In two days I will run my first half-marathon.
The thought of this accomplishment fills me with both terror and a giddy joy.
I have been training with steady determination since the start of 2013, when I was selected to be the ZOOMA Texas Muscle Milk Light Half-Marathon Challenge athlete.
For the first few weeks I looked at the training plan askance. I assumed that once the mileage on the long runs surpassed 4 miles/5 miles/6 miles/surely-not-10 miles, I would quit. I would hit a mental wall, or injure myself and would have to resign my position. I would be outwardly chagrined, yet secretly relieved.
Throughout the training process I have had some rock-solid running friends by my side. This too is not what I imagined. In my mind running was a solitary pursuit. I would try to time my runs for bits of the day when normal people are at work. I would huff and puff my lonely way down the trail and if I did happen upon another runner, I would tuck my chin down and power through without making eye contact, not looking up until we were well past one another. I did this because I felt sure that in the other person's eyes I would see reflected my own fraud. That the other runner would know instantly I wasn't a "real" runner. My bright red cheeks and thick waistline would give me away, as would my shuffling gait.
And then on the second week of our training plan there was a kick-off event at a local running store. My running mentor, Lisa, wanted to meet before the event to run a few quick miles. We arranged to be there early. I was certain that she would write me off as a lost cause, but instead she immediately charmed me with her warm nature and no-nonsense support. I was afraid she would critique me throughout our run; instead she approached our relationship with the notion that *of course* I was going to do this. We were going to do it together.
Lisa was not afraid to talk about her own past injuries, or her own aches and pains, or the days when she really didn't *want* to be running. She showed me that having those thoughts and feelings doesn't mean you aren't a "real" runner--instead, it means that you accept the breadth and depth of a commitment to a sport and lifestyle. Every run will not be a joyful experience, but every run does carry the potential to bring you long-term joy. When I run with Lisa I am not concerned about pace or stride. My legs and arms find their natural rhythm and my mind clears. Through her mentor-ship I was able to shed my visions of failure, and replace them with a vision of myself as a runner for life. Not necessarily long distances, and not necessarily with the purpose of winning races, but absolutely in order to be a healthy and strong woman. Now, in mid-life. Twenty years from now. Forever.
My friend Melanie was also in attendance at the kick-off event. She was in the process of completing the Couch to 5k program and wanted to check out some running shoe options. She met me there after my first run with Lisa and together we hit the trail once more. We returned to the store and got fitted for shoes, and ate free bagels and talked to the other amazing women involved with this program and somehow, by the time we left, Melanie had registered for the half-marathon too.
I am so impressed by Melanie's commitment to this race. She took a huge leap of faith in upping her running goals from a 5k to a half-marathon. She has encountered set-backs, and faced them with grace. The other day we set out on an 8 mile long-run that neither one of us was too excited about. By mile two Melanie was struggling with calf pain and needed to take a break. We walked until she was able to run again, and despite the fact that we could have very easily cut the run short she made sure we pushed through and achieved our target distance. Her mental fortitude inspires me.
I used to read running blogs with deep cynicism. I sneered at the people who purported to have been instantly transformed from sloths to elite athletes. I couldn't believe that it was as simple as lacing up a pair of sneakers and opening your front door. I thought that a runner's high was a myth, and that all these gleeful sinewy runners would end up injured hobbled wrecks within ten years.
I was wrong.
The main error in my thinking was the notion that running exists as a pursuit separate from everything else in your life. That you compartmentalize: there is running, and there is everything else.
Instead running becomes the support and under-current for everything else. You do more yoga and strength training because you want to keep running without injury. You drink more water because you want to be hydrated for your runs. You get up early because you have a tough work meeting on the agenda and you know you need to clear your mind with a run before you tackle the tasks at hand. You pay attention to nutrition and sleep patterns because you see a direct correlation between what you put into your body and what you get out of your runs.
Since starting the ZOOMA training plan I have been transformed. You wouldn't know it to look at me--I am still amply padded, and I still don't *look* like an elite athlete. But I am stronger. In my legs, in my endurance, in my commitment to myself. I am less afraid to look foolish or vulnerable. I have seized professional and personal opportunities that I might otherwise have let slip by. I have been fearless in a way that I *know* is directly related to my relationship with running.
In a way this weekend's race doesn't matter. I mean, *of course* it matters. But while the race has always been the goal, it is no longer the prize.