Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Run (for your life)

10 Reasons I Run:
  • Every uphill battle has a downhill reward.
  • Get to eat cake and drink beer, often at the same time.
  • Better emotional health.
  • Exploring new places on foot, in the wee hours of the morning.
  • The pleasure associated with 50 BPM.
  • Hearing my daughter say, "Mommy, is running your job?"
  • Satisfying stockpile of race t-shirts.
  • Finishing a race, drinking beer at 9 o'clock in the morning.
  • Having another way to define myself, aside from what I do at the office and whose diapers I change.
  • Overcoming psychological hurdles, getting faster every year.

I ran the Children's Hospital Half Marathon on Saturday morning. It was a smallish race, just under 1,400 people, which suits me fine; I dislike the anxious jostling associated with bigger races. My plan was to go out easy, about 9 1/2 minute miles, and speed up in the last half if I was feeling strong. I started at what felt like an easy pace, and was shocked to hear, at the first mile split, that I was running an 8:30 pace. My first thought was that I needed to slow down, but then again, it felt easy, so I figured I'd just roll with it, see how I felt at the next split. I ran the next mile at the same pace, then the mile after that, then again and again and again. I felt a surge of excitement as I entered the park and passed the halfway point: I was on track to set a personal record, and I felt amazing! I ran the rest of the way through the park and back up St. Charles Avenue in a state of relaxation and tremendous pride; I screamed "More Cowbell!" at the shirtless dude laconically ringing said instrument from his position on the neutral ground; I chatted with a friend of Cade's during the 11th mile; I smiled and high-fived the kids huddled in their Halloween costumes, cheering us on in their tiny little voices; I visualized calling Cade after the race to tell him how I had so easily surpassed the goal I had set for myself. At the final stretch I kicked up the pace just a bit and came in just under 1 hour and 55 minutes. I felt awesome.

This is why I run. Not just for the easy, satisfying races, but for the hard, discouraging ones as well. I'd had one of those runs--hard and discouraging--last Wednesday, the last day I ran before the half. I felt terrible and ran slowly, lethargically. I was bored and distracted and achy. I thought to myself that I wasn't ready, I was not prepared, but then I remembered the single most important lesson I've learned, not just with regard to running but to life in general: that every day is a new opportunity, every day is a different experience, and what matters most is the overall effort, the persistence, the faith that every effort, exhilarating or discouraging, is equally valuable.

I think that running has helped me be a better parent. No, not just running--I've been doing that for a long time--but running with focus and goals, as I've been doing for the last couple of years. Before, when I would run, it was simply to stay in shape: I felt better emotionally and physically when I ran consistently, and that was enough. But when I started learning more about training strategies, and focusing on preparing for races and getting faster and stronger, a new sort of patience emerged. I'm talking about patience with myself--knowledge that the small mistakes or failures don't matter as much as the aggregate, the accumulation of efforts. For example, sometimes I yell at my kids. I hate to admit this, but I do. I don't fly off the handle and scream and lose my shit, but I yell. I lose patience. And when I do this, I feel so incredibly guilty, so worried that I am doing something really damaging. Or rather, I used to worry. Now, I have more patience, more faith in the aggregate, more secure in the knowledge that a small failure here and there is not going to permanently fuck up my children. Just like a bad run here and there doesn't mean I'm unprepared for a race.

Look, I've never been an athlete. I think I could have been, but childhood circumstances prevented access to the sort of training required to make the teams. I've always admired athletes, the incredible power and wisdom they exude, the discipline they apply, the comraderie they have with each other. And it's so nice, now, as a 30-something mother of 2, to have a small piece of this for myself, to call myself a Runner, to watch my daughter watching me lace up my shoes and to know that I am setting a fine example, to flick a little sideways wave to the people who I pass on the streetcar line on any given Sunday, knowing that we have this thing in common, that I am one of them.