Monday, March 5, 2012

To every woman who's ever beat me in a race

Today was my first day coaching for Girls on the Run at a local elementary school. First of all, AWESOME. Could I imagine a better opportunity to blend my passions to do something small but hopefully good for the world?!

Second of all, in preparation for the season, one of my co-coaches and I met up for tea last night at an old haunt on Capitol Hill. Unsurprisingly, some of our conversation drifted to our own experiences running. She's someone who's been running her whole life, and has loved it from day one. Although, by all appearances, I seem to be one and the same, the truth is that I'm not. I ran track for two miserable years in middle school, and pretty much hated it. When I picked up running recreationally on my own again midway through high school, I still pretty much hated it. Although I subscribed to Runner's World and desperately wanted to be one of those endorphin-crazed running devotees, I was an impostor for many, many years before the real love kicked in.

(But goodness am I glad I stuck it out!)

The funny difference that my co-coach and I discovered was in what we say to people who have tried to run but don't enjoy it at all. Her advice is, "Stop running. If you don't love it, you never will. Find something else you actually like to do, and do that instead." My advice is, "Run more. If you don't love it yet, you aren't running far enough." Because for me, the first few miles are (still!) almost always miserable. It takes me that long to warm up, to get into a groove - and of course, it took me several years of running regularly to get to the place where 5 miles could feel like a warmup instead of a workout. And those same several years are how long it took me to go from being someone who detested running to someone who genuinely embraced it.

Even the minutes or hours leading up to a run I've promised myself to do can be excruciating in their own way; given how much I love this sport at this point, it's surprising how much mental energy I sometimes have to drum up to get motivated to just get out the door.

So what is it that keeps me motivated? Here's an incomplete list of a few things:

  • Food/supporting my eating habit

  • Endorphins, stress relief, happiness

  • To find creative flow and generate ideas that only come when I'm running

  • General health, well-being, strength, and longevity

  • Community, and the friends I've made running

  • The unique joy of exploring beautiful places on foot

  • Personal challenge, pushing my limits

  • Inspiration derived from other talented runners

  • Competition, wanting to continually improve myself

  • Hoping to inspire others when I can

  • To experience humility

It's that last one that stuck with me on my post-GOTR-practice run today. Every step, every hill, every mountain, every acceleration, every bit of force that ripples up my quadriceps, even every injury...remind me that I am small and human.

Ultrarunning, in particular, is a world dominated by (relatively) older folks. On the one hand, I feel extraordinarily grateful to have discovered this sport in my twenties. Although I don't have the advantages of college track/cross country experience, or the featherweight boons of the traditional runner's body, what I do have going for me are the years in front of me. Ironically, for the world of athletics, my youth is probably the greatest detriment of all to my running right now. I feel like the equivalent of an uncalloused foot...for as many hard runs as I've dragged myself through in training and races alike, I'm still pretty fresh and tender in the grand scheme of things.

I have the deepest admiration for so many of the women kicking my butt at these races, who are often close to twice my age, and understand more than I do yet just what a mental game this sport is. A single tough hill climb still has the ability to ravage my self-esteem, to push me to the brink of despair. I look forward to someday, I hope, being as mentally tenacious as so many of these women are. They inspire me. And perhaps that sense of being reminded just how small I really am, but how much potential there is for me to grow, is one of the greatest motivators of all. So to all of you, those who've passed and reduced and left me in the dust, I thank you!

I hope that, in much simpler words - or perhaps without words at all - I'm able to impart some of the love and awe and contentment I feel when I run to these little girls whom I've been entrusted with coaching for the next couple of months. Pay it forward!