"Racers take your mark.."
The words and moments of dripping adrenaline before coasting into the familiar movements after a season of training. I think it's safe to say this in close combination with the minute I step over the finish line and feel the aura of accomplishment are what keeps me - maybe keeps us all - racing.
In 1 week, I step onto the start line of the Chicago marathon anticipating those words, those feelings. Despite the nerves and anxiousness already setting in, I'm craving them. I'm craving the feeling of overcoming every challenging workout, humidity streaked practice, pulled mid-season muscle, and frequently bruised ego which has been the hallmark of this training season.
A good friend of mine told me a few weeks back, "It's not the running that gets harder. My body knows how to do that at this point. It's the mental part of the sport that just keeps getting harder."
I wish that wasn't the case but more and more often I'm spooked by the enormity of what goes into preparing for a marathon. There's something beautiful about the unknown in allowing your body to take over, to do the exploring, and to speak first about what is and isn't possible. In a sense first races bring back the vigor I see in little kids when they go after something without the notion of what failure can feel like, and more importantly without the fear even if it does.
This time last year I was filled with "what ifs" around what I was capable of. What if I just pushed a little harder? What if I moved the needle on all out? What if I just said yes when I started to wonder if the next milestone was possible?
It was easy in the beginning. I felt good. I stepped it up. I was comfortable in my "push hard" zone of low mileage and few workouts. By mid-July, I was brought back to the conveniently forgotten reality of what marathon training really means. Hot heat, thick air, bright sun, and a whole lot of days that break your sanity into pieces and quite literally leave it sitting in the bathtub wondering how it's going to keep going and why it should.
A full crash came down the final week of July while I was balancing high mileage, a new job, attempting to be a fair contributor to the person I love, and still wanting a social life on the side. I pushed my suck line way below the mark of reasonable and may I just say, it SUCKED.
All of my fears around the "what if" of pushing too hard seemed to materialize before my eyes. I was cold sweating, on the verge of puking, with a full raging migraine, and -oh yes - I was at work pushing through a hectic day 12 hours before I needed to be on a west coast bound plane. The shit was rising and the fan was on.
At 5PM I knew something was off. I stood and almost blacked out trying to get to the bathroom. My hands were tingling and I couldn't speak. I got up to sit on the floor so I wouldn't pass out and in the process all lights out. Done. Passed out. Darkness.
I'm not sure how long. Probably not long. But mortifying.
I woke to two thoughts in this exact order:
1. Am I dead?
2. Fuck. Did I pee?
The latter allowed me to realize that death was unlikely as I'd like to think my eternal-world self would be above the realm of embarrassment. Jokes aside, what had happened was serious and resulted in an expensive and all the more embarrassing ambulance ride which dragged my boyfriend out of his job to stand by my hospital bedside and hear what we all probably knew..."She just needs rest and fluids." Great. I pulled everyone into a tizzy for nothing.
That moment was a turning point of sorts, but a whole lot more suck happened before I absorbed the spiritual lesson and hushed my mind enough to hear my body again.
For weeks after, every time I stepped onto the pavement I was plagued with wondering how long until something like this happened again. I was so constantly inside my own head I had no concept joy or accomplishment because all I could focus on was the moment to moment changes in my stamina and orientation while attempting to make sure I could notice any subtle shifting.
By August this absurd observation game was driving me into the ground. I was tired, confused, and sick of stressing over the smallest things that never bothered me. My mind was exhausted from overthinking every step (literally), but my body was revving to go.
A good cry, weird dream, and yoga class later I had my first thought-free run and it was incredible. I could actually feel my legs, my lungs, my heart and they were ready to speak up. They'd probably been talking the whole time; ready to communicate their status if I wasn't tuned into the head game talk show at full volume.
Once again I was a little kid exploring the limit, and backing away when I'd had enough. I was calm enough to feel excitement over the big day. An oxymoron which makes sense if you've ever felt so anxious that other, better emotions like butterflies and excitement sit on the sidelines until the suck show is over.
The other thing I started to hear again was "It's ok to sit down. Yep, all the way down. Pull the covers up and sit this one out."
That's the thing about race prepping. During the all-in, go-hard push to make sure our bodies are ready, they do get ready and then they want a break. The breaks are the mentally bruising but physically critical components of being able to keep going. I'd totally let that go in the early season. I got consumed by the ceiling so much so I picked my feet up off the ground. As it would go I then came crashing down. Hard.
In this last week, the mileage is in. I've done the 18, I've done the 20. I'm at the teeter point of doing enough to stay sane and pulling back enough to stay strong. A look-back at this season is a comical spiritual ride which I'm sure the universe found equally frustrating and hilarious while she worked to send subtle hint after hint after hint before interjecting with a full blown intervention to remind me about a little thing called self care.
The start line is calling. It's a week away. I'm already smiling at the familiar words before the gun. I know I'll get nervous again. But I know after this training season the only real voice to trust is the one in my gut.
Take your mark.