Monday, September 7, 2009

Back on the horse

For the first time in a long time, I had a real summer vacation.  I planned my weekends around cookouts, family get together, trips to the beach, and days at the pool instead of long runs, and recovery days.  I stayed out late on friday nights laughing with friends, I drank beers, I went out on dates with boyfriend instead of staying in, eating a sensible dinner and getting up at six the next morning.  It was glorious and relaxing and well... downright normal.  And that last little thing was probably what bothered me the most. I ran to get away from normal, I ran to be exceptional.  I ran to push my body, my mind, to challenge myself in the hardest was I knew possible.
I had trained for months for my second marathon.  I had given up so much in order get better, and in the end I was displeased with the results of my race.  So much so that I began to wonder was it all really worth the time.  Was it worth giving up my social life for a subpar marathon performance. Forget about the fact that I PR'd by about twelve minutes.  That didn't matter to me.  I wanted to achieve big goals.  Perhaps I had just set my sights too high.  But with my coach moving on with his life in med school, with me newly dating boyfriend, I realized I had to give myself the time off to enjoy my early twenties.  If my life led me back to running than so be it,  if it did not, than perhaps it was not mean to be.
I am by no means out of shape compared to the average american.  I stayed active, snowboarding in the winter, running every now and again in the spring, going to the gym a few days a week.  I always ate pretty well most of the time but never failed to pass up an opportunity to eat ice cream.  But compared to a runner I knew I had lost so much speed compared to last year.  I kept telling myself this is what I wanted.  I wanted to take a year off, enjoy life, stay injury free.  But the more time that went by the more I realized I was becoming content with my semi active life.  I put in extra hours at work and my running or working out happened more rarely.  Weekends where I stayed with boyfriend or went on trips I never even tried to accommodate for running.  I just pushed it aside like some chore I didn't want to do.  Was running becoming a chore to me?  The thing I had loved to do and lived for for so long was becoming a nuisance in my life?
What scared me most was that boyfriend, who did not come from an active lifestyle, would get used to the way I had been for the past year.  He enjoyed nights in watching TV, or nights out having a few drinks.  He was not an early riser.  If I did not do something about this now, what would happen when I was finally ready to get back into training? Would he hold me back? would he be unhappy with the time I spent training? I needed to know now.  
After a few arguments, I realized the only thing keeping me from running was me.  I needed to be tougher with myself.  I needed to get out of bed in the morning no matter what.  I needed to run the miles and keep going until I was done.  No one else could do that for me.  I had to make the time.  
So for the first time all summer, I finally set aside a saturday morning and said, this is gong to be it.  I am going to go running.  And then I realized that while I had been taking time off, my friend Heather had been running more.  I had always been the one to train more, but it would seem now that we were finally in a place where we could train together.  I knew that nothing motivates me to get out the door more than knowing someone else is there to go with me.  Even more convenient was the fact that she had just started training for a half marathon.  Sunday morning I rose at seven am with that all too familiar feeling of knowing I would accomplish something great in the next few hours.  I had a quick breakfast, and drove to our meeting spot.  The air was chilly but not cold, perfect for late august.  As we ran that morning, we chatted and caught up with each other's lives and even in the times when I thought I couldn't keep going, I did.  The clouds cleared and the sun beat down on us and we slowed down a bit but we never stopped.  Seven miles later we arrived at the end of our run, my car where I would drive us back to our houses.  At home that morning I went about my normal weekend routine of making coffee, cleaning my house, and reading the paper.  But it felt different than it had in the past.  It felt strong.  I felt like it didn't matter what I did for the rest of the day because I had already done the most important thing.  The next day I signed up for the Philadelphia half marathon.  I was ready to get back into racing.
One weekend long run under my belt, the next step was to do another.  Being labor day weekend I knew I would be away from home, and took al my running gear with me in case I were to have the chance to run.  I did not, but we arrived home earlier than planned and so Sunday night I set my alarm for 7:30 am, made sure to eat something healthy, avoid drinking.  When my alarm went off the next day I momentarily contemplated snoozing and going back to sleep for another half an hour.  But all I could see in my mind was running, pushing myself, needing to get this run in in order to be able to run ten miles next weekend.  It was only a matter of minutes before I was out of bed changing into running gear and ready to go out.  I quickly kissed boyfriend goodbye, said I love you, but couldn't take the time to have a drawn out goodbye.  The hardest part about running was putting aside all pleasure and just going forward.  So I just took off.  As I started my run, I thought about how pleased I was with myself for getting out of bed.  I would run eight miles this morning.  I would run no matter what, no matter what hurt, no matter how hard it was, no matter how much I wanted to stop.  Main street was deserted and there was a light breeze, there was no sun out, perfect weather.  Before I had even covered one mile my ipod died and I was forced to spend the rest of the run lost in my own mind.  I remembered back when I was training I would make up stories in my head, or narrate my actions to myself to keep entertained.  Today I calculated how far I would have to go to run eight miles.  Two miles down main street to the 3 1/2 mile mark on Kelly Drive, add 1 1/2 more miles to make four and then back to make eight.  As I made my way onto Kelly I was joined by more runners.  It's always a good feeling to be joined by fellow runners.  I said good morning to most that passed me.  I tried to keep thoughts of hot coffee and egg sandwiches out of mind.  My mouth was dry, I scolded myself for not drinking enough water the night before.  I beat myself up in my own head, pushing to keep going.  Turning around at the halfway point it was like I had put myself on cruise control.  My feet were moving, I was moving forward, but it was as if my mind was separate from my body.  I was just along for the ride.  It was a smooth stride and in those moments my mind just wandered, I looked out at the scenery around me taking in the trees, the river, I even saw a fox on a hill in the distance.  Before I knew it I had pushed myself onto Main street.  I was cruising up the last hill, and then trotting down the other side,  I threw my body into a higher gear to push across the last cross street and as I moved my legs across the bridge to cross onto Venice island I was done.  
My legs hurt, my mouth was dry, I could feel the muscles in my stomach, legs, back aching to hold me up.  And yet I was happier than I had been in a long time.   Getting back on the horse would not be easy. There would be many more early mornings, there would be aching muscles, and I would love every single second of it.  

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