13.1 Miles: Sometimes It’s Not About the Finish Line

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Initially, when I set out to run the Toledo 1/2 Marathon, my goal was to finish. Whether that meant running, walking, or crawling the 13.1 miles it didn’t matter. After a couple months of training injury free, I started to feel really strong. So strong in fact that I decided finishing wasn’t enough; I wanted to set a new PR (personal record).

A couple weeks out from the race, my injury free body succumbed to a few minor aches and pains that derailed my training. I had to decrease my mileage and speed and subsequently I began contemplating altering my goal back to “finish.” As I stood in the starting coral on race day I started to formulate the beginning of this blog. It was going to go something like this:

“Sometimes, finishing is enough of a win, whether you come in first or last place. And then there are the times when having the ability to start is all that matters.”

My confidence was shaken and I really didn’t think I would be able to keep a 9:16 pace, the speed I would need to beat my old time. I was prepared to accept “good enough.” There would be other races I told myself.

My dad, who would be my running buddy for the day, shuffled through the crowd and situated us near the two hour half-marathon pacer (a 9:10 pace). Just before the gun went off I whispered over to him, “I’m not so sure about keeping up.” Even though we planned on running together, I didn’t want to hold him back.

“Just give it a couple miles,” he said reassuringly.

Just a couple miles I repeated to myself. You can run that fast for at least a couple miles. You are strong and… BANG. The gun went off pulling me back into the moment. The crowd of runners started shuffling forward, a buzzing swarm of nerves and excitement crossing the start line.

Just a couple miles.

At just a couple miles in I was feeling good. My body felt light, and with each stride my foot sprung off the pavement, propelling me forward with minimal effort. The throng of runners had thinned just enough that I could let my mind wander without worrying about colliding with someone. Maybe I can do this, I began to think, a new blog opening beginning to formulate:

“There are moments throughout life when we realize we can surpass our own expectations. Moments when we realize our limits are mere products of our fears and insecurities.”

As we crossed the six mile mark my dad held up his hand for a celebratory high five. A strong finish was looking more and more promising.  I started to visualize myself crossing the finish line with a sub two-hour time, my arms shooting excitedly into the air, a look of both pride and relief splayed across my flushed face. I thought about all the reasons I was running, all of the things it meant to me beyond my physical capability of putting one foot in front of the other.

It meant I am a strong, determined woman. I can set a goal and see it through. My dreams are limitless. It meant I am not defined solely by my role as mother and wife.

Around mile 10 I was still on pace, but the fatigue was starting to set in. The steady rain that had fallen all morning soaked through my socks, and a large blister had formed on my heel. Thoughts of slowing down, of possibly not meeting my goal again crept up. As powerful as visualizing success can be, so too can visualizing failure. And visualize it I did. Caught in a mental game of tug-o-war, my confidence wavered with every exhalation.

I passed the mile 11 marker; I CAN’T do this. I’m a failure.

I passed the mile 12 marker; I CAN do this.  I’m a success.

I passed the 13 mile marker. I CAN’T. I CAN. I CAN’T. I CAN. THUD. My racing mind hit the proverbial wall, coming to a jolting realization. I am wasting so much of my energy and focus debating CAN or CAN’T that I’m overlooking the things I AM doing, right now in this very moment. Things that are true whether I cross the finish line or not.

I am running. I am running strong. I am running determined. I am seeing a goal to its completion and in the process proving my dreams are limitless. I am not solely a mom nor solely a wife; I am a runner.

Does not finishing this race in an arbitrarily selected time take away from any of that? I don’t think so. So why am I putting so much significance into that one element? Why am I letting it define what constitutes a success? Why don’t I try creating a new measure of success?

Like spending two hours running, side-by-side with my dad, who just a couple years ago thought running 13.1 miles was a crazy person’s undertaking. Or sharing in the pre-race jitters and excitement with a crowd of strangers who were all united by a singular love of running.  Then there’s partaking in post-race celebrations with my entire family, enjoying an amazing brunch cooked by my mother-in-law.

Why not let those moments define the day?

When I crossed the finish line, the clock read 1:59:45. I was simultaneously exhausted and elated. I had done it. I met my time goal. It meant a lot to know I could do it, but what I came to realize over those 13.1 miles was that it didn’t mean everything.

It’s important to set goals in life, but it’s equally important to realize that goals are not always the end-game. There is the journey you must take on the way to meet them. The lessons you learn when you fall short. The pride you feel when you reach them. And the peace afforded to you when you realize that you are defined by so much more.

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Taking My Body Back

While I was pregnant with Oliver I remember thinking about how strange it would seem after his birth to no longer be a party of two all the time. I became so accustomed to my plus one hanging out in my belly that being alone in my body started to feel like a foreign concept. Nonetheless, with all the aches and pains that accompany pregnancy, it was one I was looking forward to.

When Oliver was born and the doctor cut the umbilical cord, I thought our physical ties had been severed and I was once again my own person. Boy was I wrong. It turns out having a baby is a lot less like popping out an independent little being and a lot more like growing an extra appendage. Only this appendage enjoys swatting at my face, ripping out chunks of hair, and trying to pull my shirt down in public places like my boobs are a 24-hour drive-thru. With Oliver riding around on my hip all day, I was starting to feel like an amorphous mommy-baby blob.

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So what’s a mom to do?

For me, working out at a gym where I can send him off to the playroom for an hour is the best way to differentiate myself from that blob. It’s my daily dose of “me time” where my movements are not in response to my baby. I’m running, lifting, and stretching to feel my muscles strain and my heart pound, not to chase the dog that is running off with the pacifier or pick up the spoon that Oliver decided to throw on the floor for the tenth time.

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Not to mention, after having a baby, my body was feeling a bit like an amorphous blob even without the baby in tow, and the strong, active woman inside was itching to get back into shape. As Oliver approaches his eight month of life, I’m happy to report I’m stronger, faster, and more fit than I was before pregnancy. To celebrate my return to fitness I’ve decided to run the Toledo ½ Marathon on April 28 with the goal of beating my old record of  2 hours 1 minute and 37 seconds.

As a stay at home mom my goals for the day rarely extend beyond 1) don’t break the baby and 2) keep the apartment from looking like a disaster area. It feels good to have a goal that’s outside of the mommy bubble that is purely selfish in pursuit. It’s my reminder that there is life outside of motherhood, and the aspirations I had before having a baby don’t have to be sidelined forever.

And after I check this goal off my list, I’m looking forward to the summer when I can strap Oliver in a jogging stroller and run with my baby in tow. Not one big mommy-baby-stroller blob but one big mommy-baby-stroller blur, racing through the park. Because even though I could still go solo, sometimes it’s nice to share your passions with the ones you love. And hey, it’s never too early to start training my future running partner.

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