior to beginning my practice (that’s what you call a daily yoga exercise. A practice) would have left me sweaty and breathing heavily, even when I was running the most, now, I find myself barely perspiring. I often will have to remind myself that my walks are not for leisure, but exercise, and that I should be pushing myself more to get my heart rate up.

Sara, my yoga instructor, told me that a regular practice would change me. I secretly scoffed at the strange, New Agey idea that an hour a day of bends, lifts, concentrated breathing, and asanas (poses) would really “change” anything. I mean, physically? Of course! But mentally? Spiritually? Besides the pleasant release of endorphins that I expect from any exercise, I just didn’t see how that was going to happen. After all, I was a ballet minor in college. I’ve been dancing since I was four. I’ve been a runner for six years. Surely, if I was going to change from a physical activity, it would have happened by now.

Then, just this week, I met with Sara for my weekly lesson. I had had a frustrating week. Sara challenged me with trying headstands for the first time, and I could barely bring myself into the pose that you take before you actually do the headstand. I was stuck in that position, trying to breathe deeply, but just gasping, while the sweat dripped down into my eyes and nostrils. I wasn’t completing a headstand so much as I was thinking about maybe, one day, building up the strength to try one. But, what was even worse, I was feeling particularly frustrated with something called my “vinyasa.” A vinyasa is a transition. It moves you from one asana (pose) to the next. It’s the movement that comes in between the actual movements you have to achieve. And it’s hard.

Basically, when you “take your vinyasa” or “flow through your vinyasa” in the Primary Series of Ashtanga, you are trying to move your legs from being straight out in front of you in a seated pose, to being straight out behind you in a plank (chaturanga) position. You do this by bringing your legs up to your chest, lifting your butt off the floor with your hands, and then tucking your legs between your arms (while you are still suspended) before jumping or stepping your feet back to chaturanga. Here’s a video of it, since it’s kind of hard to describe:

I’ve spent weeks struggling with my vinyasa. I could feel my body lifting internally, but nothing seemed to be budging on the outside. It was as though my bones were lifting up, but all of the non-solid stuff—the fat, the skin, the stretch marks, the ingrown hairs, all of what I perceived as my “ugliness”—refused to move off the floor. I would “take my vinyasa” by grunting, gasping, pushing with all of my might against the floor, only to remain exactly where I was, until I was forced to take another breath, and just walk my legs behind me to get into chaturanga.

I opened my lesson with a diatribe against vinyasa. Feeling unable to do a headstand felt justified. After all, I knew people whose lifelong fitness goal was to “do the headstand in yoga.” But the vinyasa? The transition? The thing that is just supposed to take you from one place to the next? Why did that have to be so hard??

I began my practice, with Sara watching me, breathing with me, and adjusting me as needed. When the sweat began spilling from my face, she quietly placed a towel by my side, and gave me a breath or two to wipe down my slippery hands and feet. When I would bend forward, she’d appear behind me, firmly yet gently pushing down on my back, lengthening it until my forehead suddenly touched down on my ankles. Sara’s quiet, steady strength is inspiring, to say the least. Then, when it came time to take my vinyasa, she just said, quietly, almost in a murmur, “Take an extra exhale to just set the bandhas (your lower pelvic region and core), and then lengthen your arms on the inhale.”

I exhaled, feeling my fingers spread and my palms flatten. Feeling the texture of the mat, and thinking about keeping my entire palm flat on the floor. Thinking about using my fingers to help with the push. I inhaled.

And lifted.

There is a similar pose in Ashtanga called “utpluthih” (oot-ploot-teehee). Translated from the Sanskrit, it means “uprooting.” You sit in lotus position, put your hands down at your sides, and push up. Having pulled bushes, trees, and about twelve incredibly deep and stubborn rose bushes out of my yard, I was already very aware of how difficult “uprooting” can be.

utpluthih

Utpluthih

But I realized in that moment, that second of lifting up, that I wasn’t really uprooting myself. I was re-rooting. I was still attached to the ground. Just finding a new way of connecting to it. I couldn’t get my legs to swing back without touching the ground, but I was able to pivot my body forward, walking my legs between my arms on my tiptoes, and as I swung my legs through, I felt the gentle twist of my muscles. Wrapping around my arms from my shoulder blades, around the tops of my shoulders, wrapping back around my triceps, around and around, until the muscles spread into my fingertips. And in that moment, as I was feeling the spiral of my own strength going down into the ground, I thought about the apple trees on my parents’ orchard, growing over the years and decades and generations in a slow twist, spiraling out of the ground and spreading up, turning to find the sun, the wind, the rain, the moonlight. So slow and steady, and so trusting of time, that the only evidence of their continuous twist towards the sun is in the steady wrap of bark around their trunks.

It was a second and a half, but I felt all of those things. That I was like the inverted apple tree, spinning, slowing screwing myself down into the ground. That I wasn’t uprooted, but re-rooted. Flipped. Upside down, but still upright. That strength is different from power. That I realized that wanting power (and calling it “power” yoga) is an exercise in ego, and that ego has no place in my practice. That the tree is powerful. It does not have power. That those two things are very, very different. It was the most incredible, meditative moment of my life thus far.

I collapsed in chaturanga, laughing. “My arms are trees,” I gasped. “My arms are trees!”

I can’t say where my yoga practice will take me. I can’t even say that I will maintain it, or pursue it into more complicated series (there are 5 after the Primary Series, and after 3 months, I’m still only at the halfway point in the Primary). But I can say that it has, in fact, changed me. I’m liking the change. I’m liking the re-rooting. The rerouting as it were. I like that it’s forcing me (quite literally) to look at my world from different perspectives. Ashtanga is here for me at exactly the time it needed to be. It’s healed me. It continues to heal me. And that’s some crazy, New Agey shit for sure. But I like it.

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I need help, dear friends.

You see, for the past two months I’ve been.

Well. Huh.

I guess I’ve been sick. But it’s been the strangest kind of illness I’ve ever experienced in my life.

You see, I’ve been experiencing what I’d call “mild diarrhea” every day for almost two months. Not “Sprinting to the Bathroom and Moaning” diarrhea. More like “Can’t Quite Trust that Fart” diarrhea. It’s been uncomfortable.

I’m sore. Raw.

I’ve had cramping and gut pain that at times left me hunched over on the couch, desperately trying to stretch, crunch, bend, or fold in any way that would relieve the pain running down my side.

I’ve been so bloated, even my yoga pants started rolling down the hard ball that had become my stomach.

The constant bathroom breaks mean that I’ve felt dehydrated for an entire season.

And, yet, I haven’t even been able to enjoy the “advantage” of stomach flu-induced weight loss.

I’ve actually put on weight.

And.

I have stopped running.

That’s perhaps the worst of it all.

I’ve gone from running about 20 miles a week while I was training for my half-marathon, to now running . . . well, nothing.

Last week, I managed about 2.5 miles before I had to stop, focus, and penguin-walk the last mile back to my house.

I have called my doctor, and I have an appointment with a gastroenterologist in August. I’ll likely get to (in the words of my husband) “meet the Silver Stallion.” But I’m okay with that. I hate that I have to wait until August, but I’m willing to go through testing and procedures to figure out what is wrong. Or if anything at all is wrong. Because I need to get back to running. I need to.

BUT, the good news is that this week, I’ve started feeling much better.

I’ve had whole days where I don’t have that “Gotta go NOW” feeling.

And my yoga pants are fitting once more.

I’ve even been able to feel hydrated again.

But, though my more obvious symptoms have abated, I now have other problems to contend with: namely exhaustion and motivation.

I’m so, so tired, you guys.

Today, I fell asleep while watching my kids. Twice. Completely on accident. Once after lunch. Once after dinner.

This morning, I woke up with my alarm at 6am. I got up, used the bathroom, and looked at my tired face in the mirror.

The next thing I knew, my daughter was crying in the next room. I rolled over to look at my clock: 7:44am.

I don’t even remember going back to bed.

My husband suspects I’m likely anemic from the last two months of what must have been some serious intestinal inflammation. And I suspect he’s likely right.

And I just don’t know what to do.

I want to run again. In a weird way, I know that I’d improve both physically and mentally if I could just get back into my running, my training. But I’m feeling stymied right now. I have a hard time finding motivation for early morning runs in heat and humidity, even when in perfect health (I’m a Northern Michigan girl. I vastly prefer cold winter mornings to the heavy, cream-of-chicken-soup summer air of Southern Indiana). Now, I’m frightened at the thought of being trapped, two miles away from my home, and suddenly having to dig a hole.

Also, I just don’t know how to get my energy back.

But, more than that, I’m frightened that I’m starting from zero again. That I’m not a runner anymore. That the second I start trying to run again will be the second I realize I never had any business trying it in the first place. That I am and always have been a fraud.

So, please, friends. Motivate me. Inspire me. Help me.

Shower me with advice. With tips. With life hacks. I’ll take them all. (Though if you start spouting off about toxins or essential oils, I reserve the right to privately mock you, even if I publically thank you. You’ve been warned.)

Because from now to August, I can’t just keep dragging along like this. I can’t undo all that I worked for, all the strength and endurance. All the hours. I can’t watch them disappear under a fog of exhaustion. I have a race coming up in November. I refuse to give that up. I have to get past this.

I have to run again.

So, please, help to show me how.

I ran the Hoosier Half-Marathon on Saturday, April 9th. It was hard. It was wonderful. Here’s what I learned from that experience. (Pictures at the end!)

  1. Runners are walkers too. I had it in my head that “runners” run. Period. That anybody who could claim the distinguished title of “runner” didn’t waste their time with pedestrian pursuits such as walking. Or chatting. Or full-out stopping. And I was determined to run my first half-marathon. Run The whole thing. Every single inch. Somehow I had convinced myself that only ceaseless, constant, unalterable running would qualify me as a runner. At least, that’s what I thought while I ran alone. Then, I started running with other runners. Runners who stopped to adjust their shoes or braces. Runners who paused to thank the volunteers handing out Powerade. Runners who waved goodbye to their friends as they stopped to visit the porta-potties along the route. Runners who walked. People who I never once doubted were “real” runners. People who were much faster than me. Much more prepared. Wearing much nicer gear than I was. And there they were, not running. Seeing these runners take their time, recognize when they needed to recover, stop when their bodies were telling them to, it finally lifted the terrifying weight of my own expectations off of my shoulders. At mile 4, I stopped on the side of the road to tighten the straps on my knee brace. At mile 9, I walked up a difficult hill. I walked about half of mile 12, saving my strength for the hard push to the finish line. I’m still a little embarrassed to admit all of the times I had to rest—and for my next race, I’m going to try to work on my endurance—but I finally see that I can still think of myself as a runner. Even when I’m walking.
  2. If the race officials say the course is “challenging” they mean it! Bloomington’s Hoosier Half is a hilly course. It is 13.1 miles of hills. And not tiny hills, either. Now, honestly, the hills weren’t all bad. I actually rather enjoy running on hills, and prefer them to flat terrain. I like how rolling hills slingshot me along in my runs, and I even find myself gleefully chanting “challenge” on the uphills and “recover” on the downhills as I pop along my usual running routes. But I do wish I would have focused specifically on the hills more. I’ve had multiple friends make comments about how strong my thighs have become throughout my training, and I always credit my hilly runs. But the course turned out to be more challenging and hillier than I anticipated. So, next time, I’ll have to talk myself into tempo and hill workouts more often than I talk myself out of them!
  3. I will never have trained “enough.” Runners are typically self-motivated perfectionists, and overly critical. Though, as a first-time racer, I was technically only training for and working towards a distance goal (“Just finish, just finish, just finish”), I couldn’t help harboring secret pace goals as well (“I can certainly manage a sub-2:30 half. But maybe a sub-2:15? Oh! What if I could do a two-hour half?? That would be amazing!”). As I trained, my absolute fastest and best times had me fantasizing about a 2:11 half-marathon. 131 minutes. A solid ten-minute/mile pace. Middle of the pack. Respectable. The day of the race, I started out just behind the pacer holding the “2:15” sign. “You’re mine,” I thought to myself. “I’m staying on you.” I even entertained visions of pacing with her, then blasting past in the last mile. I kept up with her for the first five miles. Then, she slowly pulled away. I tried to push my legs to move faster. But eventually she turned a corner, and I didn’t see her for the rest of the race. I could feel myself slowing in the last three miles. I kept pushing, terrified that the “2:30” pacer was just behind me, ready to overtake me and ruin even my outside, “safety” goal. I finished in 2:18. I’m happy with that time. I really am. But I also can’t help thinking that if I had trained just a little bit harder, I could have run a sub-2:15 half. Or even a 2:11. If I had added just a few more cross training sessions. Or a few more hill workouts. Or not slept in on those particularly cold, dark winter mornings. . . But I also know that there will always be a faster time, a longer distance. I did it. And in a good time. That should be enough for now. Right? Besides, there’s always next time.
  4. I’m already thinking about next time. Do I want to wait a whole year to do it all again? Or should I try to train for one of the fall races? Maybe I should focus on a shorter distance to work on my pacing and speed? I definitely don’t have any desire to try a full marathon right now (with two small children, I barely had the time to fit in my long runs for the half!). But I’m sure I could do better next time. There’s another race coming up in November. That’s right near my birthday! Maybe . . . ?
  5. Never, ever, ever wear perfume while running a long race. Seriously, are you trying to kill us all?? Notice how everyone kept trying to pass you? It’s because we were trying to get out of the downwind! You stink. Stop it.
  6. Once you get out of the pack, you find your people. Dear Hispanic Lady in the Purple Jacket: You were awesome. I lost you in mile 10 after Heartbreak Hill (you recovered much faster than I did), but you made that run so worthwhile. We were unofficial running buddies for the first ¾ of the race. We exchanged knowing eye-rolls whenever we had to deal with the “perfume twins” in front of us. We both thanked all of the police officers who controlled traffic so we could safely pass through Bloomington’s busy streets (and nodded every time we noticed that the perfume twins didn’t. Kids, right?). You were funny. And we gasped, panted, swore, and muttered small words of encouragement that were half to ourselves, half to each other. You got me through it. You really did. I’ll never forget you. Even if I only ever saw the right side of your face. Much love, Rachel.
  7. The feeling immediately after is similar to a hangover. It’s all such a blur. And I really have to poop. Also, why am I so sore in these unexpected places (my core felt like I had just done about 100 sit ups. For no apparent reason). Oh, god, my head. I really should drink water. Like, a lot of water. But I’m pretty certain that a beer would make me feel even better. I kind of have to puke. But I also kind of really want a fried egg. What did I just do? Did I just do that? Seriously, how did I even get home after that?
  8. Showers are magical. My husband is lucky that our hot water heater is broken, because if that shower had lasted any longer, I would have left him for it.
  9. Imodium, Poise Pads, Ibuprofen, Water Proof Band-Aids. But the greatest of these is Imodium.
  10. I ran 13.1 miles just for the final 11 seconds. Because in the last 11 seconds, I saw them. My husband. My oldest daughter. My friend and her daughter. They were holding signs. They were cheering. They were standing outside in 28° wind chill. And they were saying my name. I crossed that finish line. Someone handed me a medal. Someone else handed me a bottle of water. I turned around to see my daughter, bundled up in “Big Puffy,” her purple winter coat, and I burst into tears. I wept. I cried on my husband’s leather jacket as he hugged me and left a wet streak across his chest. I immediately hung my medal around my daughter’s neck. I looked down at her and said, “You know, I did this for you. All while I was running, I just kept thinking, I have to get to Sophie and Maddie. Sophie and Maddie are waiting for me. I have to get to Sophie and Maddie. You’re the reason I did this.”

A while back, a friend of mine asked me if I was running this race “for” my girls. It’s a hard question to answer, and I stumbled over my response at the time. Because, as a mother, as a woman, as someone with ambitions and dreams and hopes, just about everything that I do is some combination of mine and theirs. I needed to be away from my girls while I trained for this race. I needed to rely on family, friends, and my community to help me while I left them, to be by myself, and work on something that was just for me. I left my girls with friends, and literally ran away from them. But my hope has always been that they don’t just see my back getting smaller as I run away. I hope that they see what I’m trying to run towards. Health. Fitness. Self-confidence. Courage. Strength. Motivation. Satisfaction. Sacrifice. Reward.

My mother grew up in a pre-Title IX America. She was always interested in dance and gymnastics, but her public high school discouraged her participation in the more challenging aspects of their physical education courses. She never felt welcomed in the sports, so she never participated. When she eventually had two daughters of her own, she became one of the most supportive and active “dance moms” around. She sewed countless ribbons onto ballet shoes. Pinned skirts to leotards. Bought extra nights at the studio. Drove us five hours to dance competitions every weekend. When I was sixteen and cried to her in frustration that I was living in my sister’s shadow, my mother looked over at me and said, “Rachel, you can quit. That’s your choice. But I think you’re going to regret it. I think it’s a mistake. You want people to notice you, you have to work harder.”

“But I do work hard!”

She just looked at me. “Work harder.”

I kept going. Hearing her use the word “quit” scared me. I’d never heard her say it before. I worked. Then I worked harder. (Eventually, I was placed in a higher level dance class, though I feel no shame at all in saying that I was never anywhere near my sister in both technique and beauty. Enthusiasm was my saving grace. Not natural ability.)

My sister went on to become a professional dancer in Chicago. I was a ballet minor in college, and played softball (very badly!) in high school. My big brother plays ultimate frisbee. None of us are involved in what could be considered traditional sports, but we all have found our niches.

After the race on Saturday, I called my mom. I told her about seeing Sophie at the finish line, and only looking at her as I crossed.

Mom got excited, “Oh, wouldn’t it just be something if this inspired your girls to run? I mean, you could really get them into running! You could get them started right now! Really early!”

She was giggling, she was so happy.

It’s true, my daughters already tell me that they need space in order to do their “exercises.” They practice their ballet. They do jumping jacks, and run in place, and stretch their arms and legs out as far as they can.

And I guess that’s why I did this.

So I could see my girls, smiling and giggling, as they stretch themselves out as far, and wide, and big as they can.

Because they saw mommy do it first.

Pacing is clearly my Achilles heel.

Pacing is clearly my Achilles heel.

 

Before the race foolin'.

Before the race foolin’.

 

My husband took this as I approached the finish line. I'm waving a bending down towards my daughter.

My husband took this as I approached the finish line. I’m waving a bending down towards my daughter.

 

I started crying immediately after crossing the finish line.

I started crying immediately after crossing the finish line.

 

There are no words.

There are no words.

 

My friend and her daughter made me signs! Once again, my community is what kept me going.

My friend and her daughter made me signs! Once again, my community is what kept me going.

 

Afterwards: On the couch, drinking a beer, holding my youngest daughter, still wearing my medal. I wore it all day.

Afterwards: On the couch, drinking a beer, holding my youngest daughter, still wearing my medal. I wore it all day.

Oh, and I’m already planning on running the Indianapolis Monumental (Half) Marathon the first week of November. Anybody want to be training buddies?

It’s March 9th. On April 9th, I will run my very first half marathon. That is, I hope I will run my very first half marathon. I know that (Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise) I will cross the Start Line, and I know I will cross the Finish Line. What happens in between is anyone’s guess.

It’s been two months since I began training for this race. In that time, I’ve learned many things, and I’m struggling with many more. At this critical juncture, I think it’s time to record a few of those lessons here.

  1. The Stats Don’t Really Matter. In many ways, training for this half marathon has reminded me of writing my dissertation for my PhD. One of the things you learn pretty quickly, is that the end result is not actually as critical as the process itself. My committee barely glanced at my finished dissertation (and I certainly never gave it a second thought once it was completed). They didn’t judge my readiness for my PhD through the finished 264 pages. They determined my abilities based on the four years prior. The conferences I attended. The countless drafts I submitted. The many (many!) rabbit holes I pursued to no real avail. I’m slowly coming to understand that this half marathon will be the same way. How fast I’m able to finish. Whether or not I’ll have to walk a few miles. Where I place in the pack. How well I’m able to pace myself. Only other runners will be interested in those details. I will be interested in those details. Everybody else will just care that I finish. My dissertation is not worthy of publication. But that doesn’t matter. I have my PhD. That’s the accomplishment. Everything else is just statistics. (You think anyone cared when this guy finished the Boston Marathon dead last, and in 20 hours? Hell no! He finished the Boston Marathon. End of story.)
  2. I’m Constantly Disappointing Myself. Running is an almost entirely self-motivated sport. There’s no team. No coach. No fans in the bleachers. It’s you. It’s your head. Your thoughts. Maybe some music. A road. The air. Therefore, it’s not surprising that runners are considered something of a psychological mystery. Because of the release of endorphins that comes with any physical activity, running eventually feels good, but the good feelings—the high—are very temporary and only last a short time. Getting your brain to release that dopamine is a long process. And a painful one. And it’s all on you. The runner has to be willing to undergo hours of self-inflicted torture for twenty minutes of satisfaction. And research has shown that runners often self-identify as intelligent, motivated, excited by challenges and risks, and highly critical (Who has two thumbs and fits all those personality traits to a T? This girl!). The majority of my training these last few months, therefore, has involved me analyzing, assessing, and finding fault with every aspect of my running. I slept in and missed my cross training session. I had to walk after that last hill. I couldn’t make the distance I wanted to. I didn’t eat right before a run, and was stymied by horrible cramps. My running is all on me, so when something goes wrong (and it frequently does) I have no one else to blame. So I blame me. A lot.
  3. I’m Constantly Impressed with Myself. All that being said, my training is truly paying off. I’m improving. Quite a lot. Every day when I go out for a run, I can feel how much stronger I’ve become in just two months. How my stride has changed. How my breathing has slowed. How my pace has increased. That’s perhaps the best and most surprising part of this process: the improvement in my pace. I didn’t even care about pace when I began training. I wanted the distance. I wanted to be able to say that I can run—run!!—13 whole miles. I never thought I would get faster in the meantime, but I have. When I first started back into running after a nearly 4-year hiatus, I was thrilled when I completed my first outside mile in 11:57, three seconds faster than I could run on the treadmill. Today, a 12-minute mile would feel like crawling for me. The last three times I’ve run my routine “maintenance” miles, I’ve completed them in an average of 9:30 per mile (some splits faster, some slower, but pretty consistent for a newbie). I regularly can now look down at my watch, and amaze myself with a PR that I never seem to be anticipating. I realized just last week that I’ll likely run this race as a “middle of the pack” runner. That makes me proud. I’m only 4’11”. I have 25” inseam. I’m pear shaped. But I’m moving. I’m not breaking any records, but I’m taking a body that falls solidly on the left side of the bell curve and pushing its capabilities right into the center. That’s kind of awesome. Kind of really awesome.
  4. I’m Not Doing this Alone. Running is solitary. Being a runner isn’t. Being a runner who is also a stay-at-home-parent of two small children with a spouse who works 70 hours a week requires a community. Though I try to get my runs finished in the mornings before my husband leaves for work, often, that plan fails. Training through all of January and February, there were plenty of mornings where roads were slick, sidewalks weren’t cleared off, visibility was minimal. For me, safety always comes first. Even if that means sacrificing a run. If conditions are bad, or in any way dangerous I just won’t go out. (I hate running in the dark. Even though I live in a quiet neighborhood, I am required to run on several streets without sidewalks, and I don’t want to be running on the same street as a sleepy sanitation worker who might be reaching for his coffee instead of looking for short moms in reflective tights.) Plans don’t always work out. So I’ve needed other people. A lot. On the weekends, my husband goes into work an hour and a half late, so I can get in a long run after sunrise. During the week, my mother-in-law watches my girls for a few hours so I can slip out to the YMCA (when the weather is cold) or down to my favorite trail, and still have time for a shower. My neighbor and I exchange babysitting. I’ll watch her boys when she has a doctor’s appointment, and she gets my girls when I need to wait until the afternoon for a run. Friends have emailed me, texted me, and told me that I’m doing a great job. I’ve asked for (and received!) Facebook messages of encouragement from both runners and non-runners. People have actually walked up to me, and told me that following my updates on my running has inspired them to try running. To try walking. To try Zumba. To try. I’ve even had neighbors roll down their windows and wave and cheer as they drive past me. All of this has made my training possible. I couldn’t have made the progress I’ve made without all of you. My community.
  5. I’m Still Totally, Completely, Unbelievably, Shaking-Down-to-My-Boots Terrified. I mean, seriously. 13.1 miles?? What the hell was I thinking? What am I thinking? And it hurts. (I’m starting to have IT pain in my left knee. That shit is uncomfortable as hell!) And it’s hard. Really hard. Why am I doing this thing that’s really, really, really, ridiculously hard? For a medal? For the bragging rights? I mean, really, Rachel, why?

The truth is, I have no idea why I’m doing this. It all just seems like an extended experiment in pain tolerance most of the time. But I do know what my mantra has been (what it’s been ever since I started my PhD, actually). John F. Kennedy, when he announced to the world that America would send a man to the Moon within a decade, gave one of the most inspiring speeches in the history of American politics. And I think about that speech every time I run. Every time I realize that it’s hard. Every time I want to quit. JFK talked about the whys too. Why go to the Moon? Why explore beyond our atmosphere? Why spend the money, and risk the lives, and tap the brain power? His response:

 “We . . . do . . . [these] things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

We do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Because they are hard.

I want to do hard things. (That’s what she said.) I’d rather fail doing something difficult, something challenging, something impossible, then float along on a cloud of a million easy successes. I want to reach, and stretch, and pull all less-than-five-feet of me to the farthest distances I can, both figurative and literal. I want to do this.

And right now, at this moment, I think that I can.

I’m training for a half-marathon.

Oh, god. I said it. Out loud. In a public forum.

I am now contractually obligated to really do this thing, I suppose.

Okay. Breathing.

Let me explain to you all how I came to this completely insane life goal.

I started running before getting married back in 2010. I wasn’t really running to get into shape (I think I had more physical changes from walking, actually). It was more of a challenge thing. I double-dog dared myself. I owned a treadmill at the time, and had been walking for quite some time. But then the walks just felt too easy. I barely even broke out in a sweat. So, I started increasing the speed on my treadmill, until I broke from a walk to a jog. Two minutes jogging. Two minutes walking. The first time I did that, I went until I hit a mile. Eventually, I double-dog dared myself again. I wanted to run a 10-minute mile. It was speed like I never thought I could achieve. I had to take time. Had to train to get to that pace.

And then? I did it.

Then, I did it again.

Finally, I decided to leave the comfort of my bedroom. I started running outside, and I was certain that the entire world was watching my butt jiggle in my yoga pants (They were, it turns out. My neighbors were both retirees, and they both made comments at one point about seeing me running around the neighborhood. Then, our mailman really put the nail in the self-conscious coffin. I had to sign for a package that spring, and gleefully exclaimed, “Oh! These are our wedding invitations!” He replied, “Ahhh, so that’s why I keep seeing you out running all the time! I always see you and think, ‘Well, now, she doesn’t need to lose any weight. What’s she doing running around like that?’ But now I know.” He winked. “You’re trying to fit into a very special dress.” He meant all of this as a compliment, but I couldn’t help but feel violated by his uninvited judgment of my body. It was hard to go out for a run at my usual time after that.). It was terrifying.

But I did it.

Then, I did it again.

running

I was never fast. My 10-minute mile on the treadmill translated to about a twelve and a half-minute mile out in the real world. I shuffled. My form was terrible. I don’t think I ever even fully extended my legs as I ran. But I was running. Right before my marriage, I ran 6 miles. A long, long, slow 6 miles. I started thinking about signing up for a 10k.

Then, my new husband and I started trying to get pregnant. I was on Clomid for 6 months. We had to be artificially inseminated. I was emotional. Hormonal. I ran about once a month. Then, not at all.

My last run was when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my first daughter. I managed to run a half mile before having to stop and retch on the side of the trail.

I didn’t run again until my second daughter was about 3 months old.

I was out of shape. Out of practice. I had experienced severe incontinence after the birth of my first daughter (that has since cured itself). I was terrified. I had to double-dog dare myself. One mile. 12 minutes. On a treadmill. Inside.

Then, last December, I started running outside. About twice a week. I worked in mile increments. Just run a mile. A single mile. Down to the end of my road and back.

That first run, I did in 11 minutes and 57 seconds. 3 seconds faster than my treadmill time. For the first time ever, I had beaten the machine. Without a mechanical device pushing me along, I was running. On my own.

It’s weird, but for the first time ever, I realized that I controlled my pace. I could determine whether a run was fast, slow, or some combination of the two. I could change my posture. I could think about pushing off of my toes. I could relax my hands, or hold them stiff, slicing them through the air and feeling the breeze against my sweaty palms. I was in charge. I had control of how I ran. Me. Nothing else was pushing me or holding me back. It was just. Me.

ryan running

It took a long time to break through that 1-mile mark. By summer, I was frustrated. I had cut two and a half minutes off of my mile time (I regularly run a 10-minute mile now), but I couldn’t push my body to run past 1.25 miles. It took months of frustration to finally figure out the concept of pacing. Of running slower in order to run farther.

In October, I finally ran my first 5k loop around my neighborhood. I still had to stop and walk for a spell, but I did it.

Then, I did it again.

By the end of October, I started cross-training. I did Jillian Michaels’ “30 Day Shred” and worked out 30 days in a row (I’m still kind of amazed I did that). I finished on Thanksgiving day. Two days later, I ran another 5k loop. In 33 minutes. 5 solid minutes faster than my one official 5k race pace (I ran it with my sister about a month before getting pregnant with my first daughter. I went into that race with absolutely no training or preparation. It was miserable).

I’ve never felt stronger. I’ve never felt lighter. My husband told me that he thinks I’m more fit now than I’ve been in the 12 years we’ve been together.

poster-51_0

New Year’s approached, and I knew that I wanted to run a race.

I consulted the Internet. I consulted some of my good running friends. Some of my friends who, like me, struggled with reconciling their personal body image with athleticism (The people who, like me, looked in the mirror and didn’t see an “exercise person” or a “sports person”). They all said the same thing: We know you can do it. Go for it. We double-dog dare you.

So, I am. This is my first week of official training, and I’m terrified. Granted, this “training” week doesn’t look all that different from last week, but I’m starting every workout with a ball in my stomach and jitters.

Because I can’t stop thinking that I’ve never been that person. The exercise person. The running person. The “pain is weakness leaving the body” person. (Note: I’m still not that person. That person just sounds dumb and eager for a torn ligament.) I’m honestly afraid to tell my mother that I’m doing this, because I’m worried she’s going to laugh at the idea of her little book nerd, her little baby, her PhD, trying to become an athlete.

But I’m not trying to be an athlete.

I’m just trying to do something difficult.

Something that once seemed impossible.

Something that still kind of feels impossible.

But something that can be controlled by me and me alone.

Something that I decide the success or failure of.

But only if I dare.