Thursday, November 19, 2015

To Run

This past weekend I ran a half marathon.

It isn't so odd to hear that these days.  It seems anyone and everyone has hopped on the marathon band wagon.  Young people, old people, skinny people, heavy people....  everyone and their mother has run a marathon (sometimes together).

But for me, this was a really, really big deal.

Running a marathon (or a half of one) used to be something I joked about whilst tipsy over cocktails. Yeah, lets run a marathon!  I would proclaim, full well knowing it wasn't true and finding the whole thing a bit humorous.  Running a long distance was not something I was interested in doing, and certainly not something I would enjoy.  Besides, isn't it arbitrary?  13.1 miles, 26.2 miles - why? Why not just run a mile or two and call it a day?  It seemed cultish almost - why engage in an activity that hurts your joints and your knees and makes you exhausted?  Surely there are better ways to spend one's time.

But then something weird happened last spring.  I was starting to get into shape, while at the same time going through an existential crisis of sorts.  We had moved into a new house.  My baby wasn't so much a baby anymore, and we knew there were no more kids to come.  For the first time in a long time, I started to think about myself again and who I was and what I wanted to do when I grow up.  I also was not getting any younger, and for the first time in my life I was starting to see it - in gray hairs, in fine lines, in sheer exhaustion.

I needed to shake things up.

But it is hard to shake things up when one has three kids aged 6 and under.  So as each day started to flow into the next, I started to think about running.  When one of my friends told me she had signed up for a half marathon, I figured why not do something completely out of character?  If I wasn't going reinvent myself or start a new career or get started on that novel I've always wanted to write, I may as well run.

I didn't start training until this summer.  I started off at 2 miles and ran each in about 12 minutes. Notwithstanding the fact that I was in decent shape, I nearly died.  I rethought my commitment to this half marathon thing, but at that point, there was no looking back.  I had a goal, and I would meet it.

So I ran 3 miles.  Then 4.  Then 5.  And then, this past weekend, 13.1.  And along the way, I started to love to run.

You know that feeling when you're running and you are so exhausted and you just want to stop? Someone once told me that once you get into running shape, that goes away.  I never believed them,  but they were right.  After a while, the running stops hurting.  And instead, you just run.  And keep running.  And it starts to feel amazing.

I would always do my long runs outside.  I made a running playlist on Spotify and set out solo. This time was solely mine.  I didn't have to watch children or talk to anyone or check my email.  I ran, I listened to music, and I appreciated the clouds and sun and fall leaves.  As much as I could, I tried to run on scenic trails.

Taken during my 9 mile run on the Potomac Tow Path - 10/8/15 at 9:15am
Running almost became meditative - the one time where my mind was clear and at peace.  My weekly long runs became the high point of my week.

The training was not without mishaps, and my body wasn't always willing to keep up with my will.  I hurt my foot in September and had an MRI to confirm it wasn't a stress fracture.  In October, I developed runner's knee and had to take two weeks out of training.  I also developed some neuromas in my feet, and still have numbness in a few toes and on my heel.  And lest we forget my husband's running accident - a seizure that sidelined him from the half marathon and turned our family upside down.

But, against all rationality, I still wanted to run.  I yearned to run.  I suppose part of it was that I couldn't bear failing.  It had been so long since I had really set a goal for myself.  If I couldn't do this - something as simple as getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other - then what could I do?

But I had another reason, too.  I wanted to show my kids that their mother is strong - physically and mentally.  That I can do things other than just be their mother.  Every day they see their father go off to work in a button down shirt and dress pants, going off the conquer the world.  That's not something I do anymore.  I get down and dirty and handle the minutiae of every day - the cooking, the cleaning, the bathing, the yelling, the wondering if I can handle another day of it all without losing my shit.  This is my element, and it's the one they see me in every day.  There's not much room for anything else.

Except running.  And the nice thing about running is that there's a tangible goal.  A race - one where my kids could come and watch and cheer me on.  My race was this past Sunday, on the Potomac Tow Path.

I woke up on Sunday morning with anxious anticipation.  But mostly, I was excited.  I couldn't wait to get out there and run.  The weather was absolutely perfect.

My goal was to run an average 10 minute mile.  Ultimately, I finished the 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 11 minutes.  My average pace per mile was 9 minutes, 45 seconds (the excess total time was due to water breaks, stretching breaks, etc.).

My husband, mom, and kids were all waiting for me at the finish line.  And one of my dearest friend's surprised me at mile 12, and ran the last mile along with me.  I was so touched I nearly cried.  But I didn't - I was too exhausted to do anything but run.

My kids first question to me was: Did you win?  

No, I didn't win.  I said.  But I finished.  And that's the most important thing.

Seeing me there sweaty and panting and gratified, I think they were proud of their mom.  They fought over who got to wear my medal the whole way home.

I'm not going to lie and say I felt absolutely amazing after the run - I didn't.  My legs felt like they each weighed a ton, and all I wanted to do was get in bed and go to sleep (which I did).  Four days later, my body is still sore and my knees are aching.

But damn, I'm glad I did it.  Yes, it was an arbitrary goal, and there are much easier ways to get in shape.  But I don't really care.  It made me feel good, it made me feel strong, it made me feel free. It opened my mind to taking chances and taking risks and doing things completely out of my comfort zone.  Maybe I'll take guitar lessons.  Or a stand up comedy class.  Or learn to speak French.  Not for some ultimate goal of securing a degree or advancing my career or making money - just to challenge myself, to evolve, to do something different, to become a better me.

In the meantime, I want to run the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in April.  Who's coming with me?

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  1. I loved this post! I went through a similar transformation in 2012 (from non-runner to running 2 half-marathons and falling in love with running). It was awesome. That was pre-kids, and now I'm pregnant with #2...I am really looking forward to getting back into running after the baby comes. Question: how did you manage to run with 3 kids? Did you do it while your hubby was home or while you had a sitter? Or do you have a jogging stroller? Thanks!!

    1. I did my short runs during the week on the treadmill while my youngest was napping. On weekends my husband would watch the kids during the long runs. :)

  2. It does look like you had beautiful weather! Congratulations on your half! (said with all sincerity--I haven't run a full marathon ever or even a 5K in years).

  3. Congrats on finishing! You just made me want to run, which I never ever do unless absolutely required. So good for you!

  4. Shannon, you're awesome! I just love your personality without ever meeting you. Like you, and like many more, I went to a top law school, graduated top of the class, was happy at a law firm until my kids made me change my perspective on life and turn into a stay at home mom. Still volunteering for the community and living a fulfilling life, I also help my husband in his attorney career. Just want to tell you how great your posts are. They are inspiring. Every time I read them, they speak to me as a reflection of my course of thought. They may be moody, bright, less bright, whatever. They are true and sincere and awesome! Life is given but once, Goddamit! P.s.: I also appreciate the absence of dumb ads on the blog & the mobile-friendly version. Again, you're a sweetheart. May your family be well, and hope your husband feels much better! Happy Thanksgiving!


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