Some people have that lifelong goal or dream of running Boston – the marathon of all marathons. I never did.
I ran a marathon back in college in Edinburgh, during a particularly monotonous period of my 3rd year of uni when I desperately needed a distraction from the grey dreich of the Scottish winter and the intricate complexities of biochemical pathways and drug mechanisms. I loved the training and the freedom of spending hours lost in the countryside surrounding St Andrews on spring days, in the era where Garmins didn’t exist and mobile phones were too large to carry. I shoved peanut butter sandwiches in bushes and connected the dots on segments of runs in and out of the town, and when I ran in June, it was exhilarating and exceptionally painful, and I swore I’d never do it again.
If you’ve been following along with the internet-version of my life over the past year, you’ll know that I backed out on that declaration, when on a particularly soul-destroying February morning I laced up my neglected trainers and flew across San Francisco to the beach and back in a run that rapidly inspired me to go from zero to 100% in the matter of a few hours. At the end of May, I accidentally took a few wrong turns on a Sunday trail run through the Headlands and convinced myself to make it a solid 26.2 (because even though I didn’t have food or water, it’d be ‘fun’). After that it became a game of how far I could go and how many hours I could lose myself for on mountains and on city streets, and I got sucked into the marathon and trail and ultra worlds and covered a ridiculous amount of road and dirt in a very short time. I qualified for Boston at the Santa Rosa marathon in August with a 3:28 finish, and then there was no doubt that, while I was swearing I really, really wouldn’t do this whole marathon thing again, that self-promise wouldn’t start until after I got to pound the streets from Hopkinton to Boylston.
If you’ve also been following along since my exodus to Tahoe in October, you’ll know that training in the winter climes has been… an experience, to say the least. As of this week, Tahoe’s crossed the 700 inches of snow mark for the year, which while condensed primarily in the #januburied to #aprilburied range of the winter months, started with a light dusting a mere three days after I arrived on October 3. Somewhere around Christmastime I enlisted Peter Fain to coach me, and while I (against his protests) didn’t quit skiing and ended up having to do a lot of schedule shuffling with the whole work-life-snow balance thing to squeeze in whatever I could, I’m glad I did, because there is no way I would’ve dragged myself out to run (…and not ski) in six inches of fresh powder with any consistency. I ran in snow. I ran on dirt. I ran in pouring rain. I ran in darkness. I ran on slushy roads. I ran on black ice. It has been frustrating – my body has hurt in completely new ways, and while I have gradually acclimated to the substantially thinner air at 6500′ and incredibly steep matching climbs and downhills, my paces have been slow, and most runs have been rides on a very bumpy struggle-bus that have made me question why exactly I find this ‘fun’ and ‘satisfying’ and what exactly I was trying to gain from this very bizarre form of self-punishment.
I look back over this past year though, and there are many things that define it, but running features in almost all of those definitions. It was almost exactly a year ago that life started to ‘settle’ – the last week of April, I moved (again) into a semi-permanent spot, acquired Otis, and officially restarted my San Francisco life in a very tiny flat (that was all my own) nestled in the center of the city. One Tuesday evening, I dragged myself to the SFRRC track workout that was a mile away and remembered instantly how much I loved sprinting in circles with people who also though sprinting in circles was great entertainment. I went to the Saturday morning run and spent a very definitive half hour meandering through Golden Gate Park with two girls, who I would soon discover lived blocks away and would, after several early morning fly-bys, instantly become some of my closest California friends. For the first time in years, I was able to surround myself with people who shared in something I loved doing, who supported my efforts while understanding firsthand the contrasting thrill and pain and gave me a community to put my feet down in when everything else seemed to be pulling me away. When I moved to Tahoe, knowing that there was an incredibly active, supportive community of trail runners was what made my final decision – I knew that despite knowing no one, I’d be engulfed with open arms by people who had also dropped themselves in these mountains for reasons that aligned in some way, shape or form with my own.
I’m currently in that mindset that comes post-race, where, like most painful things, the body and mind has a way of selectively forgetting the misery such that the entire experience is wrapped in this misty, golden cloud of pleasantness. I almost wrote this yesterday when that euphoria wasn’t here to give it more ‘realness’, so in the effort of maintaining that raw, non-sugar-coated version: running a marathon is exceptionally painful, and my body hates me, and I never want to do this again.
But that honesty of the misery (really, everything hurts, I definitely pulled a groin muscle, I am chafed all over, I still want to puke, and my muscles are crying) is unbalanced and inaccurate without the honesty of the rest of the experience. Aside from those last six miles in which Heartbreak Hill and the subsequent downhills definitely broke my heart (slight exaggeration, but), the first 20 were great. I was incredibly consistent and kept my pace within 10 second of 8:00min/mi, which was my goal, and I felt strong and in control, despite being incredibly hot.
I loved that, after almost a year of morning sleep runs and sharing the experience of training (even from a distance) with Anna, we got to navigate the morning and run the first 10 miles together to connect the full circle that started that Saturday morning in the park. I had a fantastic weekend with Steve and Chris lounging around the city, and am, once again, forever thankful for my family.
I loved seeing my other running friends at the pre-race events throughout the weekend, and I got to spend a delightful Sunday morning with Dana, one of my oldest friends from high school, after four years apart. The energy around the city the entire weekend was all-encompassing, and it was as much of a ‘thing’ as people say it is that I am so grateful I got to experience.
Part of me had wanted to try to re-qualify, because I am who I am, and self-competitiveness has never been my weak point, but I decided somewhere around mile 20 in about a split second that actually? I didn’t want to. I could’ve pushed it a bit more (theoretically… my legs may not have cooperated at that point) and dropped a few minutes off of my 3:36 finish, but the overwhelming ‘I don’t need to do this’ feeling won. I’ve been recognizing more and more over the past few months that my ‘need’ to run has shifted to a ‘want’, where I no longer feel like I have to rely on running as an escape from my life. I still love it, and I won’t be stopping anytime soon, but my desire to disappear for hours on end and hurt myself to the point where I can’t feel any other pain has been replaced by more balance in all other areas of my life. I like my life in the mountains; I’ve surrounded myself by people who energize me and have found a balance of work and play and outside time that has me feeling just that – content.
Right on Hereford, left on Boylston. Thanks for a good run of it, Bahston.