half marathon

By the Numbers

1,349.7.

In 2012, that’s how many miles I ran (give or take a few miles I lost track of.)  Talk about big things that have small beginnings.  It’s a very small thing, when broken down-  each conscious step that became a stride that grew over and over into a mile, and then 2, and then 12, that adds up to a year’s worth of runs.  Runs that have given me back to my sanity, my body, my happiness, and some days, I’m convinced, the best possible version of myself.

2012 was filled with some pretty world-rocking changes, of good, bad and neutral varieties, and for all the year gave me, the thing I’m second-most grateful for is the thing that helps me take it all, from the big decisions to the daily minutia, in stride.

I’m pretty easily convinced to talk running, and I recently had a conversation with a dear friend about it.  While on this topic, naturally, it usually comes up that I ran my first marathon last year.  The reactions I get to this are often of a weird strain of reverence, and hers specifically was followed by the notion that she could never do that.  It’s not the first time I had heard this sentiment, nor I think, will it be the last, but what struck me this time was just how untrue it is (not to mention how defamatory to the sport).  This reverence is unwarranted, I think.  If I accomplish anything here, let it be that I inescapably communicate that anyone, anywhere, at any time, can run a 5k, a half-marathon, a marathon, an ultra (though I can’t personally vouch for this one…yet.)  Any running goal you may have is achievable.   In no way am I particularly gifted, coordinated, or even very radically determined, and I think there are a lot of much more accomplished runners than I who would concur.

Without question, you can do it. I promise you. And I’m not just writing this because I wish more people would run. It makes running great, this quality. Its unquestionably one of the greatest things about running in particular:  that anyone and everyone can do it, live through it, and maybe even learn to love it.

Will it hurt? Yup.

Will you have days that defeat you? Undoubtedly, but tell me how that’s different from life in general.

Will you want to sit in the bath for hours eating Ben n Jerry’s and drinking wine? Almost every day (again, tell me how this is any different from standard operating procedure.)

Will you experience weird injuries and acquire a new affinity for stretching, ibuprofen, and icing? You bet.

The thing is, you won’t give up. Because if you’ve decided to do it, you’ll find the strength to get it done. Because if you’ve committed to the race, the capacity to complete it will follow.  Because you’ll have experienced the riches that running stupid-long distances can bestow, and you’ll know that just like the individual steps that turn into the miles and marathons, the rewards are there in equal number.

So go out and do it, if you want to.  In its essence, it couldn’t be more simple.  Put your foot out the door, swing the other one around, and keep it going.  Repeat.

One day you might even look back and realize you ran a marathon.

Sweet Forgetting

I ran a half marathon on Sunday.  A lot like this blog, I’d been away from running for longer than I’d care to admit.  As it turns out, going from 5ish miles to 13ish miles is a big step (or many of them, I guess).  I didn’t expect it would be easy, I think I just expected it wouldn’t hurt quite so bad. The razor straight incision at the bottom of my sports bra re-opened making it so I felt every movement from about  mile 10 or so onward.   This particularly gruesome war wound from my marathon that I thought had healed was only, as it turns out, hiding.  There are fewer things more painful than sweat dripping into an open wound that is simultaneously being rubbed by tight elastic (note to self: body glide, body glide, body glide).

Post marathon, I spoke of how much I enjoyed the experience.  This is true.  I even went so far as to hint I may attempt another, maybe even an ultra? I would think in the rose colored glasses of remembrance   It’s uncanny to me how our brains block out the bad.  Bloody, my feet blistered almost beyond recognition, with physical scars that could only hint at the deeper exhaustion and trial my body had endured over 26.2 miles, I still would do it again, without question or hesitation.  Only here I was, mile 11 of 13.1 cursing the entire idea of running.  Up a mile-long hill in shoes that will here forward be retired from distance running, I could feel the familiar heat of blistering and the tear-inducing strain on knees.  “Screw it,” I thought, I was done.  fin.  I would retire from running.  Of course I would.  This was not the first bad run I’d had.

My two sisters and I had decided to race this half together.  Our mission: to run my oldest sister to her half marathon PR.  With her trusty pacers and pit crew by her side she would shatter her old time, and we ran out of the gates in formation like  TIE Fighters out to destroy the Death Star.  About the time I started to feel very resentful about the very idea of running, my other sister had started noticing foot pain.  Keen that she was the only sister not to have sustained a running-induced stress fracture, she feared it might be her turn.  My mind unwilling to go the distance, and my sister’s foot forbidding her, we slowed up the hill, and pushed my sister forward in our thoughts as we fell further behind.

I urged my sister to stop and walk, and periodically, we would.  But this is what running does to you- she would not be stopped.  Blazing pain burning through her foot, she paced me the last few miles into the finish.  I wanted nothing more than to stop and be done, but she pushed, she ran, she sprinted through the finish line with a determination I know only she is capable of.  I wanted to cry for her as we finally crossed the line, my other sister and family cheering madly on the side lines.  This is what running does- no matter the pain, no matter the physical or mental obstacle before you, it channels through you the will to put foot before foot, against the odds, and finish. (And in some cases, to get yourself to the doctor for x-rays and serious pain killers.)

We will run again,  all of us.  My sister will heal, and will relish recovery runs.  I will find a shoe store to sell me the Asics I’m used to and I will train for another marathon.  The forgetting will come, willfully or subconsciously, as we fail to recall the acuteness of the pain we have sustained.  We will be borne out onto the trails with complete, convenient amnesia and renewed hope.  I’m not sure how, or why, but we will keep running.  We will break our own records, as my sister did that day.  We will discover new reserves of strength and quiet power.  We will run towards big victories, and many, many small ones.   The run must break you sometimes, before it can rebuild you, better than before.  And I have a hunch it’s the imperfection of our memories that allows us to lace up again, to lace up and trust the run.    We will heal ourselves in the very thing that has broken us, and we will run stronger and faster than ever.

**This post gratefully dedicated to my sisters:  heal fast, run   faster,        and  may we never run alone. **