Three days after the marathon, I found myself hobbling along the farm road, feeling like a post-operative surgery patient. My legs were stiff, my joints barely moved, my knees complained, and I had a weird pain in my right arch.
I walked for most of the two miles before I returned home, whereupon I proceeded to eat as if I’d just run a second marathon. I don’t know why I’ve had the craving lately to dip my gluten-free crackers directly into the jar of organic almond butter, but I’m assuming my body needs it in order to ‘repair’ muscle tissue or a slightly bruised ego…comfort food, I suppose.
In the past, I’ve been known to completely fall off the training wagon after a marathon, so this year, my goal is to keep up the miles. And though I ran 30 miles last week, in many ways I feel I’m starting all over again. I’ve had to re-evaluate not only how I run, but why I run.
I can put any kind of spin I like on running, but the fact is: my last marathon was pretty much hateful. The only thing I enjoyed about it was finishing with my kids. Matter of fact, I nearly started to cry when I ran down that final hill because I was so incredibly joyful for it to be OVER.
That is not the kind of running I’d like to do.
I want to get back to that happy place where I truly loved running. I know that some people will think I’m crazy for saying this, but it is the place where the physical pain of the long run is part of its charm: a challenge to overcome–not something that swallows you whole. It is the place where the physical effort allows you to think more clearly and to absorb the miraculous details of things you often take for granted, such as deer, pink clouds or a field of sunflowers waiting patiently for dawn.
For me, running had always been a way to feel closer to God–a time of prayer, thankfulness and mediation on the beautiful, living world. But somehow I lost it. I got worried about the numbers and the accolades.
While I didn’t totally blow the marathon (I DID actually finish in a decently slow-ish amount of time and could still walk afterwards), it wasn’t a satisfying experience this year. And it wasn’t because of the elements or my knee or the hostile competitors–it was because of me.
I had stopped loving the long run.
So, I am now back to basics. Just like a patient recovering from surgery, I’m learning how to run again.
I am not running for the numbers or to impress people, but I’m running because it is something I love–something that is a huge part of my life, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Of course I would like to be faster, but honestly I would rather run slowly and enjoy it than run quickly and hate it. Why bother?
A marathon can teach you a lot about yourself–especially when you have 4 1/2 or more hours for introspection. And while I don’t always like what I learn about myself, I am glad that I went through the experience, just so I can make a change for the better.
Ideally, at least for me (a non-competitive athlete), a race should be an outward expression of my love of running, not the brutally final goal.
As I ran along a quiet forest path this week, with rain coming down in a fine mist and pine trees towering over me, I felt small, strong, and slightly lost, but content as I began to fall in love again.
I am optimistic that my once intimate relationship with running isn’t beyond repair, and that the spark will ignite into something that keeps the soul warm.
I’ve already started looking for the next marathon.