I've been all over the place lately when it comes to my running, and have been really struggling to figure out where I am and where I'm trying to go. And I've felt for a long time like I wanted to write about it, but I couldn't sort it out enough to get started.
But then I read this blog today (I could never even hope to write as eloquently as Dimity, and her posts never fail to make me stop and really think - and sometimes laugh and cry, too) - and I felt like maybe, as it has in the past, writing would actually be the thing that helps me sort it out, and I might as well give it a shot.
I turn 44 years old tomorrow, and I've never been one of those people who freaks out about getting a year older, and I don't intend to become one of those people. I've always subscribed to the "you're only as old as you feel" theory, and in so many ways, I don't feel 44.
However, this birthday is giving me pause more than other birthdays have. Forty barely phased me, and the years since then have gone by in such a blur that I can barely remember those other three birthdays.
But something seems to be shifting this year - or, more accurately, a lot of things seem to be shifting, and I find myself doing a lot of self-reflecting, and a lot of reminiscing, and a lot of pondering what the future holds. Kind of feels mid-life-crisis-like, but in a more gentle way, because I don't feel like I'm in crisis mode - I feel more like I'm settling in to the person I've become - because that person has changed a lot in the past few years, mostly thanks to running.
All these thoughts have been swirling around in my head for a while now, but my incredibly difficult race experience in Mystic was something of a catalyst for bringing them a bit more into focus. I've accepted the difficulties of that race, and moved on from it, but I've still found myself looking back a lot. Looking back at my race results from the past few years; looking back at my track workouts; looking back at my race photos.
And I'd feel really proud as I looked back, but frustrated, too. Frustrated that I'm not running those same paces, winning those same age-group awards, and that in those photos I wasn't carrying the extra 5 pounds that I feel like I'm carrying now.
This picture from the Blessing of the Fleet 10-Miler a few years ago (2012) epitomizes all of that. I look at this picture and I can see how confident and focused I was. And I felt that way for a good two years, during which all of my race times dropped, and I set PR after PR, and racked up a whole bunch of age-group awards, and felt damn near invincible.
That feeling continued right through my Boston 2013 finish, but I haven't really been able to recapture it since. Injury layoffs have certainly had something to do with throwing me off my game, and I can't say that I've been running poorly, because I was able to rally to a 3:32 finish in Philly last year, even with injury issues.
But it feels different. During those PR years, I was working hard, but to some degree, the results felt like they came easy. I set a goal, I worked toward it, and I achieved it. Period.
Now I feel like the work is a little bit harder, and the results are a little bit less certain. And I also feel like the hard work takes a little bit more out of me than it used to. Which is why I'm working really hard on keeping the hard work to the hard days, and making the easy days truly easy.
And why I'm also making myself go to bed earlier, so that getting up before the sun to run doesn't leave me snoozing on my desk at 2pm. And why I actually make the time to do things I used to blow off due to being too busy, like stretching and foam rolling.
I know I'm nowhere near old, but I am older, and this slightly older body is demanding a little bit more respect than I used to give it.
It's also demanding slightly bigger clothing. And let me preface this by saying that I am utterly, completely, 100% fine with the way I look. I feel healthy and fit and strong, and I have no problem whatsoever with my body image. But the reality is that a few pounds have creeped on over the past few years, and I had a pile of teeny tiny shorts that I used to live in all summer that, although I can still get them on, are no longer at all comfortable. So I ditched them and moved up a size, and I'm so much happier.
I will admit that there was a part of me that felt for a while that if I could shed those 5 pounds (I'm guessing that's what it is, because I refuse to step on the scale), I'd get back to my lean, mean, PR-setting self. But at what price? I struggled with weight and eating issues in college, and I know that I have a very bad tendency to take things to the extreme, and I fear that if I started down a path of monitoring my weight and being a slave to those numbers, it could potentially lead to a very bad place.
And one of the most powerful things that running has taught me is that my body can do amazing things if I treat it right, and right now, treating it right means being ok with the fact that my metabolism has slowed a bit, and the pounds don't melt off just because I run 35 miles a week and eat very healthy 90% of the time.
And it also means being ok with the fact that the PRs aren't going to come quite as easy as they used to, and that I have to have a little more patience with myself and appreciate the work that I put in just as much as the results.
So I'm settling in, and I'm accepting, and I'm not going to do so much looking back. I will still look back, because it's good to see where I've been, and all those great running moments and PRs weren't just technical successes - they were incredible memories, so many of them involving races and runs with friends, and some with Scott and the boys there to see me finish. So now when I look back, I'll do so happily, and with nostalgia rather than frustration.
As for looking ahead - I still see a lot of question marks. When I think about goals, all I can really think about is Boston 2016. I'm not even registered for any other races before then. There are some I have in mind, but I'm really unsure about whether or not I want to do a lot of racing this summer and fall. I'm even contemplating not racing the Blessing of the Fleet 10-mile race, and trying to find a slower runner to pace instead. I think that would turn out to be a much more rewarding experience for me, and probably a much more fun one, too.
Something is telling me that this is a different season of running for me. Which is not to say that I'm not going to work at getting better. I still fully intend to hit the track every week, and do a tempo run most weeks, and continue doing all the cross-training and easy running that I always do, and I sincerely hope that my hard work brings the progress I'd like it to bring. But I don't feel like I need to have any short-term goals at the moment.
I'm at a point where running is bringing something different to my life. It's brought me a whole bunch of new friends, which is one of the greatest gifts, by far.
And it's brought me to a point where I'm a Race Director and President of my running club, neither of which I ever would have imagined myself doing. I'm finding satisfaction in other aspects of the sport, and although part of me misses the thrill of chasing down PRs, it's not like there's a gaping hole in my life, because there is so much else to be gained, and given, and it's feeling like that's enough right now.
The time will come this winter when I need to get my game face back on and I need to call up that driven, focused, PR-setting self and put her back to work to get ready for Boston. But for now, I'm going to cut her some slack and let her enjoy her summer.
I'm not down, and I'm not out, but I think I'm on a break (and yes, all I can think of when I say that is Ross and Rachel from Friends). And after reading Dimity's blog this morning and coming to this realization, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
So I'm not setting PRs, and I'm not running my fastest times ever, and I'm not standing on the podium at the end of the race. So what? I GET TO DO THIS. I get to go out and run and race, and I get to do this thing that I absolutely love, that brings me so much joy and clarity and strength and confidence.
I get to do this. And right now, that is enough.