Monday, October 13, 2014

A Real Runner Now

A real runner  now. I even have the feet to prove it.

I was thinking about it the other day, and I’m not sure I have ever devoted myself- really devoted myself- to anything quite like the dedication I have found in my marathon training. Soon it will be six months, SIX  MONTHS, that I have diligently, strategically and methodically trained for my very first marathon, and it will be here in less than one week. I have pushed myself further than I ever imagined possible and with this devotion has come an incredible amount of self-discovery.

I have painfully pressed through mile after mile of below freezing temperatures, pouring rain, pelting hail storms, and burning sun paired with choking humidity. I’ve pushed through blistered and bleeding toes (a few nails are turning blue and I finally did lose one this past week), runner’s knee, and intense shoulder pain (until I figured out correct running form).

I made the sacrifices of countless 4:45 a.m. runs so that I could get my miles in before I had to go to work and teach at 8 a.m. I’ve run on many Saturday mornings when I would have loved to sleep in but choose to run up to 22 miles instead. I have experienced terrible runs that have nearly broken my spirit and body which have challenged my strength to continue training. Physiologically I’ve learned some too, mostly I’ve discovered the umm, well, the ‘dire (eha!)’ impact that dehydration can have on the GI system. But I’ve also figured out more about how my body processes calories, the importance of stretching before and after long runs, and how to listen to both my mind and body, and when I need to ignore the voices or respond.

But something else has come from these challenges. Something I never quite expected: An appreciation for myself, and my life. I’ve felt nourished from the feeling of the sun on my skin as an indescribably beautiful sunrise poked through the clouds and delivered morning. I have felt the rush of endorphins known as the ‘runners high’ and have flourished in that feeling of invincibility. I have discovered a mental toughness that has brought both strength and perspective to my life experiences outside of running. Just how much I’ve learned surprises me, as I am relatively new to this sport.

I started running in March 2013. Since May 2013, when I first started tracking my runs, I have shed up to a near three minutes off of my time per mile, increasing my endurance from being able to barely finish a 5K to tackling a full marathon this weekend. I ran my first 5K in the spring of 2013 in just under 30 minutes. I ran one this summer in just over 24 minutes. I've ran two half marathons in between there too, improving my time each race. That is incredible improvement.

Surprisingly, a side effect of my journey of self-discovery has been a much needed appreciation for my ‘fourth trimester’ body, as I saw it recently dubbed in the media. Selfishly, I have struggled with accepting my body since it housed my three little stretch-mark-magnets, something I never had to do before. For the first 27 year of my life I had been very lucky to have the genetics and the will power to stay slender.  I would comfortably strut around in a bikini, not thinking twice about my flat, strong stomach exposed to the world.

Then came the 65 pound pregnancy roller coaster of weight loss and gain. And it came three times in four years.

Sadly and selfishly, growing and birthing three children has been a blow to my self-confidence. You can tell yourself that your kids are worth it until you are blue in the face (and they are), but for me, that form of reframing has never worked well. Where once I had a body of smooth, flat skin, I have now been left with the permanent battle wounds of motherhood. I display immeasurable spider webs of deep, wide and pale streams of jagged scars, coupled with an uneven, lumpy texture, flowing from my belly button across my lower back and down to my thighs and hips. For the last several years I’ve hidden under layers of Spanx, tried magical wraps, been devout to extreme low carbohydrate diets, and relied on cover ups and baggy shirts. Nothing really works. Nothing non-surgical will take them away.

But recently, thanks to running, I have experienced something new: acceptance.  It wasn’t until I started training for this marathon that I have come closer- but admittingly still working on it- to accepting my ‘fourth trimester’ body. I am changing though. I actually wore bikinis (very high cut on the waist- think 1950s pin up calendar) this summer, rarely pull out the Spanx, and have even shown my battle scars to a few people. If I didn’t accomplish anything else with my training, I at least now know that I have pushed my exercise, nutrition and health to the max, and this IS who I am. And, I’m actually getting better and better at accepting it. After a run this summer where I nearly passed out from a few weeks of trying my old low carb diet, I have a new mindset: strong over skinny. Strong over skinny. Strong over skinny. It’s not a mantra per say, but I do remind myself of these words near daily.

But it hasn’t been easy. Countless people around me have noticed a change in my body too. I'll admit that at first I was caught off guard, and torn on how I should react.  An old friend notes that I no longer look skinny, I look “thicker.” A family member comments on how strong my legs appear. A co-worker says I look much healthier now that I have gained some weight. Honestly, my clothing size has not changed, but my jeans definitely do fit different. My stomach is more solid, and is “thicker” as my old friend noted. My legs, although much more defined muscularly, are no longer soft or slender where they once were.  When I sit, I can actually feel butt muscles against my chair that I never knew existed. I have changed. For the better.

So what next? Less than a week to go now. The race will be over soon, and what will be left? I will miss the runs, although I must admit I am looking forward to a bit of a reprise from the rigor. I will miss talking about my upcoming race with colleagues, friends and family, even though some days I am really tired of people asking me about it. Will I automatically wake up at 4:45 a.m. even though the alarm is no longer set? Will I still feel envy, and sometimes guilt, when I see other runners along the sidewalk, me just wishing I was running too? I am not sure.

Although I am uncertain if I will ever run a marathon again, I am certain that I will have truly accomplished something that, for me at least, I would have never even considered a possibility two years ago. I definitely have a new love for running.

My toes will heal. My muscles will only be sore a day a two. My endurance may fade a little as the next few weeks pass. The permanent scars that this new battle of endurance will have had on me are yet to be seen, but I hope that they last forever. This new outlook on life is a battle scar that I never want to go away. 

I remember posting on my one year anniversary of running, wondering when I could consider myself a real runner. I think I have finally answered my own question.

Thank you to my friends in Rockford that have inspired me, my friends in KC that have trained with me and offered advice, and all of those other people in my life that have encouraged me and constantly asked me about my training and race (even though I may have told you I was tired of talking about it!).

But the most thanks goes to my husband, who on Saturday mornings twice monthly for the last six months, watched the kids for nearly half a day as I ran for anywhere from 2-4 hours straight, came home hurt, hungry and useless for a day or two, and still supported me two weeks later when I did the same painful run all over again. I couldn't have done this without those mornings and evenings when he encouraged me to go run, when I know he would have rather had me stay home and help feed the kids a meal, give baths, or read a book before bedtime.

And, I must gush… My husband started running about 6 months ago, claiming me his inspiration, (me?!) and last week, he actually ran 6 miles. Six miles! I am so proud of him.

And now, I wonder, who will he inspire?

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