I have a confession to make. When I told you all that I was training by feel, enjoying it, and not worrying about the time I would run at my fall marathon, well, one of those things was a lie.
Oh, I loved training by feel. And that is not going to change.
I run to feel better, not worse.
I run because I have a long history of struggling with anxiety; sometimes it can be crippling.
At 18.5 miles of the Akron Marathon, this anxiety became crippling.
But when I run for me, for pure enjoyment and satisfaction of forward movement, my anxiety goes away.
People-pleasers like myself tend to have anxiety. But underneath that trait, I’m quite stubborn. Bull-headed. A know-it-all. It’s surprising to some, maybe, but my mom and my sister know firsthand. Maybe I can blame it on being the first born, or maybe there is nothing to blame it on, but whatever the cause, it’s a coping mechanism I try to hide, because who wants to be around a know-it-all? After this marathon, I learned that the more I try to hide it, the harder it fights and comes out in the ugliest of ways.
I trained for this marathon by feel, running for fun, but I showed up to the start line with an expectation to run a certain time. As much as I thought I had overcome my speedism, I still expected to at least break 4 hours. And if things were going really well, I could get all bad ass and run a Boston qualifying time on unconventional training… because I know it all, right?
So the bull-headed me went out slow. Really slow. Too slow. When you are dressed to run 3 hour pace and go out in 4.5 hour pace, your body never quite warms up.
I was cold for the entire first half, even though the sun was shining and the weather was, well, perfect. I went out in 10:00 pace, letting everyone pass me at the start. In my head, I laughed. I’m gonna show these people how to really run a marathon. The real race starts at 13.1, said the veteran of one marathon. It was so hard to hold back. I kept telling myself to relax, but my feet just wanted to go. I’m too anxious to run fast. And too anxious to run slow.
Other than being cold, I felt alright for the first half and did get slightly faster at each split. At mile 13, a man beside me yelled to his father, “It feels effortless!” And it did. Because it was.
Sticking to my plan, I picked things up like whoa on the towpath section (a path of crushed limestone) of the course. At mile 16 I had already passed the 4:00 group and was aiming for the 3:55 group. But I was, you guessed it, still cold. My hands were ice cubes.
And then at mile 17, the anxiety set in. Holy crap! I’ve never officially run this far that I know of! Who’s to say that the three hour long run I did was only 16 miles? Can I do this? I’m all over the place. My legs are breaking down. I might be dying.
I stopped at mile 18.5 to use the bathroom, thinking that it would help to take a little break. As soon as I sat on the pot, I felt dizzy.
Don’t go there! My mind tried to tell me. You’re fine. You can just jog the rest in, whatever pace.
Then I was pooping a not-so-pretty color. Later Connie Gardner would sum it up perfectly, “You’re pooping blood running 10 minute pace? Girl, you’re stressed!” I left the port-o-pot dizzy, now freezing and shivering my way over to first aid. As soon as I sat down, they asked me what was going on.
“I’m cooooold. And, and….” Tears started forming in my eyes. “I think I’m about to have a panic attack.”
At that point, I wasn’t sure if my legs were shaking from being cold or being nervous. They gave me a blanket and took my blood pressure. It wasn’t the greatest at 138/80, signaling signs of a full-on attack if I didn’t get things under control. On top of that, my lips were turning blue.
I can’t DNF! I thought. How bad is that going to look online?!
But the voice of reason fought back. I’ve already done a marathon to do a marathon. I didn’t need to keep going to prove anything to anyone. But I did need to prove to myself that I could surrender to the stubborn little girl inside me; weak, fragile, insecure.
And as a result, become stronger.
I’m still a weak person. I’m definitely not perfect, nor will I ever be.
I did not finish. Because I’m not finished becoming me.
After this race, I gained that much more appreciation for my fellow Salty runners who take the time, dedication, and pain to train for these things. (CONGRATS, CORIANDER!) If you want to run for fun, run by feel. Go out slow, but dress warm. There is nothing wrong with running for fun.
But maybe a way to positively battle my inner demon is to compete with them. Now I see the importance of committing to a goal, hitting a pace a few times a week, and racking up a sufficient amount of mileage. I am left hungry.
And that just might be enough to make a commitment, to take a risk and change.