Kenosha, Wisconsin is a bit of small town America nestled resolutely on the tough windy shores of Lake Michigan. Just an hour north of Chicago, the tiny metropolis with its clean streets and charming trolley cars seems to maintain the delicate balance of preserving history and reinventing itself to save its future. As you walk towards the port, you notice shiny new town homes, expensive yachts and large green spaces.
Yet it’s clear that these things were not the original inhabitants of this space. Digging a little deeper into their history, one will find that these spaces were originally factories that used the port to ship their goods. At some point those factories closed their doors. Yet today, little Kenosha stands strong and where the ghosts of industry linger, the city has found a way to survive and succeed.
This past weekend, I stood on that same windy shore ready to run a my 33rd marathon, which happened to be in my 29th state, and for the first time in a while my dad was there to cheer me on. I stood at that line, a veteran of so many races, sure of myself, yet vulnerable at the same time. I was a little beaten and weathered after the past year of losing my mom. Yet there I was, redefining myself and my relationship with my dad after losing someone who was so much a part of both of our lives.
I often say that I don’t have any particular goals for the marathons I run. With my quest for 50 states, a lot of the time finishing is enough. My ego, however, wants me to pull a surprise PR out every time I toe the line. As I stood there on the starting line in Kenosha, experiencing the usual internal time goal debate, I thought about a conversation my dad and I had on the way to the race. He said that I had achieved my goal of running Boston and right now it was time to enjoy myself as I work toward my goal of finishing 50 states.
Note I said my goal of finishing, not racing. For so many years, my goal has been to log marathon PRs, but as I stood there, I wondered if maybe it was time to put that goal away for a little bit. Maybe in order to keep running the number of marathons I’m running, maybe I needed to reinvent myself as a runner and adapt to my changing environment. Maybe it was time to let go of the way things always have been.
The gun went off and I ran. There were no clocks on the course and I chose to ignore my watch. At mile 13 I waved to my dad and yelled, “I’ll see you in a few hours.” It was windy, so I tried to settle into a pace and recover from the past 10 miles of battling the gusts. I never did find my pace and I spent a good amount of time on the struggle bus. I didn’t expect to see my dad at mile 20, but on the empty course, seeing him was just the boost I needed. Dad called to me,“The next six miles are all into the wind, go slow.”
I had to laugh, having never been told to run slow before, but I kind of went with it. Normally at mile 20, I tell myself to “throw the hammer down” as my friend Amie would say. I focus on runners in front of me and try to reel them in. But today, I didn’t.
I began to think about all the races I have run. I thought about the good ones where I dug deep at mile 20 and ran negative splits, and the bad ones that I’m not sure how I finished. As my dad said to me on the drive to Kenosha, I’ve reached my long term goal of qualifying for and running Boston, so maybe it was time to just enjoy my states. I still have a major goal of breaking 3:30, but I realized that maybe it’s time to reinvent myself for a while. Maybe as I heal from my emotional wounds and recover from all of my races, maybe I need to do something different.
And so I ran and I finished. I didn’t PR, I didn’t BQ, but I got to see the look of pride on my dad’s face as I finished a tough run. Then Dad and I celebrated with a Wisconsin cheeseburger and a ride on the Kenosha trolley.
Runners often get locked down into a routine. We think if we keep doing certain things a certain way, this level of mileage or this type of speed work, than we will get the results we want.
But maybe that’s like the little town trying to hang on to the factories long after the doors have shut. Maybe as runners it’s ok to reinvent ourselves every once in a while, even if for a short time, to preserve ourselves for the future.
I think it’s time for a change for me. It’s time for more group runs, less training plans, crossing more states off my list and less time goals. It’s time to get back to my running roots and strengthen myself so that I can run strong well into the future.
Have you ever had to reinvent yourself as a runner?