Marathon training this time around is different. Getting into the New York City Marathon was a surprise, and my expectations going into it principally involved two objectives: (1) finish the race with my dignity in tact and (2) soak in what surely would be an epic experience. I started my training fitter than I had been in years, and every long run was a new milestone, reinforcing feelings of accomplishment and strength. Now, one year later, training for Chicago and training for a cause, I have every reason to feel confident and emboldened. And yet here I am, five weeks in, still waiting to hit my stride mentally and physically.
Forget logic and the fact that I needed time to fully recover from an injury, I still thought that I would be stronger, faster by now. A veteran of two marathons and a few half marathons, I also thought that by now I would have learned my lessons about liberally applying Glide and sunscreen, scheduling runs at times when it is not 102 degrees outside, and not staying up until 3:15 in the morning talking to my brother who was visiting from out of town the night before (the day of?) a 12-mile long run.
I also thought that maybe by now I’d look just a little better in a bikini, but that’s another issue for another day.
Because running provides a lot of time to think, I have thought a lot about why I have this feeling of reality not meeting expectations, and what it is, exactly, this time that makes me feel less-than-strong, tentative instead of invigorated, more cautious than brave, stuck in a plateau.
There seems to be more at stake with Chicago. I am racing not just for me, I am racing for my Dad and, damn, more than anything I want to do his memory proud. Last year I just was racing to finish. This year I am racing to beat my time. Last year I was blissfully ignorant of the havoc an injury can wreck on my progress. This year I am fearful of every ache and pain even though most just are normal side effects of, you know, running a whole lot of miles. Last year I did not have any benchmarks to compare myself to. This year, because I am using the same training program as last, I am reminded by a nifty little "look back" feature of exactly how I felt on the same long run last year. As fate would have it, on last year’s 12-mile run I apparently felt unstoppable, and during this week's 12-miler I was dragging my sorry rear end home (see 3 a.m., above).
If you package all of this together, it brings me to today. I needed a strong run. I needed to know that I could block out insecurities, past PR’s, comparisons to other runners, and internalized pressures that right now seem hold me down rather than inspire.
In a sign that we are in a changing time, I will (somewhat embarrassingly) admit that I found something to shift my thinking today in a hashtag: #irunthisbody. Over the space of 5 miles I broke it down. I am doing this. The strength, and the will, and the drive to go after it again comes from inside of me. No one else got me out the door. No one else could carry me over those miles. This is me. I run. And, funny, I really, really like running when I strip all of the other baggage away.
Beyond that, I run THIS body. This body that I still criticize in the mirror. This body that has born two children. This body that has kept up with my desire to run and has given me the stamina to keep up with work and family and friends, and life. It may not look like a cover-of-a-magazine-body, but it is strong and it carries me far.
Today’s run was an “as you feel” run. I ignored my watch and I ignored my splits. I got lost in my thoughts and surroundings and in the sight of my shadow running in front of me mirroring my legs moving, arms pumping, and ponytail waving. This run was not about any external measure or goal … it was simply a run for me.
And today that was enough to make me feel strong. Again.