Wednesday, April 6, 2011

DNF=Do Not Fear

I miss writing.  I miss running, too.  I miss it so much that I decided to run a half-marathon last Sunday without any training.  Zero.  I hoped it would inspire me, humble me, and motivate me to get back out there.  I knew I could get through 6 or 7 miles without a problem, but anything beyond that was like a dark abyss of unknown.

I need to rewind.  Where's that button?  Here I sit, with 2011 already 1/4 over. Yes, it really is, as my 12-year old recently reminded me.  I have turned 40 (as he also regularly reminds me) and the 40 miles have not (yet) happened.  Also, I pulled out of the Big Sur Marathon, my birthday trip/gift to myself, and it had nothing to do with part of the course falling into the Pacific Ocean.  If I let myself ponder all these things for too long, I, myself, would fall into a dark abyss worse than the second half of the 13.1.

Life shifted, big time, for me at the end of January, when I took a full-time job managing a new fitness studio, and teaching all my indoor cycling classes for them.  My entire schedule changed and is booked solid with work and kids.  We, runners, are creatures of habit and routine and my old routine is now nonexistent.  I am just starting to feel a certain rhythm return, much like the early stages of a long training run.  It sometimes takes me 30 minutes to feel smooth.  But, along the way, running and writing have been put away in that box, the last one you open after you've moved into a new place.  Finally, I've gotten the top off and am letting it air out a bit, figuring out how I can fit it all in.

So, now, we fast-forward.  I am corralled at the start of the More/Fitness Magazine Women's Half-Marathon in Central Park, with 2 hilly loops out ahead of me and a nagging pain in my left foot that has been coming on over the past few weeks.  It feels very much like Plantar Fasciitis, but I don't want to admit it.  As I said, I haven't been running, but I have been teaching a lot of indoor cycling classes, and it feels worse the more I teach.  Clip placement?  Pushing too hard on the pedals?  Still trying to figure it out.  But, I still taught 3 classes the day before, and I am not inclined to give myself a break.

Standing there, I am listening to the shivering women around me talk about training and nervousness and times and I feel like an outsider.  I think back to my first half and how I was exactly like them.  I look down at my number and see my age...40...printed there like an entry stamp into a new club...a new age group.  I think back over my past races, my years of running, the past 6 months of my life and my girlfriends who are in different start groups.  I feel incredibly alone.

The race starts with "the sisters are doing it for themselves" blasting over the speakers and I instantly miss the guys...badly, and this surprises me.  I am all for Girl Power, I mean, I have a Goddess tattooed on my rib cage.  But I want that energy there, I really do!!  After the usual weaving around slower runners, which reminds me, I honor your presence in every single race and I don't really care how long it takes you to finish, but, please, if you are going to walk the race, please, please, start with the walkers, please?

Anyway, after all the weaving, I settle into a nice groove and, around mile 5-6, it becomes a reality that I am not going to run through this pain in my foot.  It is increasingly worse, I am limping, barely able to put any pressure on it, which throws my form off so badly, I start to feel it in my hip.  I suddenly develop Multiple Personality Disorder and begin talking to myself (I am in Central Park, so at least I still blend in).  The conversation goes something like this:

Me: "Okay, you are really hurt.  You are in pain.  I think we need to stop."
Myself: "No, I have pushed through pain before."
Me: "Not like this. Do you really want to be a hero today and limp for the next 6 miles, risking further injury, not being able to work or run for months, all for a race you are not even dedicated to?"
Myself: "I don't want a DNF.  I have never dropped from a race."
Me: "Are you having fun?  Are you enjoying this?"
Myself: "No."

And my legs stop.  I start to walk.  Limp, actually.

Being a 2-loop race, I know the finish line would also be at the 1/2 way mark, so I decide to stop there, spectate and cheer on my friends as they come through.  I watch the sub-2 hour pacing balloons, that I worked hard to pass, go by me.  I think about how my expensive, symbolic "throw-away" shirt will not get tossed on this day.  I think about what it's like to be one of the people who motivates others for hours each week and wonder, now, who motivates and supports us when we need it?

And as I watch the finish, I really focus on the faces of the women running through-the strained expressions, the smiles, how everything seems to melt away as the glance up at the finishing clock and know they have done IT.  I so relate.  I get to watch Jen kick ass and run a PR, her second one in 2 weeks.  I remind her that her sore quads are worth it.  She now owns it.  I see another friend let go of time goals because she's enjoying chatting with a friend for the whole race.  I remind Kim, and I hope she really gets it, that, while she ran the race slower than she hoped, she pushed through her own pain and mental doubt just to finish because she worked that hard to get to the start, and that is what counts more that anything.   I believe there is a lesson for each of us in every race we run, and it's never about how long it takes to get to the finish line or whether we actually do.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


"For all that we struggle 
For all we pretend 
It don't come down to nothing 
Except love in the end 
And ours is a road 
That is strewn with goodbyes 
But as it unfolds 
As it all unwinds 
Remember your soul is the one thing 
You can't compromise 
Take my hand 
We're gonna go where we can shine"
-David Gray, "Shine"

There is no gentle or nice way to put it.  For me, the first hour of 2010 sucked and the last hour of 2010 sucked.  Those 2 hours sit on opposite ends of my shelf like evil, gargoyle-shaped bookends, sneering at me, daring me to move them away.  In between them are stacked volumes of experiences that occurred during the year.  Some are shiny and new, standing tall, calling out to be read. Some are worn and used, with tattered bindings and dog-eared pages, re-visited over and over again, the lessons still not memorized.  Others are filled with memories and snapshots of accomplishments, races and runs, reminders of what worked and what did not. Still others are in the discard section, maybe to be burned in a beautiful bonfire, or maybe to be passed along to someone who can benefit from the words.  These chapters, stories, experiences and manuals all come together to form quite a year.  As it ended, it felt mostly like a year in which I closed many doors and left behind the things I no longer need in my life. 

The good news is that I feel the new energy, and the first hour of 2011 was already better than the last hour of 2010.  Maybe it's all in my head, or maybe things have really shifted.  The sun is shining brightly, it is warm for 1.1.11 here in NY, and I had a gorgeous 6+ mile run with Jen.  Part of our route takes us past the waterfront, across which we can see the Manhattan skyline.  Today, as we rounded that bend, I looked out at the sandy beach, grey-blue water and city to my right.  I looked ahead at the black pavement, outlined by  the white piles of snow, leftover from our blizzard, the sun reflecting off its melting puddles.  I noticed how warm I was and how good the air felt to breathe, and I had only one thought: "Man, we are so lucky to be able to run here, like this..."  

And now, it feels so good to replace one of those bookends.