“Everyone needs a hobby,” I shrug with a smile. I say this to family members, to people I date, people I work with, people I meet out. You can relate, I’m sure, to that look they give me in return, the way nonrunners look at us. It’s some combination of admiration, confusion and dismissal. There’s an instant barrier. They could never do that. They don’t want to. They don’t understand.
At my “day job” I’m that girl. The one who runs. The girl with the funny tall socks and the race t-shirts and the rain jacket that sports the NYC Marathon logo. “How many miles did you run today?” asks a coworker, who shakes his head and calls me crazy when I give the answer.
You might be surprised how often I get that same look from runners too.
When you work long hours on a film or TV show it’s fun when there’s an extra long (more than 10 hours) turnaround time between when you wrap for the night and when you have to come in the next morning. Like a lot of coworkers, we like to go hit up a bar together. Me, I tend to forego those “team building” evenings; I have to get seven hours of sleep, because it’s probably the only night that week I’ll manage to get that much and still cram a run in before I have to return for my 12-14 hour day on set.
I used to run to work when I could. That was always a hit, showing up sweaty at the catering tent, having coffee and oatmeal with the teamsters and grips in my short shorts before heading to the camera truck to change into work clothes. As I’ve moved up the ladder and have more responsibility it’s rare that I don’t have to schlep 60 pounds of tools and gear with me to and from whatever location we happen to be shooting in.
With most “civilians,” my job is a hit. At a party or event it takes over conversations, often eclipsing nearly every other topic. For the record, it’s not me, it’s them; people are fascinated by what I do and endlessly circle back to it. I try to talk about their jobs, the weather, racing, anything really, but they all want to talk about celebrities. Hnnngghhhhhhhh.
You’d think this would translate to showing up at a running club and instantly having something people would like to talk about. And sometimes they do, but they look at me with that familiar face: the admiration, confusion and dismissal. I’m that girl who works in the movies.
And then I don’t show up for a few weeks, because that’s how my job is. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but when suddenly, often last minute, I’m booked for a week of 14 hour days it steals me away from training plans, family plans, social plans, even from my work here at Salty Running. I can’t make it out to the running club on Monday night because I’m pushing the lens cart to the next set, putting a camera on the dolly, organizing equipment pickups from the rental house, laying marks for the actors or scribbling notes on camera reports while we’re rolling a take.
When the job is over, the next time I show up to the running club, I’m that girl who can only come sometimes. That girl. The one who doesn’t show up a lot. The one who brags about her job and then disappears for weeks.
I was always a weird kid, kind of a loner in spite of being outspoken and a natural performer. I pursued ideas and activities I thought nobody else was doing, and often lost interest if my thing became mainstream. I wanted to be different, to go my own way. But it was lonely out there in the wilderness of my own thing, and much harder for me to find the social acceptance that drives me. As a grownup, things haven’t changed much.
Sometimes I wish I could just have a normal, simple life, with a yard and a house and job security. I wish for a nice husband to dote on, cook for and lose my identity in. I sometimes even wish for my creativity and intelligence to fade away so I could ignore my resultant capability and just settle for someone else’s life. Go to work, come home, go running, dote on theoretical husband, get adequate sleep, repeat. Do not think too much. Do not wish for more.
In fact, that wish for normalcy can be so strong it even propelled me out of New York City to Cleveland, Ohio, where I thought I’d find that elusive happiness. I found a guy I liked and at the first whisper of domestic fantasy I bought in and bought in hard. I wanted to be normal but something had to give and it wasn’t going to be running, Salty or otherwise. Instead of evaluating how I could manage to balance my passions, I got stars in my eyes as soon as I saw an easy route. I sold myself on a change in career, a change in goals, all for a man who did not love me and a life I did not want. I just didn’t want to be that girl anymore. I wanted to be a normal girl.
This last 12 weeks, my marathon training cycle, has been mentally the most difficult time running I’ve ever had. And I thought I knew why: I’ve been messed up ever since my false hope for the guy ended in heartbreak last fall. Anxiety, sleepless nights, the inability to feel passion for anything … I’ve had a really, really shitty six months, so for a long time it seemed obvious why I might be struggling. But last week, a few days away from my 7th marathon I finally saw why my heart and my mind just haven’t been in it. All this time I’d been using a dude who jilted me as a scapegoat for my feelings of disappointment and anger. But he wasn’t the problem. In fact, chasing after a guy who doesn’t share my priorities was just a symptom.
Suddenly I realized that I can’t run my best if I’m not being my best self, and … well … my best self is that girl.
I’ve been chasing down an easier life for almost two years. And now, nearly touching the sun, I finally realized what it would mean, and I don’t want it.
Working hard just to get through the experience
When I made the bargains that led me here, I told myself that if I didn’t like it I could just go back, but that’s not exactly true. A life takes time, and in time you can only go forward. It can be tempting to fret over wasted time, but it’s better this way; it forces the time we have spent making mistakes to not be wasted. Last week I wrote, “I don’t want to go back. I want to carry this training season with me, run this stupid fucking marathon I kind of don’t want to run, and move forward to the next chapter of my life.” And so I did.
I could write a technical race report, but I think this is better. You tell me.
Weeks ago, I was registered and training for the New Jersey Marathon, but then I suddenly got booked for work on a movie that I really wanted to work on with great people I really enjoyed working for. And just like always with this work, I had to cancel plans I was really looking forward to. It was really, really painful to put my work ahead of my running. I fretted a lot over it. I put off making the decision as long as I could. I cried a bit and threw a tantrum to myself. But ultimately, even though I am that girl, the one with many passions, only one of my passions pays for my shoes and registration fees.
So instead I signed up for The Flying Pig, which was the next weekend on a much hillier, more difficult course, so I revised my 3:48 goal to somewhere between 3:50 and 3:55. I did my best, but made some mistakes along the way and wound up with setbacks from nausea and GI distress. I finished with a 4:03 on the chip and a 3:55 on my watch.
Oh yeah, and the Pig? It’s in Cincinnati. Where the dude who jilted me lives. I knew there was a good chance I’d see him, and saying I didn’t want to would be a lie, but I think it was more about curiosity than anything. After my realization, I wanted to know if that easier life I bought into still appealed. And did it? Nope. I said goodbye and it felt good, and now he’s gone from my life.
The experience of that day wasn’t easy, but I learned a lot about myself and how running away from who I really am is a distraction that can tank my goals and tank a training season and a marathon in the process. And when it was over I cried, but just because it was the end of that part of my story. I always cry at the end of a good story.
In this next chapter, I want to remember being on the inside of the fishbowl and how trapped I felt in there with those other fish. I want to remember the painful long runs I bombed because my heart wasn’t in them, the speed work where I choked back tears and the sleepless nights trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Last week I wrote, “There’s a part of me that hopes Sunday will be a complete fucking disaster. If it is, that’s just more fuel.” And I was right! I woke up the day after the marathon feeling refreshed and free, and excited to work on a short film. I get to pull focus on this one, to practice my craft and get better at one of my passions.
Practicing our passions, whether it’s running, coding websites, photography, being part of a club or a career you love, these are the things that give and give and give to us. That’s why running is so great and changes so many lives; adding passion lets our minds bloom to greater potential. Life might be a lot easier if we reduce the amount of passions we have, but I think if you’re doing it right, life isn’t supposed to be easy.
I am so thankful I run. Throughout this experience, it has been a headspace where I cannot hide from myself. It has forced me to examine my own motives and take responsibility for my mistakes. It has forced me to accept that living up to my own potential is always going to be difficult. So what if I can only do group runs when I don’t have a movie to work on? So what if I’d rather have a city apartment I barely see instead of a McMansion in the burbs and a desk job? Why should I care if I’m different from the people I work with or socialize with? My passions makes me interesting. They make me that girl.
Running forces me to confront exactly who I am and challenges me to be a better version of myself. Fuck it, who wants to be “normal” anyway?
Has running ever saved you from yourself?