Taking the slow road

Where have I been these months? Oh, the places I’ve been. Some of these places required getting in a car. Others, a schlep to the airport. Still more, nothing more than stepping out of my building. And running down the street.
Memorial Day weekend, I decided to run a marathon. I’d been shuffling along for two years, running 5ks and completing a couple of half-marathons. In that time, I’d look at the mirror and say no. Or wonder why I was thinking crazy thoughts. 
Then Memorial Day weekend happened. A five-miler on the shore, a good weekend with friends. Then a look at the mirror. 
It’s time.
There’s always that moment of buyer’s remorse, that fleeting feeling of, what have I gotten into. And deciding to run a marathon maybe one of the bigger ones. 
I circled the date and choose the site of the run, close to home, where I would have support and some familiarity with the streets. 
And so it began–five months of early morning runs, early bedtimes. Watching what I ate, getting the proper fuel in me. Saturday mornings of long runs, then long stretches on the couch in recovery. 
And the idea constantly chasing me—will I die doing this? I’ve heard of runners passing away from runs, and I gave up avoiding the thought. (Though I did avoid stories on those deaths.) That meant I had to pay attention–what was my body telling me? Slow down, you’re going a little fast. Ok, walk here for a bit. Alright, chocks away, let’s go. Breathe.
As the training progressed, and I was doing longer runs, I’d choke up a little when I finished. I made it through another run. I was grateful for making it, surviving. But something happened on my 20-mile run. That was the dress rehearsal–I had to make sure I had all the gear ready, just like on marathon morning. I drove to the park, got the GPS watch ready, strapped on my hydration pack. I started out on the odyssey–and started choking up. The tears came much early that I thought, maybe in some recognition of what I was about to do, mentally and physically. And some recognition of the journey that brought me to that park on that morning. 
I’m going to endeavor to write a bit about the race itself soon. But the least stressful day I had was marathon day–I knew that I’d done as much as I could to get to the start. Or had hoped so. The journey to get me to the start changed me in ways that are subtle, but unmissable. The journey continues to reverberate.

Slowing down, and still moving

The winter in the northeast sucked if you have to and want to run. I’m not one of those hardy souls who can run in single-digit weather and ice on the road, so I’m familiar with the treadmills in my gym–when they’re working. But when they are, they’re good for regulating speed. Which is important for a slug like me. But sometime in late January, I became more of a slug than usual. I ran my short runs faster at the start of the year, and I felt confident about my speed, and my state after the run. Then came snowstorms, ice, a pile of work and staying in the city a couple of overnights. It was a perfect storm of ryhthm-destruction. I tried to do some core work, but that’s no sub for cardio. At the start of February, trying to recapture that pace. And…it was a struggle. Getting through four miles was an awful slog, so much so that I felt light-headed, a rarity  for me–and a warning sign. What’s wrong? What’s happening here? Was it the food I was eating? Was it my health? The self-diagnosis was terrible; I had to look back at what I was doing, and not doing, and figure out how to fix this. It looked dark for a while, as I’m preparing for a 20k and a 21k–would I have to abandon the first run? (I’m not abandoning the second–too much money sunk into it, plus timme is on my side there). Then, the thought quietly came–slow down a little. Ego says you need to be building, building, building, faster, faster, faster. But even getting through a 5k on the treadmill was a struggle. It wasn’t fun, but a chore. One evening run, I slowed the treadmill down just a little bit. And it made all the difference. I was happy going slower. Speed and times are fine, but with running, the experience for me is paramount. I want to finish in decent  shape, feel the relief of hitting the finish, listen to strangers cheer me on. I can always look up the times I finished, but the memories of races–the snow, the sun, the signs–mean more to me.

The passion of the run (and the bike)

Out at dinner one night, a good friend told me it was gratifying to see that I had such a passion for all the running and cycling I’ve been doing this year. I told her I’m more amazed than anything else. From where this all started to where I am, the journey has been enlightening. And it’s been some of the hardest stuff I’ve ever done–early mornings, heat, cold, cramps, and questioning whether or not this is the smartest thing to do.

On OkCupid, there’s a question on what’s more important in a relationship, passion or dedication. I answered dedication. It doesn’t sound terribly romantic, but for a relationship to work, you have to put the work in. Flying on the autopilot of lust, desire and attachment will only get you so far. Once that fades, then what?

The initial rush of that first run or bike is great–I’m out on the road! I can feel the breeze! This is wonderful! The flow, then ebbs. Dragging yourself out of a warm bed to pull on your running togs and face a cold, hard dawn, is a…drag. The question of why the hell am I doing this is a constant. You tell yourself, there’s a payoff…somewhere. When you’re not running, you’re still preparing–passing up that doughnut for a banana. Parking the car a little farther from the store.

Soon, it becomes natural. You make the time to run in the morning. You take a pass on happy hour because you want to be right for the early ride. You judge the weather on how good a run day it would be. When you don’t run, or bike, you miss it. You don’t just run for the 5k shirt, or bike for the medal or water bottle you’ll get–you do it because you want to.

That’s love.

I think.

The question on OkCupid (like many of the questions there) is too damn binary. It’s both–the passion gets you in the door. The dedication keeps you there, and helps ride out the bumps that will come.

TFTD

I can’t think of a less worthwhile pursuit than sitting at a restaurant assessing each other’s suitability.

–Seen on an eHarmony profile

I don’t think it’s cynicism at play here, it’s cutting through the pretension of dating, the kabuki dance, the game-playing we all do. But hey, that’s the socially acceptable thing to do–and it helps keep restaurants in business.

Over the hill

Never mind how the race went Sunday. I ran my first duathlon–left the transition with the wrong shoes on, and cramped up twice on the bike. Never mind that. It’s what happening, or is seeming to happen. The experience seems to be transformative. There’s an energy now that wasn’t quite there before. Maybe it’s from the accomplishment of having put in months of work towards a goal, and having it pay off (despite having finished last in my category). The world seems a little different. It looks the same as it always has, but perhaps it’s a little more open now.

There’s a Sojourner Truth quote I saw just after I finished the race…

It is the mind that makes the body.

No question…I could have thrown in the towel from the cramping. But I persevered, walked up the hills with the bike, got back on, and completed the ride. That was huge–and transformative.