I Felt Free

(Quick catch-up so that this post will make some sense: One month ago I registered for the New Jersey Marathon. I could tell you how and why that came to be but it ultimately doesn't matter because the point of this post is that I am no longer running the full during NJ Marathon weekend and I will now spend approximately 27 paragraphs telling you how and why that came to be).

This past weekend I ran a 15-mile race. Or maybe I should say I registered for and ran part of a 15-mile race. The course is made up of the same 5-mile loop, with race distance options of 10 miles (2 loops) or 15 miles (3 loops). Against my marathon training plan, I signed up for the 15-miler instead of the 10-miler, because that's the one I've always done. I ran it around the same pace I ran it last time, which was too fast then and was definitely too fast now, because that's the pace I had run before. As with the majority of runs I have had in the last few months, my effort level felt way too hard for the pace I was running, and I got to the last mile of my second loop and, while I knew I absolutely could get myself through another one, I also knew the only reason I had to do so was because I had done it before, and I could do it again. And, even though it took me a lot of time to admit, both to myself and to others - namely Alyssa, who agreed to go on this marathon journey with me this spring - I finally had to accept that "could" and "should" are not the same thing and that I truly don't know the difference.


It could have just been that I was literally staring down my opportunity for sweet relief as I approached the end of the loop (and my race, if I so desired), but in that moment I had a flash back to a few years ago, when I dropped out of the Richmond Marathon roughly halfway through training, and decided to focus on running half marathons that fall instead. I ended up running my 3 best half marathons up to that point, one of which remains one of my best halfs to-date. Taking that option again suddenly felt like the right choice, especially given that I felt like I was up against so much in the marathon by attempting an even bigger PR than I ran a year ago while feeling (and possibly actually being) a little behind the curve physically from where I was a year ago. 

I don't run just for PRs and I don't want to say that it's as simple as that I saw my opportunity for a marathon PR fly out the window, even though the race was still 3 months away, but maybe it is that simple. The number on the clock has always been secondary to how I feel about my running and my race, and more than anything I was worried I was going to put in another 3 months of mediocre training because I set unrealistic expectations for myself, only to be disappointed when I didn't end up with a race experience I could be happy with and proud of. 

I mentioned in my last post that I started working with a coach this week (which we're still not going to talk about, and not talking about it is still going to keep being weirder than talking about it, but maybe one day), and my initial consultation with her ended up being a much different conversation than the one I thought we'd have given that we were originally scheduled to talk Friday night (pre-race) but didn't get to talk until Saturday afternoon (post-race). She graciously listened to me ramble on about my internal struggle and then asked me to answer two seemingly simple questions: why do I run, and why do I want to run this marathon?

I had a harder time than I should have with both of them, but once I got to thinking, the first one came to me fairly quickly (I won't bore you with the details but rest assured the reasons cover the usual litany of shit runners say). The second gave me serious pause and I ended up with more circuitous answers about why I didn't not want to run the marathon than why I did. And that was about all the answer I really needed, I suppose. 

When I really sat down and thought about it (and by thought I really mean texted Alyssa A LOT), I realized that my entire running career thus far has been based on the question, "Can I do this?" I have always sought to prove to myself that I could do whatever this was, and I had to admit that I am finally at a point that that just isn't working for me anymore. Admittedly, over the last almost-7 years, asking myself, "Can I do this?" over and over again has taken me to places I never dreamed I could go, and for that I am thankful. Thankful that I had the guts to even ask and then to try to find out the answer. 

Asking that question has gotten me all the way to an Ironman finish line, because I knew deep down in my hear the answer was, "yes" - it was always, "yes" - but if I'm being honest, navigating where to go from there has been more difficult than I thought it would be. Before now there was always something more, something else, but now there's not. I have achieved everything I could have ever possibly hoped or dreamed to, and that is such a special thing to be able to say and to mean, but because of it I've had a hard time identifying what the next step in this journey is. I got caught up in the precedent of what I've done before and the possibilities for what I could do and I've adopted other people's dreams because for the first time since I started this journey I don't really have one of my own.

I should have known better. I should have known that I was largely influenced by the manic-depression that sets in after a big race, and I should have reasoned that that feeling would linger longer than it ever has before given that the race I just did was longer than any I've ever done before. I should have know that my very short list of mostly poor reasons that weren't truly authentic or from my heart were not reasons to put myself through the physical and mental demands of a marathon cycle. I should have, but I didn't. But I do now. 

Weirdly, this both was and wasn't like the other times. And while part of me is embarassed and ashamed to admit that that there have been others times - like the time when I thought it would be a good idea to do my first half Ironman less than 3 months after a marathon, which was less than 2 months after my first marathon (it wasn't), or the time only two months after that that I thought it would be a good idea to run another marathon, my would-be third one in 10 months if you're having trouble doing the math (it wasn't) - another part of me feels like now is as a good a time as any to address this habit of getting myself in over my head. Because, if not now, then when? 

Right before my whole spring marathon plan blew up, I had grand visions of bringing this blog (somewhat) back to life, of sharing my training the way I used to. When I decided not to run the marathon I figured that that was also the end of my sharing my training since I was now "just" running halfs this spring. I'm ashamed to admit that that thought ever ran through my head because - while I would never say that to or about another runner, or even think it - it was so easy for me to pass judgment on myself (that's another whole issue I'm working on and will probably be working on my entire life). I have always preached that no runner's journey is more or less than any other's, and I truly believe that. Except, apparently, for myself. 

Once I finally came to terms with my true thoughts and feelings, I felt such a strong yearning to get back to my roots. I did not start running to run marathons. I didn't start to do an Ironman. In fact, once upon a time I didn't know what either of those things were and believed in my heart of hearts it would be a true miracle if I ever finally finished the Couch to 5k program that I dragged on for 30% longer than prescribed and if I could ever actually run 3 miles IN A ROW, in any time frame. I actually started to worry if letting myself get all the way through multiple marathons and Ironman had been the wrong choice, if it had rewired my brain in a way that I couldn't reverse. I have done those races, yes, but being a marathoner or an Ironman or whatever has never felt like totally the right fit. It's part of my experience and those are things I have done but they are not necessarily part of my identity. They are not the real me. I wanted to be able to choose a non-marathon distance, to feel good about it, to be happy about it.  The fact that I didn't know if I could do that scared me, but typing out my reasons for running the marathon turned into reasons not to run the marathon, which ultimately turned into reasons to run the half marathon: 

  • I have been successful at AND enjoying shorter distances recently. I’ve surprised myself in a couple of 10ks over the last couple of months and have done well in shorter speed workouts. They’ve been hard enough that I’ve REALLY had to work, but short enough that I’ve been mentally able to engage in them and tell myself, “Okay, you can get it together for X minutes” and been able to believe it and do it, even if it was super hard. I have more confidence that that can translate to the half marathon than the marathon right now.
  • I think I am in a cycle of thinking that I have to do the longest/hardest/whatever-est race because that’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years, and I think it might be time to break that. I feel like I’m not “allowed” to “only” run a half marathon which I recognize is ridiculous and I want to change that mindset. I feel like I need to run a hard but productive and successful half again, for the first time in a couple of years, to remember that it’s JUST as hard, if not harder, than longer distances and that the marathon isn’t the end-all-be-all of races. I know that in my head, I just feel like I need a race experience to prove it. 
  • I think somewhat of a break would be good for me, mentally and physically, and I think I can be just as happy with and proud of a good half as a full 
  • I need to get my running confidence back and the half seems like a more appropriate place to start than the full. Two years of IM training kind of tanked my speed, or at least put it on the backburner. I want to get back to the times I used to run (and improve them) but am finally admitting that maybe I need to take smaller steps to get there.
  • I think the half would give me more opportunities in training to really feel satisfied by and proud of my runs, and that’s what I need right now. I *know* I can run longer, but so what? What if I just don’t want to? That’s basically why I stopped at 10 in my race instead of going out for another 5 - basically I realized I could keep going and risk hating my entire run, or I could quit while I was ahead and enjoy myself. In that moment I realized that maybe training for halfs instead of a full would give me more potential to feel more successful and more proud and happier about my runs. 

I also didn't start blogging about running to only share the big things, or to dismiss the small victories. It sounds so bizarre but now that I have achieved all of my wildest running dreams, I kind of just want it to go back to the way it was before. Letting go of the marathon (not forever, that I can say with certainty, but for now), feels like the first healthy choice I've made in a long time. So I think I'm going to keep talking about my running and my training and my half marathon goals and dreams and even my 5k hopes and dreams or even my 1-mile hopes and dreams because I have all of those too and they are just as valid as any of the others I've ever had.

So now that you're up to speed, these are the half marathons I have coming up this spring. We'll talk more about my goals and training and those fun details later, but for now the only detail that matters is that I'm actually more excited about any given one of these than I ever was about my planned spring marathon:



  • NYCRuns Central Park Half Marathon (February 25)
  • Shamrock Half Marathon (March 18)
  • New Jersey Half Marathon (April 29)

13.1, here I come!

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As a side note - music is something that has always meant a lot to me and it's had a resurgence for me lately that I haven't experienced since early adulthood, so much so that I think I might start sharing more of my favorite songs/albums/bands in future posts. My post titles often come from song lyrics that come into my head, whether the whole song relates to the topic or just that one little snippet, and I thought I might start sharing their origins as a way to explain these seemingly nonsensical or irrelvant words or phrases that permeates a lot of my own thoughts and words.



And on that note, it feels worth acknowledging that I did recently change up some blog things, most notable (url change pending whenever I decide that that's something I feel like tackling). I've used the echoed words online for many years and going back to it felt like the best way to steer in a direction that's more true to myself. 

3 comments :

  1. I really like the half marathon. I would like to do a full again at some point, but I enjoy the half as a solid distance (13 miles after all!) but something that still feels achievable at the end of the day and doesn't take crazy hours of training that I just don't have right now. Before I got pregnant with R I was training to do one in under 1:50 (my PR is 1:53:02), and while I am not even close to that shape currently, I would at some point like to get fastish like that again.

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  2. HA your introductory paragraph! If "I will now spend approximately 27 paragraphs telling you how and why that came to be" doesn't sum up my approach to blogging, I don't know what does. Hahaha.

    Aside from relating to that phrase, though, I related to a lot of other sentiments in this post. Trying to come up with your why, feeling like you have to run a marathon because you've done it in the past -- I feel you on all of that, big time. I honestly really admire you for dropping down to the half and doing what you think will be better for you! It sounds so silly to say, but I don't feel brave enough to NOT run the Chicago Marathon--you know, like, "What would everyone think of me if I didn't run it?!" 1) No one cares if the person who comes in like 30,000 at the Chicago Marathon five years in a row decides not to show up one time and 2) If half marathons would be more enjoyable, then who cares even if everyone did judge me?? But yet I still feel like I HAVE to because I have in the past. Admittedly, there are other extenuating circumstances--namely the fact that I want to have kids some day--that make me feel like I HAVE to run marathons now, while I have the free time and flexibility to commit to that kind of training. But it's still silly. No one should ever have to run a marathon just because they've done it before, especially when a different distance would make them happier!

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  3. I have always really loved and appreciated reading about your running story and training experiences. I'm currently still up in the air about whether or not to register for an upcoming half marathon because I'm just not sure that I'm *ready* for it physically. My shin splints continue to linger, and I don't want to risk an injury. So I'm loosely following a training plan until I can decide a definite yes or no.

    Reading about your experiences gives me this weird sense of motivation. I won't every be an Ironman, and I may or may not ever be a marathoner. Normally, when I read about people (usually in Runner's World, it seems) running fulls or running much faster than I ever will, I almost feel a sense of intimidation even though I don't even know those people. It just reminds me of all the things I may never accomplish. But there's something about the WAY you write about your running experiences makes me feel *good* about my experiences. You have run rather and much faster than I ever have, yet your writing somehow just reminds me of why I run and how far I've come.

    So please, don't ever stop.

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