Right now, I’m a fish out of water. I’m floundering.
I’m gasping for breath even though I’m hardly moving at all.
Too much stillness allows thoughts to zoom through my head. Thoughts that have no business being there. Thoughts that do more harm than good. Too much sitting is not relaxing, is not calming, is not restful. Too much sitting is anxiety-provoking, is unsettling, is infuriating. It’s the paradox of movement creating calmness. Of stillness cultivating chaos.
I’m a runner who can’t run. And it sucks.
Yes, I’m trying to compensate. I’m doing strength training right now – something needed, something I had been neglecting. It’s fine. It is toning my triceps. It is the band-aid on the wound.
It is not enough.
Nothing feels the same, nothing give me the same rush as running does. No other type of exercise even comes close. Yes, I can work out, but I don’t get the head-clearing release. I don’t get the skin-tingly euphoria.
My orthopedic surgeon told me that he can repair tendons, ligaments, cartilage, but he “can’t fix runners”. Runners are broken people, before they get injured. Runners need running for self-repair, even if it destroys their bodies in the process.
I’ve been dreaming about it, lately. Dreaming about running pain-free. Night after night after night. I’m running and I’m strong and I’m happy. And then I wake up and I remember. I mourn. I miss it. Nothing feels the same.
Writing sort of does.
It’s the closest thing I’ve found. Way closer than strength training. I don’t know how it works, but I get the same feeling in my head, the same tingling on my skin.
Maybe it’s because just like my legs move back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, on the pavement, my fingers are performing the same action across the keyboard. Over and over and over and over and over. For hours.
Maybe it’s like when I make my two fingers crawl across the table and then use them to tickle my daughter under her chin – my fingers race, mimicking the action of running, my fingers find that sweet spot, making my daughter erupt in giggles, mimicking the euphoria at the end.
With either activity, the writing or the running, there’s always a time goal, a publishing goal, an endurance goal, a self-preservation goal. Some kind of goal. There’s always the elusive search for a personal record.
With writing, or racing, sometimes I hate it, more than I could ever hate anything, and sometimes it feels better than I could imagine, leaving me high for days after. I never really know going into it how a session will pan out.
Either way, both are always hard. Both make me scream out loud. Both make me cry. Both make me laugh. Both help me breathe more deeply. Both make me frolic and jump out of my skin with excitement. Both wring out my body and wring out my soul. Both are energy depleting, but are exhilarating in the process.
Both expose the real me.
Right now writing is my racing. Until racing can be my racing.
When a runner can’t run, she is not her best self.
When a runner can’t run, her body is restless. Her legs are restless. Her mind is restless. Nothing quells the restless like running does.
When a runner can’t run, she sometimes gets pissy about people posting about running. Braggy braggarts! But, this only lasts a minute, until she remembers that not being happy for them will not get her any closer to pounding the pavement.
When a runner can’t run, she lives vicariously through her running friends. She is happy for them. She’s proud of their pace and she wants to know if they got a PR, and what food they craved at mile 7, and if they walked or not, how many times they said they hated running, and if they managed to achieve negative splits. She wants to know it all.
When a runner can’t run, she does not give up. She tries cross-training. Like she should have been doing all along. She thinks, this is actually kind of great! I can do this!
When a runner can’t run, she pedals and pedals, hoping to achieve the same endorphin rush she gets when she is able to support her body weight. She sometimes sweats, and screams and cries all over the stupid effing bike when this doesn’t happen, not ever. Even after four hours of straight spinning.
When a runner can’t run, she gives up. She’s defeated. She drowns her sorrows in wine.
When a runner can’t run, no matter what she does to try to stay in shape, her pants are always a little more snug than they used to be.
When a runner can’t run, the intense hunger she has for a long run is equal and opposite to the intense hunger running induces. Right now, food lacks its luster. Life lacks its luster. Breakfast nachos taste a million times better after a 10 mile jog. She knows things are bad, when she doesn’t even care about breakfast nachos anymore.
Spiked coffee, however, still tastes just as good.
When a runner can’t run, she abandons her pal that she convinced to sign up for a marathon. She leaves her to run 26.2 by herself. She feels badly about that.
When a runner can’t run, sometimes she runs anyway.
And she just pays for it later.
When a runner can’t run, she misses her running friends. Friends she doesn’t see much in normal clothes. In makeup. Not sweaty. But good friends, nonetheless.
When a runner can’t run, she wonders if she is still a runner.
When a runner can’t run, she knows this isn’t really the end of her running days. At least, she hopes.
Laundry is not a chore I mind doing. It’s something I can do while I’m doing other things around the house. It doesn’t require me to get my hands dirty. It’s not too physically demanding, except when I lug the basket up and down the stairs, but then I can pretend I’m getting some cardio in. I like the way our detergent smells. I like taking the mess of dirty clothes and ending up with the neatly folded piles. I like the way it feels when it is all done. Every hamper emptied. Every drawer stuffed full of folded clothes. When I’m done with the laundry, I know I’ve done it right and I really like that feeling.
Most things I do don’t give me that absolute feeling of successful completion, of knowing the job was well done.
Parenting is certainly not a job that leaves me feeling that way. Especially being a parent that deals with anxiety and depression.
I try to do a lot of things for me, to ward of the depressive slumps, because doing so helps make me a better mama. One of them is running. Nothing on this planet feels as good as a long run. Running makes every molecule in my body vibrate. Right now a pretty significant hip injury has left me unable to run for several weeks. WEEKS. And my body is not responding kindly. Other than the shooting, stabbing, searing pain in my hip joint, for the past four weeks it has felt like my legs are numb. I’ve been wading through thigh-deep water instead of just walking like a normal person on land. The other day I stood in place in the middle of my kitchen and had to think, much longer than should ever make sense, about walking to the garage to grab my shoes and then carrying them to the front door, or just walking outside barefoot because I wasn’t sure I could manage the extra trip across my house. Lately I am moving very slowly. I am dropping things. I am worried I will not be able to run the marathon I signed up for. I am not happy.
Maybe it’s my mind that isn’t responding kindly.
This month there have been so many days that I’ve felt like I didn’t have the energy to be the best parent I could be. When I get like this, I worry I’m not doing enough arts and crafts, or taking the kids outside enough, or reading enough books. I worry about my toddler watching too much t.v. I worry I’m not giving enough attention to my youngest.
Lately I keep hearing a lot about how if you’re worried you’re a good parent, then you shouldn’t worry because that means you are one. Which is sort of confusing. Does that mean to stop worrying? Because I’m worried now. Is that good? Now I’m worried that I don’t even know the right way to worry.
Today I was finishing the final fold and had the, “Ahhhh” feeling of a task fully completed. I exhaled for a minute.
Until I went into the girls bathroom and saw this:
I shit you not my heart jumped a beat. How did I miss this? Damn it, I thought I had done all the laundry, but here are three wash cloths in the sink! It’s like even though I did five loads of laundry today and everything is folded and put away, it all the sudden doesn’t count because of three dirty wash cloths. For some reason it made all the more insulting that they were still wet.
And I know it doesn’t matter. I know that by tomorrow we’ll have dirty onesies and socks and bibs and whatnot, so what’s the big deal? I know it shouldn’t bother me.
But it does.
So even though I’ve come a long way, I realize I am always on edge. My anxieties are raging. I’m always worried that something won’t be good enough. The kicker? Something always won’t be. And usually the more I worry about it, the more I screw shit up. Or at least the more I notice. Either way – that’s not a good situation to set oneself up for.
I’m working on it. Usually at the end of the night I do a final load of dishes and clean up the living room and kitchen, making it somewhat presentable before I pour my glass of wine and relax on the couch. I pat myself on the back on the nights I’m able to step over the baby toys on the floor and just leave them. I’m happy to report that there have been days that I have been able to do this and let it go.
This time around I set out with the intention of running a marathon again. For awhile there, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it. I felt too weak. Too tired. Too busy. But, I decided that I wanted it, so I found a way to make it work. I’m not the skinniest. I’m not the strongest. I’m not the fastest. But, I do not care. I want it anyway.
I want to do certain things. So I do them.
The older I get, the more I am on a mission to make sure what I do has a purpose. That I do things with intention. I don’t know how many minutes, days, months, or years I have left, but I sure as hell don’t want to waste them. There are things I want to do. Important things. Nice things. Silly things. Frivolous things. Things I am good at. Things I am bad at. All kinds of things. I don’t care what other people think about the things I do, because they are mine. They make me me and they make me happy.
An acquaintance of mine asked me what I thought my time would be for this race and when I told her my time for my first marathon she said, “Oh, that’s a long time”, probably thinking I was going to run this one a whole lot faster, and then she told me what time she thought I should be able to run it in, which is nowhere near what my time will actually be and I do not care. I will run it anyway, and it will take a loooong time and it will be glorious. Because the past few months while one of my intentions was to train for this marathon another was to eat popcorn and drink homemade wine while I sit on the couch snuggling my husband, watching House of Cards, analyzing all of the relationships between the fictional characters on the show. Long gone are the days that I let embarrassment, or fear, or even ability, stop me from being ridiculously, outrageously, happy with the things I choose to do. This marathon is just one of the many things that are important to me right now, it is not the only thing.
I want to do things I can feel with my hands and my fingertips. I want to do things I can feel with my brain and my heart and that weird spot in my chest that may or may not be a real physical space but that certainly swells every time I feel all the feelings.
Before you get all let’s-stop-the-glorification-of-busy on me, know that sometimes I want to do nothing, so I do. On purpose.
I will purposely fuel my body with fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. I will intentionally indulge in wine and nachos. I will purposefully smother those around me with hugs and kisses. I will intentionally leave them all at home when I go for a long jog by myself. I will purposefully write. I will intentionally not spend too much time wondering if it is any good. I will purposefully push myself into downward dog. I will intentionally breathe.
I think it might be possible to suffocate oneself with all the crap and the sadness and the mundane. I am working to collect every free minute I have, to gather them one by one and pack them together and carry them around with me, like a deep-sea diver carries a tank full of oxygen and nitrogen molecules strapped to his back. I know I can only hold on to so many at once, so I will not be too stingy with my minutes and I will take deep, luxurious inhales of them. How could I not? They keep me alive. Even though I know I will be able to refuel, I will certainly try not to let any escape because what if one of those wasted minutes ends up being the one that could save me later?
We all have the same hours in the day, and we all make our choices about what it is we want to accomplish. I am done saying that I wish I had the time to do x,y or z that my pal is doing because if I really wanted to do it, I could. It just might be in the place of something else.
What do you do with purpose? With intention? What do you make sure to do with your minutes?
Jogging isn’t just a workout. This is one of the big keys to understanding why runners always talk about running, even to those who couldn’t care less about running. For most of us, the trot itself is a life coach. It paves the path for processing and understanding our existence. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
1. Plans are needed to reach big goals. Anyone who has trained for a race can tell you that you can’t just expect to show up on race day and nail it. For big mileage goals, I plan my weekly runs out for about six months in advance. This has reminded me that if I want to see positive changes in my career, within my family, or in myself, it will take time, and some sort of medicationtherapy strategy.
2. Plans are never followed through to a T. Something always happens. Injuries creep up, plans interfere with training, the weather doesn’t cooperate, illness strikes. There are usually glitches in the perfect system I mapped out on paper. I count on needing to make adjustments to what I’ve planned out as a best case scenario. One of the top rules I live by is to always write plans out in pencil (another one is to always keep the pantry well-stocked with red wine for drowning sorrows and/or celebrating gains).
3. Scaring yourself every now and again is a good thing. I have a quote in my classroom that says, “Do one thing each day that scares you”. This confused one of my students, who asked me if it meant he should jump off a bridge, because that would be scary. NO, son, that is not what it means. That’s stupid, not scary. (Screw standardized testing, it’s examples like these that show us what we REALLY need to teach some of these kids). The quote, of course, is a reminder to take positive risks – even somewhat tiny ones, like at the end of my eight mile run, deciding at the last minute to do ten, or maybe signing up for that race I’ve been fantasizing about, but never had the guts to go for. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone is the only way I’ll grow, and the only way to keep life interesting.
4. You never know what you can do if you don’t ever try. After running my first marathon, it really struck me that even a year before I had not considered myself to be a “real” runner, and had definitely said out loud, on multiple occasions, that I would NEVER be a marathoner. I really never thought I could do something like that. I remember a pal of mine talking about her fifteen mile runs, and thinking she was absolutely crazy. Now, a few years later, I run at least a ten mile run almost every weekend. I’m often reminded how shockingly out of shape I can be, and still be able to do this. Running that marathon made me realize there are probably a lot of other things I could do that I’ve been too chicken to even consider.
5. Stubbornness pays off. If it really matters, find a way, find a way, find a way. Excuses are the easy way out and actions, not hopeful wishes or pretty Pinterest quotes, define what truly matters to us.
7. You don’t lose that many friends attending social functions smelling and looking like crap. And the ones you might lose aren’t worth keeping. It’s a good litmus test, really. Running eats up a decent amount of time and there are only so many hours in the day, so as my mileage increases, so do the chances of me showing up to happy hour events or informal social gatherings in my ridiculously clingy and sweat-soaked garb. If I’m feeling especially self-conscious I may change into jeans in my car before I arrive, however this always results in me giving myself a mini heart-attack as I try to peel the skin-tight material off my sweaty legs and I panic about getting arrested for indecent exposure. It’s usually not worth the anxiety attack and I just show up in the ugly tights, thighs right out there in the open for all to witness. The people I really want to spend time with don’t care about such superficiality.
8. No one is going to do the work for you. I can join running groups, and download running apps and buy expensive running shoes and a million fancy shirts with the thumb-holes built in, but at the end of the day, I’ve got to run my own miles.
9. Being alone with your thoughts can be scary. But, it’s important. I can’t process all the jumbled thoughts racing through my brain without a little time alone. And, let’s be honest, I’ve got a lot of shit to work through in that skull of mine – it’s about as big of a mess in there as the back storage area of my grandmother’s basement, and while I love her zesty personality and her golden heart, she’s borderline hoarder material with more than a twinge of ADHD. That basement is a mess.
10. Good socks are one of the most important things in life. Seriously. Happy feet = heavenly life. Cold/wet feet = horribly icy, frozen hellish existence. All bow to the SmartWool Gods.
11. Bladder and bowel control should never be taken for granted. Never. Never ever. There is nothing worse than feeling gravity’s pull on a full bladder or a heaviness with each step that causes you to pray your ass doesn’t betray you by turning into an anal volcano. It is unfortunate that most running routes have a noticeable lack of access to public restrooms. Dear Starbucks workers four miles from my house, please don’t mind my sweaty Saturday morning pit stops. Trust me, I buy enough coffee from you during the work week to pay for all the toilet paper I use up on the weekend.
12. If you do something for the wrong reasons you’re going to hate it. Continuous pressure to increase mileage or increase pace, or feeling guilty about not taking break, is just a big huge set-up for burn-out (and probably injury). All runners know that, for the most part, the only person that really cares about their running is THEMSELVES. Running, like most life endeavors, is highly personal, and if I’m going to do it, I’m going to be damned sure I’m doing it to make myself a happier, stronger, and better me. Every once in awhile I get that feeling of needing to keep up with the Joneses, but I am constantly kicking myself in my own ass to remind myself that my real goal is to keep moving towards finding as much inner peace as possible. My life goal is not to beat Joe Schmo in a 5k. So, every now and again, I need to skip the trot and eat half a Margherita pizza washed down with a Two Hearted Ale. There are times when feeding the soul is more important than pounding the pavement.
13. Never judge the strength of someone from the few encounters you witness. Sure, there are plenty of runs that I’m feeling strong and I look like I know what I’m doing but just as in life, there are days that just utterly suck. There may or may not have been runs where I was the freak show with tears pouring out my eyes, holding a Ziploc baggie full of raisins that my frozen fingers only somewhat successfully managed to get to my mouth without spilling. The person who gave me a raised eyebrow as she saw me hobbling along, leaving a trail of raisins and tears, had no idea that I ran twenty miles that day. At certain points we’re all that person and it’s humbling to remember that.
14. You don’t have as much control as you think. A sore tendon here, an achy joint there, all and my running days can come to a crashing halt. I know that at some point I may have to find another way to get where I need to go.
1. Yes, they really need all of that gear. You don’t realize all of the places that chafe and rub until you’re starting to rack up the miles. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Rubbing that’s not even noticed at mile three can turn into a deep red burning patch of inflamed skin by mile eight. Depending on the temperature, different weights and layers are needed to keep your spouse warm, but not over-heated. As the runs get longer, water or gels need to be carried, along with GPS equipment for tracking location and pace, and reflective clothing and head lamps for running before the Sun wakes up. Compression gear and shoes are necessary splurges, as are socks, seemingly simple garments that can be appallingly expensive, yet shockingly effective (or ineffective, if you get the cheapies). The accouterments make a significant impact when it comes to keeping your spouse’s body comfortable and healthy.
2. Beware of their running gloves. For spouses of cold-weather runners: I advise utilizing pliers, disposable chopsticks or some other utensil if you need to pick up their running gloves. The gloves are used just as much for soaking up sweat and wiping off snot as they are for keeping hands warm.
3. Just because your spouse is running out the door (maybe with a buddy) don’t think this means they are running away from you. Your spouse might want to hang out with their running partner every Saturday morning instead of staying in bed and cuddling with you. Don’t take this as a personal affront. The running buddy is needed not only for companionship and stress-relieving purposes (we’ll concede that they might hear how annoying it is when you keep nagging about turning off the lights), but also to help keep them accountable, to keep them from walking, to keep them on track for meeting their running goals, and to keep them safer – running alone can be a dangerous act. Oh, and don’t worry, the running buddy hears about your good qualities too, it’s not all negative talk, in fact the longer the run, the more those happy brain chemicals produced are likely to make your spouse feel like singing your praises. Don’t be jealous of the running buddy, and don’t be mad that your spouse is leaving your side – trust me it has nothing to do with your spouse not wanting to spend time with you and everything to do with them wanting to spend more quality time with you. Running makes your spouse a better spouse.
4. Pre-run and post-run rituals are all part of the long run. You can’t expect your spouse to skip out on either one for the sake of time.. Fueling up with peanut butter on toast and a cup of coffee at least a half an hour before the run is essential for sustaining energy throughout the trot. The pre-run shit is often not openly discussed, but is always needed. Post-run foam-rolling is another must-do, as well as possibly icing. And, of course, one of the most important post-run rituals is the consumption of eggs with crispy bacon, washed down with more coffee (but this cup should be spiked with Kahlua). BONUS: You can join your spouse for this last bit.
5. Their long run is truly in your best interest. I’m sure you realize by now that if you are married to a runner you are married to someone who is at least slightly crazy. Even though you might have to change extra diapers or cope with whining from the kids on your own while your spouse is off on a leisurely jaunt for hours at a time, trust me, they are doing this to be a better person, which equates to being a better parent and partner. Runners, as a whole, they have a deep-seated, primal aching, a visceral need to release pent-up energy. The healthy manifestation of this exists in the form of a long run, but if that’s not an option, it could potentially transpire in a seemingly unprovoked raging incident that involves flying objects chucked across the room, aimed at your head. It’s really better for you if they go for that jog. Look out for yourself.
I have a friend who has dozens of half-marathons and several full marathons under her belt. She is tall and thin and gorgeous and smart and is one of those people who might give the impression that running is effortless for her. Old Me thought that for her, running was easy.
Old Me never considered the possibility of being able to run a half-marathon myself, and most definitely not a full. I distinctly remember saying to her, I will NEVER fucking run that far! and really believing it. Old Me believed that for her, running was accessible, but for me, it was arduous. It was evident to Old Me that her success was due to some supernatural ability, something outside of the realm of possibility for my own normal crappy self. Seeing her accumulation of countless race ribbons and medals was really not that inspirational to me. Actually, it probably had the opposite effect.
It became possible for me to run with her when she was recovering from a serious back injury and was re-entering the running world, starting from square one. She convinced me to join a running club with her and we met for our long runs every Saturday morning, with hundreds of other runners surrounding us, and often for another short jog or two by ourselves during the week. My pal was a built-in running coach, she helped me work on pacing (I was shocked to learn that people actually monitored the exact pace they ran at, as my strategy apparently used to be sprinting at the start and then crashing and burning a short while later), she helped me work on my form and on recovery strategies. She taught me that there was technique to running.
I was amazed at the progress. We started our first long run at 3 miles and each week bumped up the distance. I used to text my dad after each run, wanting to share the excitement I felt. 4 miles! 5 miles! 8 miles! She really coached me through those long runs, and I will forever be indebted to her for her help. The 10 mile mark was a game changer. 10 miles became my Favorite Distance and the beginning of New Me.
In just a few weeks something I didn’t think was possible for me to accomplish had become A Favorite. It made me wonder what else I had been missing out on. What other things did I not think were possible, so had never attempted?
The thing about the training, other than how helpful it was to my progress, was that I saw HER training. My Amazing Supernatural Marathoner Friend actually had to work. I saw her pant, and sweat, and bend over, placing her hands on her knees, and catch her breath. I saw her energy wane and her desperate consumption of gel blocks. I saw how even she was tired in the mornings and even she looked exhausted at the aid stations and even she had some days that were harder than others. Old Me assumed it was easy for her, New Me realized that there was relentless effort and dedicated practice behind all of her triumphant race day photographs.
Seeing her struggle reminded me that she isn’t supernatural. She gets tired and frustrated and has moments of weakness. She is a normal crappy human being like the rest of us, except she works her ass off to earn those medals. New Me now thought maybe I could too.
I ran my first half-marathon that year and it was horrible. I overheated, had to walk much more than I wanted, and felt nauseous the whole rest of the day. Nevertheless, I had become addicted and continued to run, just usually during the cold weather months and not in the scorching heat.
After Baby Grouch Number One was born, I started running again, after quite a hiatus. Favorite Distance was my goal and once I got there I just kept going and ended up training for, and running, my first marathon.
Lucky me is now the new mama of Baby Grouch Number Two, and I find myself back there at the beginning, starting to run, once again. Old Me would get frustrated with my need to occasionally walk, with my slow pace, or with the aches and pains of restrengthening the muscles that have been idle for so long, or even with the fact that my face turns purple and I sweat like a pig after only running half a mile. New Me is constantly reminding myself that running is never easy, not for anyone. Not at any distance, or any pace, because once one milestone is hit, another is up ahead, just waiting to be reached. My goal, again, is Favorite Distance. I know I can do it. I know it won’t be easy.
Thirty-two weeks pregnant, and hardly able to walk more than a couple of miles at a stretch, it’s a little hard to believe that a year ago I ran my first marathon. My already-heightened set of emotions surrounding the race skyrocketed when the Boston marathon bombing occurred, six days before my race. As is true with most runners, ever since that day, every time I am out on a jog there is at least one moment where my mind turns to the bombing. While the thought saddens me, and makes me feel for the individuals and families affected, it also reminds me to be grateful for the legs carrying me, grateful for the people around me, and gives me energy to push on. Runners are a willful, dedicated bunch, full of strength, stamina and commitment, and the Boston bombing, instead of tarnishing this, cemented it.
Real me is caring and giving and kind. Real me is never bored, because there is always someone to love or something to create or something to enjoy. Real Me relishes weekends, family, friends and manically pursuing hobbies. Real Me even loves horribly gray days and days when the basement floods and days when a baking dish explodes in the kitchen because there is always so much more to be grateful for.
Monster Me is angry and fearful and inadequate. Monster Me is so depleted of energy that the effort required to attempt to enjoy a hobby or a person or even myself is insurmountable. Monster Me wants to cut and punch and scream. Monster Me feels completely hopeless. Monster Me thinks leaving the car running and shutting the garage door might not be unreasonable.
Real Me sometimes thinks Monster Me is gone for good. But Monster Me is sneaky and always creeps back around, eventually.