By far the most frequent thing I hear from non-runners is a slightly incredulous, sometimes half-mocking question.
What do you THINK about while you’re running for so long?
I get it. The thought of doing anything longer than hour, except for reading, or sleeping, is daunting to me – it’s why I almost never go to the movies. My mind goes a million miles a minute sometimes, and I get antsy, fast. Why, then, have I become so drawn to distance running, where if your music source runs out of power, it’s just you and your brain for hours on end?
I think about everything. And nothing. It’s sort of like falling asleep, I once tried to explain to someone : for the first few miles, I think about everything : what groceries do I need this week? What outfit should I wear to an upcoming event? What project did I forget about? (More than once, I’ve said “oh, SHIT” out loud, pulled off the trail, and opened Evernote to send myself a quick reminder to answer an email, or write a post, that had totally slipped my mind.)
And then – nothing. Silence. Minutes and miles will fly by, and before I know it, I’ll have been out there for two hours, in what I can only call sort of a trance. If it sounds crazy to you, that’s okay. It sounded crazy to me once, too. But running has become sort of a form of meditation for me. It calms my brain. It forces me to get in touch with my body – how am I feeling? What hurts? – and it forces me to push aside the bullshit.
Lately it’s been a little less tranquil. I struggled with whether or not to make it public that I’m signed up to run the 2017 Boston Marathon. On one hand, I could really use the support. On the other, I’m still working toward this goal with last year’s ghosts nipping at my heels.
To be frank, I’m terrified.
I’m scared because I’m still embarrassed about what happened last year. I don’t regret it, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but there are days when a mean voice inside of me pipes up. It’s been louder than usual lately. You failed. It tells me. Who are you to think you should ever attempt this again?
I’m sincerely doubting my own abilities. I never used to think twice about lacing up my sneakers for going for a run. Now, every time I grab my gear, I start to wonder if I’m foolish for even attempting it. I try to buoy myself, to use affirmations and visualizations and mental tricks to help, but I can’t shake that mean voice. Why are you even trying? It asks me. What is it going to look like if you fail again?
I guess that’s my real, deep fear – that I’ll strike out again on take two. I hear about others heading to Boston, and the voice strikes again. Enjoy your do-over. It tells me. Some people don’t need two tries to crush this marathon. You’re just pathetic.
It’s hard to pump yourself up and be excited for what’s next when you’re still beating yourself up for a past failure.
I’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining a positive attitude since my injury. Not perfect, but pretty good. I firmly believe that recovery is worse if you are determined to live in the negative. I firmly believe that my injury and my heartbreak happened for a reason. I firmly believe I am better for it.
BUT – and this is a big “but” – beginning to train again has dredged up a lot of unwelcome emotion. I don’t even want to think about what it would feel like to DNF twice, but that small, mean voice is there all the time. It’s worse as I think about people who will cruise to the finish line and not have to spend the entire training cycle, the entire 26.2 miles on Patriot’s Day, trying to fight off the ghosts and the memories of the most painful stretch of their lives.
And then there’s the potential for re-injury. “Are you INSANE?” more than one person has asked upon hearing my goal to go from broken hip to Boston in a year. Possibly. Probably? I feel as if I don’t know anymore.
But I also think nobody, myself included, says enough – I’m afraid. I’m sad. I’m struggling to believe in myself. Maybe if we share that, it’ll normalize those conflicts.
Early mornings have always been my favorite time to run. The dark dawn is quiet and peaceful. Somehow, it’s easier to get into a rhythm in the mornings – before I know it, I’m rounding the corner to home, ready to get my day started. I feel more productive. I feel energized. And usually, I feel pretty happy.
All of that is good news when you’re training for a marathon, because the cycle is so grueling, and so demanding, that you’ve got a lot of early mornings on your plate. When it’s Boston, it’s a lot of early, cold mornings. If you’re lucky, there isn’t ice on the ground. You’re usually not lucky.
I read a wonderful quote recently from Yousef Karsh : “Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness.” It’s time for me to keep seeing how my character develops in this darkness – in the dark, quiet morning runs, and in pushing through the dark memories and self-doubt.
Broken hip to Boston – it’s either entirely insane, or it’s going to make a great t-shirt someday.