27 Aug 2012, 11:43pm

on being an athlete, sort of

I went for a run this morning; I managed three miles for the first time since we started all our summer traveling. It felt good to finish the workout I’d set up: five minutes walking, one mile run, times three. I have been “going for runs” since May, when I started the couch-to-5k program, which I finished in June. That felt great, too.

(I have real running shorts now.)

I am a beginning runner. I am very slow. I am extremely frustrated sometimes by the flippant way with which more experienced runners on the internet write about beginning running, or claim they were “unlikely long-distance runners.” “I was an unlikely runner,” they write. “I mean, I was on the track and field team in school, but after that, for years I only ran a few miles at the gym a few times a week.” What? When I was in school, my mile time got recorded as “14+ minutes” because no one wanted to wait around for me to finish.

I have also read that a ten-minute mile is an “average beginning pace.” I think, at this point, that I might be able to run one mile in ten minutes. But more than one, at that pace? Hah! No. My average running pace at the moment, for a three-mile run (with walk breaks), is somewhere in the vicinity of 12 minutes/mile.

These things are the reason that so many folks think being an athlete is not possible for them. These things are fucking intimidating. This morning when I got a side stitch in my second mile, I chanted to myself in my head, “I am strong. I am strong” and thought about pedaling my loaded touring bike up and over the highest paved pass in North America. Without my previous experience as an athlete, I think that running would be just straight up Too Hard. I am lucky in that bike touring got me over some of the psychological barriers a few years ago; I have mostly only the physical ones to contend with.

See, marathoners — the kind ones — are also eager to point out that “anyone can run a marathon.” They might mean “anyone who can run a ten-minute-mile pace” or “anyone who was on the track and field team in school but now just runs a few miles at the gym a couple times a week,” but I believe that they are more right than that. I know this because I said something really similar all the time on my bike trip when I rode across the country. “I could never do that!” said servers who fed me omelettes, campground managers, kids outside of museums, everyone. Every one of the people who said that to me — they were all able-bodied — could do it, if they wanted to. I know this because I did it.

The night before our wedding, my dad told a story at our rehearsal dinner about the summer I turned 17. I had one year of high school left and I was short a P.E. credit that I needed in order to graduate. I hated P.E. class so much that I managed to convince my teacher I should do “independent study” P.E. that summer with my dad, who at the time was very involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training cycling program. I drew up a plan to train for and complete a 60-mile bike ride around Lake Washington, which somehow seemed way easier than whatever lap-running and heartbeat-monitoring I would have to do in P.E. class, and got my teacher to sign off on it. My dad bought me a road bike, and we got started. Our first ride was three flat miles on the multi-use path through Marymoor Park, near where we lived in Redmond, Washington. Dad told the story to our gathered families of how I made it through the ride, barely, and then threw up. Three miles! “But,” he continued, “she kept training, even through she hated it, and at the end of the summer, we rode around Lake Washington. Then she said, ‘Dad, sell the bike.’” (Pause for laughter.) “And five years later she got another one and a few years after that she rode across the country.” (Applause and cheers!)

I hated biking that summer. Clearly, this shit wasn’t for me. In 2007, when I got another bike and started bike commuting and liked it so much I decided to sell my car two months into it, I rephrased: it wasn’t biking I hated, but training. I didn’t wear lycra and I didn’t ride my bike in circles, or worse yet, put my bike on top of my car to go someplace to ride. I rode in my jeans, to get somewhere.

I didn’t train at all for my big bike tour. Hadn’t so much as ridden across town with my loaded bike. The first hill was tough. But I got over it, and eventually I not only pedaled my loaded touring bike across the highest paved pass in North America, I crossed the Continental Divide eight other times, and got over the Cascades and the Appalachians, too. I made it to Virginia — and I don’t think I’ve ridden farther than twenty miles at a stretch since. I doubt I could get up any of those mountains today. But because I did it once — because I am both the girl who threw up after three miles and the woman in these photos — I know I am capable of biking those distances and to those elevations.

But at the end of my trip, when I didn’t have anywhere to get to, I stopped biking so much, and I stopped feeling so good about my body, and I got kind of lazy and sad. A few times, I went on little runs because, I reasoned, I didn’t have time to bike 70 miles a day, and running is more efficient exercise. A long time passed between runs. Then I got my shit together (and got an app for my phone that told me exactly what to do) and started going running consistently. Or sort of consistently. And I started feeling good about my body, and feeling happy (if still kind of lazy a lot of the time).

Maybe training is not so bad — or maybe I have gotten better at thinking of training as “getting somewhere.” Having a 5K as my goal kept me on track. It felt great to get there — and once again, afterwards, I backslid. I have been at zero and made it to “wow, what an achievement! I could never do that!” once before. Maybe I have to have a big “destination” in mind to keep myself going. And then I hope that when I get there, I will celebrate, enjoy the view, and then keep going to the next place.

Maybe this is a long way of saying: I sort of want to be an Ironman. Sort of. Maybe.

28 Aug 2012, 6:13am
by Matt C.

Waxing, waning. The moon doesn’t worry that it’s always full.

This made me smile. I love those photos of you looking so strong!

Matt, I can’t decide what the best reply to your comment would be. Something like, “yeah, well, this girl’s ‘moon’ has been waxing a bit too full, if ya know what I mean,” or something like, “actually, the moon is always pretty much the same size. We just only get to see it be publicly and awesomely that size once a month.” (But yes, your comment is very grounding and probably true.)



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