I started running when I was in High School. A three-sport varsity athlete, we ran during practices. While basketball practice consisted of suicide drills inside our gym on the court, during the fall tennis and spring softball season, we would run the track and often a timed mile. Even back then, I aimed for speed; during the suicide drills I drove myself to be the first to finish and was only satisfied when I ran my timed mile either at or sub the 6 minute 30 second mark.
This was over half a lifetime ago. Yet the pressure I have put on myself when it comes to speed hasn't vacillated much. When I ran my third marathon in 2010, I was driven to break four hours and did by finishing in 3 hours 50 minutes. When I ran my fourth marathon in 2015- only training for 7 weeks- the drive to break four was there and I finished in 3:53.
This time, things are somewhat different. Before training for this marathon, I had been running very infrequently. Yes, I was working out a ton. But my running consisted of maybe one day a week, where I would run a max of 40 minutes. The reason was mental; there was something inside of me that just didn't want to run. Maybe it was because I had spent a good part of the past 25 years running and I just didn't want to do it anymore; maybe it was because I was "ashamed" that I wasn't as good as I once was at it and instead of going for it and getting back to where I was or close to it, it was easier to ignore it.
More and more, I have become someone who believes in "signs". I believe situations come to us at certain times in our lives. I knew I wanted- at some point- to run NYC perhaps one last time. So when one of my oldest and dearest friends who I ran my second marathon with lost her parents within a month of one another; I had thought that this could be a good time. There was nothing I could say or do to make things better, but I could run as a way to honor their lives. When the very next day after sitting shiva for my friend's mom a new client who happened to work at NYRR arrived at my 1230 No Sweat class and wanted to give up her guaranteed entry to the NYC Marathon to me, it seemed as if the time was now.
Training for this marathon has been a challenge; I mentioned in a previous newsletter some of the reasons why. I am a "part-time" single mom, meaning there is no one to watch Sophia early mornings and late evenings when I have her so running this summer either early-morning or later in the evening to avoid the sweltering heat was at times not possible. Training clients and teaching classes instead of having a desk job have caused an additional fatigue to my body and while in ways I am in better shape, I have less time to focus on my own body needs and training. But way more overpowering than these physical challenges, which in some ways aid my training as I am often running in sub-optimal weather or on tired legs, is my mental state. More and more, I am finding that once I hit a certain point, even though I physically feel fine, I am overwhelmed with this desire to just stop. And I literally do just stop in my tracks.
This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago, during the 18-mile tune up. The race consisted of three full loops of Central Park. Starting at 7am, you could already feel the unseasonable humidity and just a mile into the race, I was sweating profusely. That being said, I finished the first loop strong and felt like I was cruising until around mile 10. I was set to finish in the time I finished the tune up 7 years before, when I ended up with my 3:50 time. Then, all of the sudden, around mile 11, that overwhelming feeling that I have grown accustomed to surfaced. I could not continue. I stopped in my tracks, and sat on a park bench for a solid 12 minutes. I got real quiet and began to consider my options; what was I going to do? I knew how important these long runs were; why couldn't I get through them? Should I defer for a year? What about the commitment I made to honor my friends parents? But what if I just couldn't do it anymore? What was stopping me? I texted my father who commiserated, "I can understand why you don't want to run more after running 11 miles". I texted my boyfriend.
A different response.
"What are you thinking? Get back at it! You can do this."
I considered this; physically I was fine. Yes, my legs were now cold after stopping and sitting, but I wasn't injured, I was healthy; there was no good reason to stop. And now- as a mom who tells Sophia not to give up when she's frustrated- what sort of lesson would I be sending?
I got up off that bench, back onto the loop, and did my best not to look at the clock where I had lost 12 minutes. I finished the race. Later that day, I emailed one of my contacts at NYRR who is an ultra-marathon runner and coach. I explained to him what happened.
"You are way too in your head about time," he wrote. "Things are different this time around. Let it go. This week, just go out there and have fun. No watch, no time, no nothing. Just go back to the reasons why you love to run in the first place."
Day in and day out, when my clients get frustrated, I am their cheerleader. I have heard it all. Those who come back after baby and find that certain exercises aren't as fluid as they once were. Others who have been sick and immobile for years and even the "simplest" things like balance or walking are a challenge. When, Laura? When will I get "it" back? Will my stomach ever be the way it was pre-baby? Will my hips go back to "normal"? Will I ever be able to hold a plank not on my knees again? While I do see the improvements they have made through their diligence and hard work, they are often the last to see it and at times focused more on what used to be instead of what is. Truth is, with work and practice, many do return to what once was. But it is also important to honor where one is and accept that it may always be different than it was in the past.
There. I said it. I say it every day. Now, if I could truly listen to my own advice; I am sure I will be having fun.