I wish I had something more interesting to report than, simply, nothing.
It is hard to be nothing in the world, to matter to very few people, to become anonymous right before your own eyes, yet that is what this spring has become: the season when I do nothing remarkable in the world to anyone but me.
I’ve pretty much taken myself off Strava other than what my watch uploads automatically (for those who don’t know, Strava is an online forum where athletes can compare times against others who have run/ridden the same thing), I’ve mostly stopped blogging, I don’t race and I don’t attend public events. Instead, I’ve decided to turn inward, to see what I can find. It’s been an interesting journey so far, and one I’m not sure I’m happy about, but I think it is good for me. I am learning about myself—as I am—without the validation of podiums, of likes, of kudos or any external commentary other than the narrative that runs (endlessly) within my own mind.
I listen to the rain more than I used to.
Like this morning when it pelted the window in little tinkling noises like minuscule bells and I went through the mental checklist I often do with my body: where is the pain today? The tightness? Where can I breathe to find the stillness in the moment, to live life as it is, even as I lay in bed, knowing another day much like the one before waits for me.
The most remarkable shift has been the running. During the week, I grab a few miles everyday. On the weekends—typically Saturday, when Rich works— I go out to a new trail and run 8-10 miles at a “conversational” pace (with my heart rate resting around 150)— it’s more like a trot than running. I ignore my pace. I vanish into the world, admiring sky, and due to all the recent rain, an astounding number of wildflowers. I’m usually out for an hour or so, and I can’t tell you where the time goes. I leave behind my headphones; I listen to the sound of my feet on the trail and my breath.
It’s remarkable to me that I’m even capable of this.
I always had to have music to train, and I always had to be distracted. I always had to compare myself to other riders and runners; I always had to be first or at least in the top ten. To not do those things was like some violation of the golden rule of myself, and my identity would shatter.
I think of none of these things when I’m running now. I map adventures that pass the urban farms I know about to see the peafowl, the lambs, the greenhouses bursting with seedings. I watch the hawks circling overhead, the fat furry marmots that scurry across the path. I enter my body and listen to the heaviness—or, more frequently now—the lightness of my steps. I concentrate on the quality of the air around me, and how it feels on my skin. My breath—always my breath.
The end goal is not to race. Since I’ve backed away from all of that—since I’ve started making sure I sleep, I eat right, I recover, I stretch, I run— I’m healthier than I’ve been in years. Can you beat me in a race? Probably. But, for the first time in my adult life, I feel good about myself—I like the quietness, I like my writing, I love what I’ve created in the little patch of earth that I often call “the little farm.”
Yes, I am writing. I am taking online writing classes, crafting essays and sending them to literary journals. I am reading literary journals. I have made it a goal to be published in some of my very favorites in the not so distant future because, for me, that is the conversation I want to cultivate: how can we write about our lives in ways that make them art? (Because our lives are remarkable and beautiful. They deserve to be art.)
For the first time in my adult life, I don’t mind the way I look.
I love that I can run—and that I do run— at least five days a week. I love that I have a waist. I love that my collarbones have showed up again. I love that I do Pilates and yoga. I love that I finally have long hair after over a decade of trying to grow it. I love that there isn’t dread hanging over and around me about my physical self. I love the world— me included.
I love my relationship. I love my pets. I love the hummingbirds who come to feed outside my office window. There’s much in this world to love; I’m so glad I finally decided to slow down to notice it.
Change isn’t easy.
I wish I could tell you how hard it is to see the dates flicker by of races I’ve done and to not sign up, not compete— to turn away from that life that was my entire life. I feel like I should change my name or genus since I’ve morphed into something—somebody— else.
Yet, I read the posts on social media of past coaches and fellow athletes, and I recognize the numeric measures of worth I often see: pace, place, hours spent, miles ridden—these cries for validation for some part of one’s self that is lacking. I know it all too well, I look back—I recognize that, I know that world, that mind— but it is not the person I want to be anymore.
These days, I look forward to life, even the mundane parts of it.
Photography, writing, running, the challenge of Orange Theory classes, of trying to get my tomatoes to grow, getting all the loads of laundry done by Monday morning, cleaning my makeup brushes, dusting— maybe all of this is part of getting older.
Yet, I want whatever I do in the world to be a part of the adventure of life, not to detract from it. The variety of experiences in life are vast: I want to experience all of them—without the constant “I can’t because I’m racing.”
Anyway, I think that’s where I’m headed. The mud on my running shoes tells me so.