Is it safe to come out yet?

I must be starting to feel bettter, because I do feel like poking my head out of my wormhole and looking around to see what might be going on in the world. The last week has been rugged, but I’m amost ready to reclaim my place amongst humanity.

Reading some of the other blogs that I follow, I’m discovering that crashing, getting sick, not wanting to move a muscle, etc. are actually common post-race symptoms. As this was my 4th half marathon, you’d think I would have learned that before now, but looking back through my running spreadsheet I can see how I might have missed that lesson.

I ran my first half marathon in Palm Springs, California on Valentine’s Day, 2010. I didn’t know very much yet about how to train for or recover from a race. I’d learned about tapering and done that part well enough (my knees were hurting in the last weeks before the race, so I backed way off and simply resigned myself to being REALLY SLOW but finishing, which is exactly what happened). I didn’t know about stretching afterwards. I went home, slept for three hours, and then got up and went out for a big meal with Kurt, who treated me like a world-class hero. Needless to say I was agonizingly sore for days afterward. I then completely stopped running for several weeks, but I kept myself active by doing an ecotour down to Baja California to get up close and personal with gray whale mother-calf pairs (an experience I highly recommend if you ever have the opportunity). Clambering in and out of a small boat kept me limber, and I came home eager to resume training for half marathon #2, back home on the Olympic Peninsula in June 2010.

I read a lot about training, made what I thought was a sensible plan and followed it, and approached that race feeling pretty good. Still, I pushed too hard in the last month and I came down with a cold a week before the race. Although I started the race feeling tired and sniffly, I was doing fine until it started to rain at mile 8. Believe it or not, although I live in the Pacific Northwest I had NEVER run in the rain before (you may recall that I started this whole running thing on a treadmill). The rain slayed me, and I finished exhausted, but so happy to once again see Kurt there cheering me on. I then quite sensibly took off two full weeks before I ran another step.

Then Kurt got his cancer diagnosis, and races that I’d planned to run got tossed off my calendar along with everything else that had constituted normal life up to that time. Still, I made the commitment and found the time to keep running, and as I’ve written here, it was the running that kept me sane through those terrible months.

I ran the local race here again this June, knowing of course that Kurt didn’t have much time left, but not dreaming that he only had four days. I missed seeing his smiling face at the finish line, but even worse was realizing afterwards that he had no longer even understood what I was doing out there.

Needless to say I didn’t have a “normal recovery” from that race. I don’t remember feeling any muscle soreness, but I have large gaps in my memory from that time. I certainly wasn’t any more fatigued than I’d been for the last month. I was busy dealing with many other things, but I did go out and run 3.1 miles 11 days after that race and a week after he died. My spreadsheet tells me that I moved right along that day. It must have felt good, but I do remember having to skip past most of the songs on my iPod because everything was associated with a bad memory.

With all of that as a baseline, I approached the Victoria race feeling more or less in control of the running part, at least. I suppose I was right about that, as I did run a race that still amazes me and makes me wonder how much more room I have for improvement! What I was completely unprepared for was the crash. I assumed that I could just go out and run again (I gave myself all of a week to recover, and then went all out for 6 miles). THEN I crashed.

Now I can see that I needed to give myself more time, both to recover physically and to acknowledge the enormous emotional load that I am still carrying. I couldn’t perceive that second part until I read a lot of bloggers who were writing about getting sick, feeling depressed, not knowing what to do with themselves.

The cure seems to be to plan and start preparing (but not too soon!) for the next race. John Bingham, known and beloved by runners as “The Penguin,” is one of my running idols. He’s famous for being a back-of-the-pack runner and has inspired millions with his writing about running. In the photo that I use as my avatar for this blog, I’m wearing a shirt with a Penguin quote on it: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I bought that shirt the day before my June 2010 race (when the biggest thing I had to battle was a cold), and the photo was taken at the 8-mile mark just before it started to rain — that’s why I’m still smiling!

About a week ago the Penguin wrote a blog post about finish lines, which was something of a philosophical treatise about why we run. He quoted Joan Benoit Samuelson, who was the gold medalist in the first Women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984. He wrote that “for her, there is no finish line, and she encourages others to think the same way. Each finish line, according to Joan, is an opportunity to set a new goal, to raise your personal bar, and to go in search of a new achievement.” John Bingham’s concluding thoughts, however, were what really rang true for me: “for many of us there is a finish line. And not just one. Some of us have to keep crossing those finish lines to remind us that we can.”

I run because I have to keep giving myself a reason to believe in myself. A reason to get up in the morning, get out of the house, and do something that makes me feel connected to the rest of humanity and to the earth. And I have to keep putting finish lines out in front of me to keep proving to myself, over and over again, that I can do this. So…… I’m ready to slowly get ramped up to training for my next half marathon, back in Palm Springs next February.

I actually did get outside today to go take care of some personal business, but it was breezy and cool (we didn’t see 50 degrees today; autumn is definitely here), so I couldn’t summon the will to go out and run. However, I did 2 miles on my treadmill this evening. And tomorrow our local running club is going to try its first beer run — we’re meeting at a local pub at 5:30 to run 3 to 5 miles and then drink some beer. I think I’ll bundle up and give it a go.

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Posted on October 26, 2011, in Philosophy, Running and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This reinforces my sense from my one attempt to swim laps again that I have to start MUCH more slowly than I thought I did.

  2. Thanks, Lori, for the running and grieving insight. Grief, like running recovery must be better in stages. Glad you have this outlet for both. The miracle is you have the courage to start again every day. Hugs, Geri

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