Saturday, April 22, 2017

ON RUNNING


I’ve been taking a break from running for over 6 months now. A big part of this break is due to a nagging pain in my back that I just can’t seem to figure out. But a larger part of this (that I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with) is that running stopped making me happy and started to become emotionally destructive. 

When my dad was really sick a few years ago running gave me a way to channel all my devastation and heartbreak into something that gave me hope. Running made me feel strong emotionally during a time in my life when it would have been really easy to just crumble. Right after my dad died, marathon training was the thing that got me out of bed every day, it gave me something to focus on that wasn’t my own grief. The marathon I ran 5 months after my dad died was my strongest and fastest ever. It made me happy - I felt proud and I felt good and I did it all for him. But after that, my relationship with running began to fumble. I kept pushing myself the same way I always had, but looking back on it now I realize that wasn’t what I needed at all. I continued grinding it out through another marathon training cycle because it's what I had come to know as normal, except this time things weren’t clicking. I had this nagging pain in my back that wouldn’t go away, and I started doubting myself as a runner even though I was running faster than I ever had before. And then it was time for Boston 2016, the marathon I had been dreaming of for years and years. In the days leading up to Boston my gut was telling me something was off, but I ignored it. Every training run over the past 16 weeks had been perfect, so what could be wrong? I remember putting Greg & my brother's phone numbers on the back of my bib just in case something happened to me during the race. And I came up with a plan in my head of what I'd do if I DNFed along the course (DNF - did not finish). These were things I had never considered leading up to races in the past, I think because previously I had been in the right mental state; feeling confident and ready to race. Then race day happened and 10 miles in I crumbled. I was perfectly hydrated, perfectly fueled, perfectly prepped - but the heat got to me. And honestly, my own emotions got to me. My mind just wasn’t in the game and my body reacted to that. I finished Boston 2016 with the help of medical tents, my friends & family on the sidelines, and my intense fear of failure. But I wasn’t proud of myself, I was actually really ashamed. My finish time was exactly 4 hours, the slowest marathon I have ever run by a long shot. I was trained to run a 3:10 marathon easily and 4 hours was straight up embarrassing - that’s not the kind of runner I am. I don’t run to just finish a marathon, I run to excel. Running a 4 hour marathon was like putting my guard down and letting everyone around me see all my weaknesses, all the cracks in my armor, and that made me want to run away and hide. Everyone around me was telling me that just finishing a marathon while experiencing heat stroke is an incredible accomplishment and I should be so proud. I smiled and agreed and told them all I was feeling proud, but honestly I wasn’t feeling that at all. And that’s when I started to understand that even though running has brought so much positivity into my life, it had now morphed into something emotionally destructive. 

The years of grinding it out nonstop with marathon training and with running a business all while trying to process the illness and eventual death of the most important person in my life had caught up to me. Running wasn’t helping me deal with the loss of my dad anymore, it was just masking it. The thought of going out on a run just because it made me happy had become so foreign, it wasn’t even an option I gave myself. Every run had to be taken very seriously, had to be structured and intentional. And then I realized that I wasn't allowing any room to be easy on myself, to give myself a break. So I stopped running. Honestly, it’s been really really good. I am going on walks instead of runs, I am letting myself stay in bed a bit longer in the mornings, and I’m reading books instead of stretching for an hour every day. With the help of some wonderful friends and a really great therapist I’m starting to understand what life looks like without my dad. I’m trying to figure out what makes me truly happy and fulfilled and I can’t quite say what that looks like just yet, but I know that I’ll only figure it out by giving my heart and mind the space to heal and become healthy again. I know that running will forever be a part of my life and running a 3:10 marathon is still something I think about almost daily. But I want to approach running again slowly and be sure that the most important part is feeing happy and fulfilled, remembering the reasons why running changed my life for the better in the first place. 

3 comments:

Sarah Bard said...

Hi Alice,

Thanks for sharing this! I can completely relate, and I think it's great that you're giving yourself the time and space you need. There's definitely some mindset around sport and particularly running that if you're a runner, you run all the time, you always get better, etc. etc. Even though running is a huge part, maybe the biggest part, of my identity, I've definitely had periods like the one you describe. Taking time away from running can be really revitalizing and help with regaining perspective and love for the activity. Yeah, sometimes it's tough - that's what makes it rewarding, but it shouldn't feel like a job!

It's always a bit tough coming back after months (or even a year + away), but it gets easier every day and feeling excited and joyful again is totally worth it.

Hope you're enjoying some down time and finding other things to challenge yourself and bring you joy!

jen said...

Tears. Thanks for sharing this. Love you, Alice.

Mark Hashizume said...

I found your site from Kind World podcast.

I am a father of a wonderful daughter and your story really touches me. I work on being as close I can with her. We all live on borrowed time and each moment with her is precious.

Thank you for sharing your vulnerable honesty.

I posted the podcast link on our Portland Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PdxDeathCafe/

I wish you gentle healing and grieving.

Metta,
Mark