Keep Showing Up

There’s a magic and prestige to the Boston Marathon that’s hard to articulate. It’s an exclusive club that’s technically possible for mere mortals to join, but every year gets more competitive, so even the people who meet the criteria on paper still may not be fast enough to win the lottery and actually run the race. I’ve long made my peace with never qualifying for Boston (my current PR would qualify a woman at age 75, so I figure I don’t need to get faster, just older), but that doesn’t make me love watching the race any less.

Desiree Linden won the Boston Marathon today, making her the first American woman to do so since 1985. The conditions couldn’t have been worse, between rain and cold and wind, but her grit persevered and she finally came out on top. From the explosion on twitter, I know I’m not alone in feeling as though we all won today. Des is one of my favorite runners, but she isn’t flashy — in fact, that’s among the reasons I admire her so much. She’s known for her consistency (and for being a whiskey aficionado, but that’s for after the race). She runs her race at her pace. Always. She puts in the work and is an exceptionally strong runner, competing in multiple Olympics and making the podium on several races, but has never finished first. In fact she’s so humble, this morning she voluntarily held back while teammate and competitor Shalane Flanagan stopped to use a port-a-potty, and then helped her get back with the lead pack of runners. Always a bridesmaid, never a marathon winner.

Until today.

Watching Des go from sacrificial lamb, to back with the pack, to breaking away, to eventually taking the lead was more of an emotional ride than I anticipated. I fully expected Shalane to follow up her NYC Marathon win with another victory in Boston, and I was admittedly disappointed when both she and Des slowed down for a pitstop.

But running is never that linear. Today we witnessed the heart and perseverance it takes to win, even against inclement weather or unfortunate circumstances. No matter how many reasons there are to quit, there’s always something deeper inside us that drives us to keep going. Beyond that, we witnessed the power of sportsmanship, of women helping other women, and of all the glory that can come when you refuse to give up on yourself.

So tonight as I drink my whiskey in honor of the aficionado herself, I raise my glass to Des and to everyone one of us who keeps putting in the work and continues to show up. Keep helping one another, and keep believing in yourself. Cheers!

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Best Laid Plans

I absolutely love March. Beyond lions and lambs and Music In Our Schools Month, March means the return of spring, the return of daylight, the return of my fleeting interest in college basketball, and the return of that urge to organize my entire life. In a recent bout of spring cleaning, I came across my very first marathon training plan. Every day for five months was planned out, including rest time, speed work, hill training, and the entire experience was tied up with a graph for good measure. A marathon is not to be taken lightly, and I approached it with a nearly robotic methodology. Beep boop.

2011MarathonPlan

I set a goal, and by gum I was going to do it! This piece of paper was posted was on my refrigerator, serving as a daily itinerary. And when all was said and done, it worked. I (mostly) stuck to my plan, and I completed the Twin Cities Marathon in 2011. I’m extremely proud of that race and proud of the work that went into it, but my training style has evolved (or perhaps devolved) since then.

As I gear up for Chicago in October, my new training plan has replaced a daily agenda with more broad strokes.  There is no paper. There is no graph. I have mileage goals for long runs jotted down on the calendar on my phone, and the distances generally trend upward. Beyond that, there are a few weekly classes I like to attend for cross-training, and the rest of the week I just to what I can. Last Saturday, I had originally planned on running 6 miles. When I remembered it was St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be fun to add a mile and run a lucky 7, but a few miles in, my legs weren’t feeling it, so I held back and stuck to the original 6. When I’m not trying to reach a set number in my mind, I’m much more able to listen to my body and run with my heart instead of my head.

I’ve been running long enough now to trust myself — by my sixth go at 26.2, I know I’m capable of getting myself both to the start line and across the finish. I can handle the grind and the pain and the early mornings. I’m positive that I’ve got this.

But more important than trust is humility. I’ve learned the hard way time after time that I can neither predict nor control every element of my life. Believe me, I’ve tried. As much comfort as having a strict training plan can give me up front, inevitably it always results with me falling behind due to sickness or generic life-getting-in-the-way-ness, and then I often end up injuring myself trying to make up for lost time. It’s not healthy. It’s not fun. It’s not how I want this race to go.

Cramming for a marathon simply isn’t possible, so I’m taking it slowly and giving myself as much time as needed. My long runs for the last month or so have been 5-6 miles, and as this distance gets stronger, I’ll build from here. Eventually I’ll feel comfortable with 10, and then 12, and then 15 (and after that, I can’t even pretend that any bit of it will feel comfortable, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there).

I appreciate my past self for wanting it so badly. 2011 Kate knew that it was important, and it wasn’t going to happen on its own. She knew that every day was going to require a recommitment to the process. She knew that she was venturing into an entirely new part of herself, and without a plan she might get scared and quit.

She was right.

But 2018 Kate knows that every step of this is doable, and that every day requires a whole lot more than just a commitment to running. This time around, I’m looking at the big picture and hoping to build a strong and healthy foundation — and that means making time for friends and family in addition to making time for running. I’m listening to my body, I’m taking my time, and I’m approaching this entire experience as a complicated human and not a machine.

The Secret

I’m still wrapping my head around exactly what I’ve signed myself up for. After completing one bad half marathon and another good one last winter, I kept the runner’s high rolling by registering for the Chicago Marathon in October 2018. I’ve wanted to run this race since I saw and fell in love with Spirit of the Marathon. The day I received my acceptance email, I was thrilled! I got to plan a trip! And brag on the internet! And fantasize about deep-dish pizza!

Turns out first I actually have to get to work.

Being a marathoner means having a long-term plan and a short-term memory. It’s been over a year since I last ran 26.2, and I’ve selectively forgotten my sore legs and black toenails. My memory is fuzzy on past hill sprints, and I simply don’t recall the social plans I bailed on in order to go to bed early and be up running by dawn. All I remember is how strong I felt working toward my goal, and how proud I was to meet it. I’ve missed that feeling. I want it back.

But now I’m here at the start of a very long road. I ran two miles yesterday and five this weekend, with a significant amount of huffing and puffing. It’s taking some time to shake off the dust from winter, and it certainly isn’t glamorous (as anyone who saw me struggling up Terwilliger Hills this weekend can attest).

Bad runs happen. Bad weeks happen. Bad circumstances happen, and we have to deal with all of it. Of course it isn’t fair. It doesn’t matter. Because once we stop dwelling on the bad and decide to act on what’s within our power, we get to start working toward the good — like running my dream marathon with Oprah.

There’s no other way through the bad days than to keep showing up to do the work. There is no secret. Keep going.

An Object in Motion

Six weeks ago I ran a half marathon. It didn’t go well. I mean, I finished uninjured, so it went fine, but even factoring my low expectations, it wasn’t the race I wanted. On the elevation map, the hills looked gradual enough where I didn’t take them seriously. As a result, I was massively underprepared. Around mile seven my energy tapped out (with six long miles to go), and that mean negative voice got the best of me. The smiling picture of me wearing my finisher’s medal conveniently edits out the portion of the race where I walked, cried, and wanted to quit. Running can bring out the best in us, but it can also expose the worst.

I stewed on it for about a week, feeling frustrated with my body for not cooperating like I know it’s capable of. However, my mind kept going back to a kind man at mile eleven who made eye contact with me and said, “You’re going to make it.” He made no assertions about my strength or speed, merely assuring me that I could endure this a little longer. He was right. This helped changed my momentum at the time, and it’s helped change my momentum in my training since then.

My focus tends to be on being physical, but it’s just as much simple physics. As Newton taught us, inertia is everything, and the longer I rest, the harder it is to start again. If I want to improve, I need to keep going. Instead of giving up on myself and swallowing my sorrows via holiday foods (a strategy that didn’t work so well in 2016…), I opted to pick another race in the near future and get back to work.

Over the last month and a half, I’ve worked really hard to avoid making the same mistake twice. I’ve been training regularly with hills and hiking, and I’ve been extra intentional with yoga to make my legs and hips stronger. I’m still not a fast runner, but I can feel the difference in my endurance, and more importantly, my confidence.

Next Sunday I run the Holiday Half Marathon in Portland. Training for this race has helped me mentally shake my frustrations, and also keep me motivated to stay moving during the holidays. There’s no guarantee that this race will go any better than the last one, but I’ve made every effort to set myself up for the best.

We face setbacks and disappointments every day, both on personal and national levels. Some of this is inside our control, and some of it isn’t. The weather, the mood of our boss, the decisions of our elected officials, the dynamics of our family, waking up on the wrong side of the bed. While there are times when it’s absolutely necessary to pull back to rest or refresh, we can’t give up entirely. All we can do is give our best against the hand we’re dealt that day, and try to make decisions that will put us in a better position tomorrow.

Back on Track

Tomorrow I run a half marathon – my first of the year, and my tenth ever. The race is a silly Halloween event, and I’ve already made my peace with not setting a PR. It’s just a fact that I won’t be as fast or as strong as I was a year ago. Last year at this time, I’d just completed three full marathons in twelve months, and I was in the best shape of my life. However, nonstop training took its toll, and I needed time to rest and reset.

Getting back into training has not come naturally. My attention is scattered, and I often feel frustrated with my body for not moving as well as it used to. Add to this the daily national hellscape, and motivation has been a struggle.

The world continues to break our hearts in more ways than we could have imagined a year ago, and we’re all coping best we can. Especially in the early months of 2017, I found myself turning to comfort foods and hiding under the covers. The mental and physical tolls of witnessing leaders disregard human rights (and always fearing something worse is around the corner) cannot be overstated. This uncertainty and fear manifests itself in anxiety, insomnia, or weight gain.

As health strategies go, perhaps “we’re all gonna die, so fuck it and eat the whole pizza” wasn’t my best approach.

Times are tough, but little by little, I’m trying to turn the ship around.

Training for this half marathon has been an exercise in focusing on what I can do. It’s easy to get swept away by larger problems, but every solution starts with ownership and accountability. I alone control how I treat my body. Of course there are external factors that pose limitations, but it’s ultimately up to me how well I eat and how often I move. Over the past few months, I’ve made a series of daily decisions to eat more vegetables, drink more water, and lace up my shoes several times a week, even if it means slogging through a slow two miles when I’d rather be napping.

It’s working — starting to, at least. I’m still not as fast as I’d like to be, but I’m getting closer. And more importantly, I’m still trying. The running community has been always been a wonderful source of positivity, and this year I’ve been especially grateful for the support of others when I haven’t wanted to  keep going. The most dangerous thing we can ever do is give up, and these days we need grit and perseverance more than ever.

Tomorrow I will wear a ridiculous costume as I join thousands of my neighbors and friends to celebrate our strength and community. We’ll cheer each other on as we work to achieve a common goal. It will simultaneously hurt and feel fantastic, and that’s the point. All the hours of strength training and early morning runs and boring, sensible meals will come together in one big thirteen mile party. After all, if we aren’t doing everything we can to be happy and healthy, what are we even fighting for?

One Step at a Time

I’ve been awfully quiet lately. I haven’t been running as much and I haven’t been writing as much, and I certainly haven’t been writing about running very much at all. Priorities changed a few months ago, and recently everyone’s been focusing (correctly) on calling our senators daily and marching for our lives. Amidst all this, there seemed little I could say in this space that warranted anyone’s time. I mean, the Nazis are back and the icecaps are melting, so why would anyone spend their precious energy reading about a mediocre middle-aged runner? I admit I’ve had more than a handful of dark days where I struggle to find the motivation to get out of bed, lace up my shoes, and run.

Life is never going to be easy, but on occasion we get a boost from an unexpected source.

An acquaintance invited me to run a race together. She’s someone I know and respect, but we never socialize outside of our periodic chats about running. I was touched that she asked, and immediately reminded why I love the running community. Running requires individual strength, but thrives on solidarity. Each race is against yourself and the clock, so another runner’s speed doesn’t make you slower. Rather, we’re inspired by others and work to motivate one another. We’re all in this together.

That said, the individual piece of the puzzle cannot be underestimated. I need to do some serious work on myself, and no one’s going to do it for me. I registered for a half marathon in October, which means I’m starting the process of spreadsheets and training and being extra mindful of what I eat. It’s the same way we achieve anything — it seems impossible at first, but small daily steps (most of which no one else will ever even notice) eventually build up to a critical mass. Training will be a challenge. I can’t wait.

Registering for a new race gave me a jolt of motivation and perspective. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and no one survives alone. The world is scary, and we can only face it one day at a time. All I know is that we can’t give up. Whether you’re working on resistance training or training for The Resistance, we need to stay strong, and we need to stay connected.

Take care of yourselves. And take care of each other.

 

 

Humble Re-Beginnings

I fell over in yoga today, and it wasn’t even that tough of a pose.

I’m slowly getting back into a routine of exercising, and it isn’t going all that well. This is stuff hard. Really hard. Not that long ago that I was super strong at all this — I could run really far! And balance on one foot! And do more than one pushup in a row! And now I… can’t. Not yet anyway.

After training for three full marathons in twelve months, I burned out in a big way. The mental, physical, dietary, and time commitment of a marathon cannot be understated. 26.2 requires everything you’ve got. EVERYTHING. Your energy. Your social life. Your ability to make small talk with nonrunners. All of it. No excuses. You give your all, or you fail.

And I gave it happily! Well, mostly happily anyway. Running is (usually) fun, and training is (usually) a positive experience, and I (usually) like doing all of it. 2016 was a challenging year on almost all levels, and training gave me a constant space of control. I know how to prepare for a marathon. There’s a plan and an order and a spreadsheet! Whatever other chaos was happening in my life, I had this part down.

But everything has a limit, and I simply overdid. A hard reset, both physical and mental, was necessary. My muscles needed rest and my brain needed freedom, and now I’m fumbling my way through a new start. I’m doing a little running and some yoga and a few easy hikes, but my biggest struggles are my own expectations. I remember doing these same tasks recently and doing them well, and it’s humbling and frustrating to admit that right now I can’t.

So here I am, getting red-faced and sweaty after running only a few minutes and toppling over in yoga class. This is my reality. Today. Here. Now.

I’ve done this enough times to know that this feeling isn’t permanent. I’ll bumble through these awkward workouts and remind my body how to be a body. Like everything else, this is part of the process. Feeling weak now only reminds me of how recently I was strong, and that I’m capable of being that strong again.

But while I’m here, I’m doing my best to embrace it. Marathoning isn’t a personality trait or a genetic advantage or a predestined achievement. It’s a decision — a series of decisions, rather — to commit to a goal and accept a lot of discomfort in order to accomplish something bigger. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll run another full marathon, so for now I’m making my peace with where I am now — this sweaty, wobbly, frustrating, and entirely worthwhile place.