I haven’t always been a runner. In fact, in middle school I was always one of the last girls to finish “the mile.” You know…the 1 mile fitness test in gym class where your gym teacher made you run around the track 8 gazillion times because the track was so dang small. I don’t think I was the last, but I was slow enough that everyone was always waiting for me at the end, undoubtedly making the slow, chubby girl even more self-conscious.
If you would have asked that 10-year old if she would grow up to run a marathon I’m sure she would have started crying and walked away somehow twisting your words into another criticism.
But she did.
I’m not sure how I got into running, but I remember it started when I was in Seattle. I would get up and run before having to catch my bus at 6:45. That means I was probably out running by 5:00. Pretty impressive for a girl who came in near-last in the mile. I think I started running as a means to lose weight, but I’ve continued running because (gasp) I like it. There’s nothing comparable to the feeling of giving your all in a race (and knowing you could push it further if you had to), crossing the finish line after running further than you’ve ever ran in your entire life, sneaking by your brother-in-law during a 12k to beat him across the finish line, finally making it the entire loop on a trail run you’ve been training on all spring, being 10 miles into a run and feeling like a million bucks, getting a PBT (personal best time) on a race, or just taking the time to enjoy your surroundings.
Who woulda thunk it.
But running isn’t always easy. It’s undoubtedly one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve ever done (or do). Some days I’m two blocks in and wonder how I’m going to keep going. Other days I can’t wait to be done, my legs can’t keep up, I’m too out of breath or I’ve got too much on my mind. Heck. Sometimes I just get bored with it and I wonder if I’m even the same girl who can get so giddy about running. And it’s hard when you know how good you can feel….but you don’t. I think every runner has these ups-and-downs. Fits-and-starts. Ebbs-and-flows. Yes, to me, running is about 80% mental, 20% physical.
I’ve been struggling with my running lately. A.K.A. the downs. A.K.A. the ebb. A.K.A. the fits. And I’m not sure why.
I ran the Half Marathon in Seeley this winter in hopes that I would build up my base and allow me to hit-the-ground-running (ha) this spring. Well, spring is here (kind-of), but I’m struggling with wanting to run. Not just “I’m bored” or “my legs won’t go”….but “I don’t want to.” I’ve been feeling like my pace is slowing down too. Lately I’ve been doing about 10-minute miles, which is about a minute slower than I would like. And on top if it all, the whole running-thing feels like it’s getting harder. I’m not enjoying it, I’m just going through the motions. I haven’t been getting those “highs,” instead I’m just muscling through the mileage at what feels like a snails pace. This is the mental part of running that is so hard. Pushing through the “I don’t want to’s” because you know your body can handle it. And P.S. do a darn good job at it too.
So I signed up for a 14-miler in June. And a half-marathon in July. I guess whether I want to or not, I’m better
get keep running.
And run I did this past weekend. It was our annual pilgrimage to Spokane, WA to run Bloomsday. Bloomsday is a 12k that nearly 50,000 people participate in. Yes, that’s 50,000 people. It’s so massive that when I cross the finish line (a block away from the starting line), I can still see people just starting the race. It’s utterly insane and like no other race I’ve ever participated in. But it’s also a ton of fun. For the past four years The Hubs and I have headed over and met up with my two sisters and their husbands to run. It’s become a much-loved tradition.
As you can imagine though, given my funk, I wasn’t looking forward to the actual running part of the event this year. The Hubs kept bugging me about setting a time goal, but given my uneasiness about my current pace I hesitated to commit to anything. God forbid I set a goal and then not meet it. That could really be a blow to my self-esteem let alone my running motivation this season. So instead, I opted to shoot for “beating my time from last year.” Last year I ran Bloomsday in about 01:15:00 which is about a 10:05 minute mile. Again, slower than I would like…and I totally remember struggling through the race last year. I didn’t want to feel that way again, but remember right now I’m running about ten minute miles on my everyday runs. The same pace that’s got me uneasy about my running abilities.
Pause. Not that there’s anything wrong with 10 minute miles…it’s just that I used to be faster and now I’m not. And it makes me feel old and kind of like the girl who huffs and puffs and comes in last on the fitness test.
So I buck up and I run. I start out a titch faster than I’m comfortable with wondering how long it’s going to last (did you know the #1 mistake of all runners is starting out too fast during a race?). But you know what? It lasted the entire course. Around mile 5 I even got that feeling of “wow, I feel really great! I feel like I could even push it a little harder right now.” So I did. Then I found myself looking around and enjoying Spokane, and loving the blue sky, the sun, the budding trees and just enjoying myself. I haven’t had that feeling in a looooong time on a run and I missed it. I needed it.
I finished strong and looked around for a clock. Um. Hello? Clock??
Couldn’t see the stupid clock.
So I’d have to wait for results to come out. In the meantime I found myself having an internal debate:
Awesome Self: It doesn’t matter what time you got! You felt great and that’s all that matters. Yay self!
Evil Self: Yeah, but you set a goal to beat your time from last year. What if you felt “so dang great” but it’s because you were running slower than even last year?!
Awesome Self: Who cares! At least you kind of like running again!
Evil Self: But you’re slowing down. Doesn’t that bother you?
Awesome Self: Eat it Evil Self. Running 7.5 miles is no small accomplishment! Not everyone can do that, right?
I went back-and-forth like this for quite awhile. But deep down I knew that it did matter to me. Because I needed to get out of this running funk and back to the business of enjoying it. Curse you Evil Self.
Then, this past Tuesday, the race results: 1:07:47. 9:05 minute miles.
Halle-fricken-lujah!! Not a PBT for this race (yes I used to be even faster than that) but I beat my goal. Pretty significantly. My feelings at that moment are best described by and excerpt from a Rolling Stones song:
“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you might find….you get what you need.”
What I want is to be faster again. I want to feel good running and to want to run. And I realize that fast is a relative term. My brother-in-law finished Bloomsday in 47 minutes. Now that’s fast. But I’ll never run 6:35 minute miles! That’s just crazy. I’d be happy to maintain a pace of 8 or 9 minute miles again. And in time, I do believe that I’ll get back to the point where I’m doing that consistently.
But for now, I got what I needed. I needed that time. I needed it to reassure me that I haven’t “lost it.” I know I can still run (and maintain) a faster pace and actually find enjoyment in it. Maybe I am truly just going through a “fit”….an “ebb.” And that’s ok. Because all fits have starts. All ebbs have flows. And all downs have ups. And maybe, just maybe a better Bloomsday means I’m on the downward side of the hill where I can get back to enjoying my runs and actually looking forward to them. Because spring is a-coming…and so are those races I signed up for!