The older I get, the more I’m convinced that time is cyclical: the seasons change, but they come back around again; the earth doesn’t go on a point-to-point journey, but instead runs its laps around the sun. And then there’s me: it was quiet and cold this morning (and a faint mist of rain hanging around the mountains) so I laced up my running shoes and took myself on a little adventure.
I should back up about 72 hours and explain that, for a Wellness Week activity on campus, ultrarunner Molly Sheridan delivered a keynote presentation to students and staff in attendance. Sheridan is unique in that she was not a runner—she didn’t start her athletic journey until she was 48 years old and she answered a friendly challenge to run a marathon (her first) with a friend.
Then, the marathon (which is always 26.2 miles) turned into 50k (30 mile) races; then 50k became 50 milers and soon she entered a world where she was running 100+ mile events in some of the most demanding and unlikely places (think: the Sahara desert, Death Valley and the Himalayan Mountains.) I was inspired, listening to her story. Sheridan struck a chord with me, and one that’s been humming in my head (and heart) ever since.
Some Ancient History
I gave up running years ago. My decision was based on a lot of things, most of them a laundry-list of injuries that were always paired with advice like: “you need to find another sport.” And, almost always: “you’re too big to be a runner.”
In my day, I’d been a 2:47-marathoner, 1:20 half marathoner, 36-minute 10K runner and had a PR in a 5k X-C race of 17:21, which is a lot of numbers that say I wasn’t the best, but I was no slouch, either. More importantly than the numbers (read my previous post about being defined by numbers if you want my perspective on this) I genuinely loved running. Like, loved loved.
LIke, wake up in the dark, cold morning freezing-ass rain and after a cup of coffee I ran out the door for a 10-miler almost everyday kind of love. I loved running in the desert, I loved running through the Oakland hills as the fog crested the mountain tops like ocean waves, dripping from the branches of eucalyptus trees. I loved watching sunrises and sunsets while I ran. I loved listening to music. I loved the silence. I loved the way thoughts rolled in and through me, and the way I learned to be completely alone but not lonely.
I feel that way on the bike, but rarely. It’s only when I’m on a long, solo ride that I slip into something like I remember with running, when my mind falls away and I enter another plane of existence. I think the difference resides in the attention that’s required when you’re sharing the road with cars that could kill you or with other racers on bikes who communicate by yelling at you (which is understandable, because crashing from a bike can be a bone-shattering experience, whereas a fall on a run is not nearly so bad.)
Sometimes, when racing in the California Triple Crown (200 mile efforts, each) or the Silver State 508 (on America’s Loneliest Highway) I go into that zen state, and my body, bike and I become one with the elements around me—the sage, the irrigated alfalfa fields, the stars and moon lighting the way far above me.
Well, that was a Long Digression…
What struck me about Sheridan’s story was simple:
She didn’t start running until she was 48. I’m 37, so the fact that I tell myself I’m too old for anything is absolute crap.
She wasn’t a runner. She’s not built like a runner (not in the same sense that I’m not. She’s tall and slender. I’m short and compact. Another digression. Sorry!!) She didn’t have a history of running. Her doctor told her not to do it. She did it anyway.
Perhaps no one believed in her at first. But, she was positive about trying something new. She believed in herself. So, she ran what and where she wanted to run.
It was revelatory.
My biggest obstacle has always been myself, and my lack of belief in my ability to do the things I want to do. When my achilles was injured—years ago—was a terrible moment for me. I was depressed, and I forgot about everything I loved about running. I ran numbers (times, splits, the number of days off my feet versus how much fitness I was losing for each missed step) and so I listened to a lot of people who told me things just like Sheridan had heard. The difference was that she kept going. I stopped.
And here I am. Granted, I’ve had fabulous adventures on the bike. And, I also learned how to swim. I love pilates and taking classes from Orange Theory Fitness because it’s a bunch of “stuff” I would never force myself to do alone. (Plus I love all the people I’ve met. They enrich my life in ways that I am so grateful for. <3 to my community.) I regret none of it. But, somehow my perception of what was possible for me to accomplish—the window through which all the good stuff in life flows into our soul— became narrower and narrower until it was blacked out.
The real kicker happened a day ago, when a friend of mine texted me, saying that I’m divorced from my own reality to the point that I’m unable to see the truth any longer. And honestly, that made me pause. As a nonfiction writer, I am deeply committed to the truth. You’re not a bad writer, he said. You’re not a bad athlete. You’re amazing, but you never see or say that about yourself. You talk shit about yourself as an athlete and a writer in your social media. It is insane. You’re a great writer, and a great athlete. Yet you put yourself down all the time. THAT is the only reason you can’t run.
Ten years ago (yikes!) I started a blog because I was training for the Olympic Trails in the marathon. It was meant to be a “day in the life of an average girl trying to do something extraordinary” type of thing. Inspired by the movie Julie and Julia (about a blogger who cooks her way through the classic cookbook by Julia Childs) I framed myself in a similar manner: goofy, down-to-earth, flawed, not especially talented and destined to come up short.
It’s easier, I think, to play a cautious hand in life, especially if you’re a single woman who wants to take all the armour off and write about her experiences and life when you’re so afraid of all the ways other people will judge and hate you. All these years later, though, I have paid a price for that approach to my work and my passions.
My friend is right. And that’s what got me to lace up my running shoes this morning. Not that I have some fire-breathing dragon in my soul (OK, maybe I do) but I just miss watching the rain while I run. And, I’ve kept it from myself for so long, I just went with it today.
In those six miles, I circled back on my first running days when I did a single lap around UNR’s campus before classes began and I was a graduate student in the foreign language department. I circled back on my first marathon I trained for and won a year later. I circle back on running Boston, on running CIM and going sub-3 hour and feeling like it was effortless. I circle back on the run when I decided to do Ironman. I won the Boise 70.3. For the 140.6, despite the 103 degree average temp, I made the top ten, and my family—all of them—were so proud of me.
I don’t know what’s next, but I don’t want to be mean to myself anymore. I want to open the window and let all the light in on what is possible—on what is positive and inspiring and meaningful— with some kind of rubber on the road (bike tire or shoe sole.)