As the Olympics come to a close, my family gathered around the closing ceremonies as I type, I am once again reminded of how I’m largely indifferent to them.
I have nothing against the Olympics, and you’ll find no criticism of them from me. But in the last two weeks as I’ve buzzed over all the news stories, I’ve come to realize that I’m not necessarily indifferent to them, I actually don’t like to watch them. Instead of focusing on the great stories of people overcoming impossible obstacles and pushing their bodies to the absolute limit through great self-discipline, I find myself instead distracted and overly saddened by the agony of defeat. The stories that stick with me are about those who trained hard for four years only to be disqualified by a false start, or who lose out due to a trip or a crash because of a second miscalculation in a long, hard-fought race. Though I know the athletes compete in many other races and matches other than the Olympics, training for four years only to have a tiny mistake or lack of judgment seemingly erase all that hard work is unbearable to watch.
Perhaps I’m sensitive to these ‘losers’ because I’m one. I stink under stress. It’s why I used to love roller derby practices and even scrimmages, but when it came to playing in a bout, the only consistency in my playing was my inconsistency. When it comes time to put my training into practice, I overthink it, stare doe-eyed at my surroundings, and think about the effect my poor performance will have while I’m actually performing. Some people thrive during competition, they exceed their training thresholds and find a nirvana-esque place in the zone, and as I gaze jealously at their confidence, I can see that all else has fallen away from their minds save the thrill of victory coming zooming their way.
So it’s no surprise that I don’t really want to do my marathon on September 30th. I’m all for running 26.2 miles (or 13.1 miles, as my nagging ankle injury and swollen knee are urging me to do), but not, you know, ‘on cue.’ See, some days I am tired, a little dehydrated perhaps, and not in the mood to run. I sit in my car, Nikes mocking me as I think of excuses not to do it. Then I bang out an amazing run, feeling that wonderful athlete feeling of mind and body acting as one, everything working in exquisite harmony. Other days, no matter how much I prepare, or psyched myself up, every step is a chore and I plod through, staring at my runkeeper or Nike+, willing the numbers to move, and counting how many steps it takes to get one tenth of a mile underfoot. Then counting, desperately, until the numbers creep up one by one.
Which ‘me’ will show up on September 30th? I have no idea and I have no control over it. I know avid runners say to track food, water, etc to help fine-tune these variables, and while I haven’t done anything that organized, believe me, when every step is a struggle I pass the time by working through what I did and didn’t do or consume in the past 48 hours. And similarly, when I have a great run I think about what I did so I could emulate it for future run preparation. Still, no clear pattern has emerged. Sometimes my body just wants to run, and sometimes it just…doesn’t.
13.1 miles I can probably plod through. 26.2 I cannot. If I start and fewer things fall into place than out of it, I don’t know if I can will myself all the way. And this is why I don’t want to run on the 30th. And this is why I don’t like to watch the Olympics.
My rheumatologist was taken aback when I asked him if it would be possible for me to train for a marathon. Truth was, I’d already been training, and had just completed my first 1/2 marathon distance– 13.1 miles– earlier in the week. But doubling that would be tricky; it would mean a lot of pounding on my skeleton and joints. His response? “Well, I’ve never known anyone on Remicade who…did..a marathon.” Finding no real reason to say ‘no’, he made me promise to get more iron (inflammation, for many RA-ers including me, causes anemia) and to stop or slow if I flare after a long run. Done. I have long felt that vigorous exercise is actually the key to keeping my joint swelling in check, so I knew that this would be a unlikely concern. I was ready to go.
Training had been going well – with my school schedule I got a late start and added miles probably a little too fast, but, hey, I felt good, right? I’d even exceeded my hopes for running on our road trip, so much so that on our last day I rocked some mean Catskills hills. In my minimalist shoes, I raced up the hills and took long, full strides as I pounded down those steep suckers I’d just killed.
You see where this is going. Cue putting my foot in a 45degree angle on motorcycle pegs for 8 hours immediately after my run, and by the end of the day my foot was sore. Ignoring it (see post on pain), I kept running. Surprisingly, it didn’t go away by sheer will, and within a few weeks it hurt the second I took my first running step.
Stress fracture or tendonotis, I’m still unsure as my doctor helpfully booked an appointment for a month after seeing her (still over a week away). Thankfully, my school’s trainer volunteered to look and help, and under her care after two weeks of rest and crosstraining, I am pretty much pain free on runs.
But my training schedule, already tight, may have been blown in the process.
Today was the last day to register earlybird for the Maine Marathon. I know I promised to register after 10 miles, then 13 miles, then 15 miles…well, I just couldn’t do it. But today there was no more time to flap about, so I registered…but I registered for the half marathon.
I don’t want to do the half. Never have. When I did my first triathlon, they were clever in calling it a ‘sprint’ triathlon, like it’s not a short triathlon, it’s a sprint. It still sounds epic, even though I by no means ‘sprinted’ through it. ”Half-marathon” sounds…unfinished.
Though I still have time to transfer to the full, I’m trying to find balance. My running break felt glorious on my knee; for the first time in months it was barely swollen. Training for the half-marathon means leisurely runs a few times per week. Training for the full marathon means many more days of pushing myself to the edge, giving up plans, devoting the last weeks of summer and first weeks of the school year to getting in miles and crosstraining.
But I was raised by a mom who asked why my A- wasn’t an A, who asked about my PhD plans on the eve of my MA graduation, and still wonders why I don’t teach at a university instead of a high school. I was taught that if there was more distance to go, you shook off any obstacles and just did it. But as I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize that the best at burnout speed isn’t necessarily the best. In the coming weeks I will decide to enjoy a leisurely training for the half, or push my body to its edge and go for the 26.2.
“Actually, I think I need to go home, like, right now.”
We were in a record store with my stepdaughter. I’d vetoed the mall because I was overwhelmed when I imagined stepping into that onslaught of cascading stimuli. But after about ten minutes of record browsing– feeling mildly dizzy– I knew I had to go home, and that it was going to take most of my draining energy to get there. As soon as we arrived, I made a stumbling bee-line to the couch, becoming animated only to get mad at my dog when he knocked over my glass of Gatorade. Because that meant I had to find a way to get up, walk to the kitchen, get paper towels, and wipe the floor, a task that seemed as overwhelming as running the last 3 miles of a 17-miler.
Shortly afterwards, my husband nodded sympathetically as I announced that I’d likely be on the couch the rest of the evening. He is used to these days. The ones that end, for me, at 6pm. Or 5pm. Or, as soon as I can get home from work. If push myself too hard, or eat too poorly, or, in this case, (I think?) it rains too much, I succumb to overwhelming fatigue.
Fatigue is different from exhaustion. Exhaustion is satisfying. And boy, my bosses have always loved my chasing down exhaustion; it’s made it possible for me to be successful. And, of course, I have always loved exercising until exhausted. Muscles tight and tired, going to bed and quickly falling into a deep sleep where my body gets to work repairing and rebuilding a healthier and stronger me. It’s gratifying, and while I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a true runner’s high, this is as good as any drug.
But fatigue usually hits me suddenly, and with little effort on my part. In fact, it’s usually a result of too little effort on my part– too little work spent keeping my life in balance. And it does mirror the feeling of sinking into a couch after a long day of work or play. In fact, laying down, body completely relaxed, feels amazing when fatigue hits me, like a balm my body’s craved for hours. And I guess there is a silver lining to fatigue: being able to completely shut out the world. As someone with a restless spirit, there is a sense of relief in lying down and knowing nothing will usurp my need to rest- no email, no schoolwork, no essential item on my to-do list. Instead, there is a certain sweetness to turning everything off completely, and just…giving in. At least for one night.
I’m not a morning person. I have insomnia and nothing triggers it more like having to get up early. But on our roadtrip I knew that I’d have to get up early and run as we’d be arriving our motels stiff, tired, and near dark. The first few runs were hard, but after awhile I came to enjoy them. It’s more invigorating than coffee, and I come back with piles of energy and optimism. And best of all…throughout the day I’d see people running and feel gleeful that my run was already done – I can do whatever with the rest of my day: overexert myself, have an afternoon summer cocktail, or just look at the day stretched before me and know I don’t have to gear up for a run.
Now that summer heat is burning full blast, I find I have to run in the morning or in the evening. I’ve mostly chosen the morning, but for my long run on Sunday I decided to run as soon as the sun started to set. Immediately, I could tell the difference. Instead of cranking fast-paced music to get me going, I actually listened to a series of podcasts, and my times didn’t suffer much. I was hardly aware I was even on a run for the first 5 miles or so. It’s almost like in the morning I’m too alert. Too alert to my run, my numbers, my body, my thoughts. At night, my mind floats away, and I can just let my body do what I’ve been training it to do.
That said, I spent all day on Sunday thinking about my run. Hydrating, eating well, planning, resting up for, putting off. A 3-hour run was more like an all day affair. If I run in the morning, it’s usually because I have something to do, so all I can think about is getting out the door as fast as possible. Out and back, like ripping off a band aid.
But until races yield to us evening-runners, I am going to try to continue to train for both distance and time of day.
See this picture here?
Lovely bridge, eh? It’s Tukey’s Bridge in Portland, Maine, on the Back Cove running trail. Something weird happens to me when I run over this bridge. No, I don’t get the urge to jump off like some people, which I’ve learnt is actually an urge to live and protect yourself. That urge actually has a name; it’s dubbed “high place phenomenon” by psychologists. What do *I* get? As soon as I step on the bridge?
An urge to throw my iPhone over.
It fades as I cross the bridge, and with each subsequent lap over it, but it even happens with similar bridges. I’m never going to actually throw my phone over the bridge, just like those with the urge to jump off a high place are never actually going to jump, but the strong is there. Every. time.
Ten years ago I trained for a marathon.
I wasn’t much of a runner, but living in San Diego the every-day-is-75-degrees climate begs you to train for…something. So I started running regularly, slowly adding miles, and I still remember going into a meeting at work and gleefully telling my colleagues “I ran five miles today!” They were mildly impressed by my off-topic outburst, but as someone not necessarily known for athletic prowess, it was quite a feat.
It felt so good, I just kept adding miles. Then I found it: The Long Beach Marathon. It was on my birthday – my 26th birthday – so it was perfect: 26 miles on my 26th birthday. I printed out a marathon training program from the internet and started running. It felt so good I ran more than the plan told me to run, and I felt damn proud of myself. I had months to train, but the exhilaration of the miles adding up felt so good, I had to keep pushing myself. What would 10 miles feel like? 12? 14?
I got to 16 miles. I still remember it – it took forever, but I did it. Then I went home, ordered a Papa John’s pizza and ate the whole thing. Both were bad decisions, as it turns out.
I pulled *something* in my leg. Hamstring, fasciitis? At 25 I didn’t know, as my body back then just..worked. And I didn’t think to go to a doctor, or chiropractor or anything. I had never really had a doctor before, never needed one, and chiropractors are for those old people, right? Before long, I couldn’t run a mile without intense pain, and running– and the marathon– just faded away.
So that left me with 16 as the most miles I’d ever run. This Sunday I surpassed that – barely – by running 17 miles. It was a milestone because I exceeded my “record,” but also because I started to believe I could actually do this marathon. I still haven’t registered. I looked at the website the other night, and the route, and felt so overwhelmed. Like I’m pretending to be training for a marathon, going through the motions, but really it’s not something I will actually do. It’s too far. Too hard.
But after the 17 miles, I’ve started to believe it may happen. My long runs have been hard. Really hard. But I only have about 8 long runs left to complete. My body may just hold out for them.
And it may just be time to register.