la marathon

Look Up and Look Around

I am currently training for the LA marathon. This means that three times a week I’m outside running, telling my body that all the pain and exhaustion will be worth it when we get that medal at the finish line—and the free banana shortly afterward.

This past Saturday I ran 17.5 miles, the second longest run in my entire training plan. (The longest being 20) For the first 13 miles or so, I was doing pretty well. My legs, while tired, still had some juice in them and I was determined to check this milestone off my list. But as I started those last four miles, it seemed like each step got harder and harder. My knees began to ache and my ankles threatened to quit on me. This was the longest I had ever run in my entire life, and to know that even when (or if) I finished, come marathon day I’d have to come up with the strength to run nine more miles—a marathon is 26.2 miles—my body was just about ready to call it.

Around mile 16 or so, my mind was really starting to get shaky and my legs were even worse. Continuing to run almost felt like punishment, but I knew quitting would feel far worse. That’s when I hit a red light and had to pace around the sidewalk—legs wobbly as ever—while I waited for my signal to continue. I put my hands on my head and took some deep breaths, hoping to relieve some of the stiffness in my back, and then I looked up. The sky was a piercing blue with big, beautiful, puffy clouds. I watched them swirl around above me, and it gave me a warm feeling in my stomach.

When the light turned green and I started running again, I focused on the clouds, and for a little while my knees didn’t ache as much and my feet didn’t sting; my back felt looser and my legs felt a tiny bit stronger.

By the time I made it back to my house however, I was sure my legs were going to fall right out from under me. I walked through the door like a baby giraffe and stumbled my way through a shower and the making of my usual after-run protein shake.

My body was spent.

But even as I limped around for the rest of that day and the next, I still thought about that patch of sky. While it hadn’t taken away the pain I was feeling, it reminded me that it wasn’t the only thing that day—that moment—had to offer.

There are many instances in which I’ve let a dark time or a difficult situation block out all the light around me. Sometimes it’s hard to remember there’s a blue sky up there. Especially when so many other days are grey, cloudy and rainy.

But alas, there are always good things. There is always something just out of your line of sight that is there to give you hope and inspiration. There is always something to push you that last mile.

In the next month, I’m sure I’ll spend more than a few days wondering, what the hell am I doing? Namely when I pass the 20-mile mark at the marathon and have to run SIX. MORE. MILES. But I’m going to take that patch of blue sky with me through the whole race and the days, months and years that follow. I’m going to look up, even when my head wants to hang down, and I’m going to look around, even when it seems safer to keep my eyes forward. Because as sure as there will be dark, there will also be light, and I’m going to try harder to find it. Even when it feels like my knees might spontaneously combust—or you know, the day to day life equivalent to that feeling.

Opening the BIFC Door

As many of you know, my family and I climbed a mountain last year. A MOUNTAIN. It was one of those, “did I really do that?” type of moments that was immediately followed by, “we definitely deserve cake for that.” Let’s just say I opened the BIFC (scientifically pronounced Bifsee) door.

We all have this door. Some people kick it open Kool-Aid man style, without fear or hesitation, while others fiddle with the keys and hide from the moth living on the screen before we even attempt to push it ajar.

koolaid

This past October, I came across an ad for the LA Big 5k, an event held the day before the LA Marathon as both a challenge for the general public and a warm up for the Marathon runners.

I’ve never been a runner, ever. The last time I remember running for sport was 6th grade when I was trying to keep up with the boys and get an A on my physical fitness test. (Side note: I got a B because I couldn’t do a shoulder roll. I was convinced I’d shatter my shoulder blade and have to learn to cook with my feet.) I don’t really know what made me click the link, maybe it was the inspiration of my brother signing up to run the marathon, or maybe it was because I’d watched Thor the night before. Either way, I clicked the link, filled out a form and before I knew it I was signed up to run 3.1 miles in the middle of March.

My first reaction was panic. WTF was I thinking? What if my lungs dissolve into a puddle of blood and weakness and I die amongst thousands of 6-packed super humans? Would they use my clothes as sweat rags and my tears as a hydration refresher?

January marked the official start of my self-training. My regimen was extremely detailed: run until you might die, then stop and walk for like, a long time.

My first trip out I made it about a half mile before my lungs went to war with my ribs and my heart tried to out do the drum solo in Whiplash. I walked it off, panting wildly, and half-heartedly waving to neighbors as I slobbered my way back to a realistic breathing pattern. I picked the speed back up, much to the displeasure of my shins, and then I walked again, waving and slobbering like I was an out of shape record on repeat.

For the first month, not a single time was fun. Every time I started to run I dreamed of the moment I got to stop. I would pick a pole, an intersection, a tweaked out squirrel, anything up ahead that I could will myself to keep running towards, stopping on a dime when I got there and cursing myself for this entire process.

Over the course of the second month, I used the same process, but eventually I would pick a pole, reach it, and then tell myself to run passed it to the next one and then the next one and then the next one.

In a blink, it was race day. I was standing amongst 5000 of my sweatiest acquaintances, when at 8:00 a.m. on the dot, the MC gave us the green light, shouting, “GO! GO! GO!” into the microphone.

I had long decided to set my own pace. I was not racing, I was running and the only person I had to beat was the one inside my own head, telling me to quit.

When I reached Mile 1, I was both discouraged and excited. It was: “Woohoo 1 mile gone!” and “THAT WAS ONLY 1 MILE?!”

The 2nd mile marker sat at the bottom of a hill, which, on any other day would invite me in to spend the afternoon eating hot dogs and watching my favorite team play baseball, but today it only offered a challenge.

At the top the path flattened out, only to curve and dip and loop around to yet another hill, seemingly steeper than the last. I could see the Mile 3 sign at the top and I knew that the finish line was waiting just beyond it. So with a deep breath, I pushed myself up that hill like Thor himself was waiting on the other side. Once I reached the top, I could see the arch marking the finish and was overwhelmed at the amount of people lining the path, cheering. I picked up my pace, suddenly unhindered by anything, and against every assumption my negative brain had made over the last 12 years, I finished my first 5k without a stitch of walking.

Why?

Because I F*cking Can.

Find your own BIFC door, then Kool-Aid man that thing and never look back!