I run because I can

Almost a year ago I ran my first marathon. A week after feeling like I had been put through a trash compactor from the waist down, I felt pretty much recovered and had returned to the quiet normalcy of waking two sleepy kids up for school, and getting them dressed, fed, and into the mom-mobile. As if the four-and-a-half-hour journey on that cold wet morning never happened. As if the 18 weeks of sneaking in runs between drop-off and pick-up, between the washer and the dryer, before the rest of the household comes to life on a weekend morning, before the first cup of coffee, between rain drops and gusts of wind was a dream. It almost made me want to cry.

Training for a marathon is a lot like having a baby. You prepare and prepare, and wait for months, then the big day comes and you have no idea how it’s going to go. And then it unfolds and maybe you end up with a c-section when you were aiming for a natural home birth, or maybe you cave in to the epidural when you were determined to go without any drugs. And what do you do with that? You’re grateful to have reached the goal safely, but part of you still longs for it to have gone differently…

I believe life experiences have value even in upsets and disappointments, so what exactly did I gain from my first marathon? I suppose I technically joined the ranks of the quirky tribe known as “marathoners” but I feel I haven’t quite earned that honor. Not yet. An honor like that doesn’t seem appropriate until one runs the race right, or at least runs it several times. While it was rewarding in many other ways, that marathon most definitely did not go right from a running perspective (I bonked at 16 miles and spent the remaining 10 miles feeling like my spirit had left my body for dead). So I’m deferring my initiation into the 26.2 club. I’ll not put that oval sticker on my rear bumper just yet. Not until, hopefully, December 4.

What I did gain last year was the knowledge of how strong one can become with time and dedication (and vice versa, with time and neglect). Now there is a sense of purpose and discipline to my running. It is no longer just about slipping on my shoes and moving freely on the open road or trail while listening to my favorite music. I still consider myself a spiritual runner at heart — someone who cherishes running most of all for the opportunity to lose oneself in time, footfall, and breath. But after two years of more serious running, the lure of accomplishment has grown compelling. I feel the need to be the best I can be. That means not hiding behind excuses. That means pushing myself to the point of despising running, then going back for more another day.

I am 10 weeks away from my second marathon. I’ve run in the heat, the cold, the rain, I’ve gasped for air at 6000 feet altitude, I’ve battled lower back pain, I’ve had tempo runs feel easy, I’ve stretched beneath a tree with a handful of San Francisco’s famous wild parrots cocking their heads and looking down on me. My family has missed me on Sunday mornings but my sons always ask enthusiastically when I return, “How far did you go this time, Mommy?” Then we’ll go for hikes or bike rides or to school gatherings after. The family activity clock never stops ticking, and I swear the running enables me to keep up with it. This second marathon journey has been unforgettable already. No matter how it ends, I know I won’t regret it.