I ran 13.1 miles on Sunday.
WITH MY FEET.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. That’s 3.1 miles — a WHOLE 5K — more than I’d ever run before since I maxed out my training at 10 miles.
“Running is mostly mental.”
There’s a whole lot of mind stuff that happens when you run that far. Or at least, when I run that far (I don’t know what your experience is like, you know?).
I actually discovered this for the first time back in April, when I ran the SoCal Ragnar Relay (still hands-down, one of the best weekends of my life), and one of my segments was 7 1/2 miles, definitely my longest distance ever, so that was kind of a big deal to me. On top of that, it was at 3:30 in the morning in the middle of the California desert, AND I ran without music for the first time ever because I wanted to hear road noise and other runners (safety first!). At first that was pretty intimidating (no music?!) , but I quickly learned that music was unnecessary because my mind kept me plenty busy. This run was definitely one of those stream-of-consciousness, I-totally-forgot-I-was-running things, and when I hit eight miles for the first time in my training runs in August, I actually started crying, because that was now my distance PR and I had some feelings about it..
I thought “running is mostly mental” meant this:
“It really comes down to believing you can do it, and staying mentally focused and with it until you cross the finish line, because really, your body can do this, it can handle this, you don’t realize your own limits, and yeah, just focus and think positive, happy thoughts, because it’s more about that than it is about what you think your physical limits are.”
And sure, that’s true in the sense that we can do more than we think we can and our self-imposed limits are some seriously arbitrary bullshit, but the rest of that? NOT AT ALL WHAT THEY MEAN when they say running is mental.
My first words after I crossed the finish line were, “Well, that was a giant mindfuck,” so yeah. THAT’s what “running is mental” means to me.
I went through some mental clutter when things got tough on Sunday, and as I went back and forth between feeling awesome and feeling terrible and not knowing what to do about that, and that was hard.
Running for me is a short-cut into learning how I handle difficult situations. It’s an honest look at my own decision-making process when I’d rather quit than take another single step, and then it’s all of the feelings that come with that, about how I actually considered giving up and quitting as an alternative to finishing, and then there’s the guilt that comes with realizing that even though I knew I wasn’t actually going to quit, I wanted to and I considered it.
And then I told myself over and over, almost mantra-like, to keep me going, that I did not come this far to quit.
Then there were the easy moments. I hardly remember miles 3-8 because they went by so fast. Those miles felt good, easy, comfortable. I saw the marker for mile 3 and then suddenly, I was at mile 8. When I look back at my splits, it seems as though I got a bit overconfident, because this is where I ran faster than usual by about 2 minutes/mile. In retrospect, it makes sense that I struggled here because I had slightly overdone it for a short period of time.
And then I had feelings about that.
Here’s the thing about the miles that feel awesome: they’re followed by miles that feel shitty. And then those miles are followed again with miles that feel incredible. For me, the mental part of running is learning to get from one extreme (this is the best feeling! I could run forever! Watch me gooooooo!) to the other (this is stupid, I hate everything, make it stop), and learn to settle into a place in the middle that’s neither good, nor bad, just is happily existing.
Wait, is that what contentment looks like?
Sometimes things are easy, and I don’t think I could ever be happier and my relationships are all exactly where they should be and I’m not stressed about anything and I love my work, except then there are those times when everything is stupid and no one understands me and I’m tired and stressed and exhausted and apathetic, and somewhere in the middle of all of that there’s a balance. There’s the understanding that life (and each run) has its easy parts, and life (and each run) has really difficult parts, and what matters is how you move from one to the other, how you don’t give up when you’re in the tough spots, and how you’re present and grateful when it’s easy, because it’s sometimes shit’s easy, and sometimes it’s hard.
When it hurts, am I going to quit? Slow down? Give up? Or am I going to check in with myself and be honest about whether or not I’m actually hurt or if I’m just being lazy and tired, and need to refocus and keep going. Sometimes it’s just a matter of slowing down my breath or faking a smile or a laugh so I relax a little and shake out the jitters. Sometimes it’s an entire pep talk and monologue about how I’m stronger and more capable than I give myself credit for, and if I’ll just give myself to chance to prove that, I’ll actually believe it.
13.1 miles was my own personal starting line.
I’m not done with races (this is my 6th race of any length), and I’m definitely not done with half marathons. In fact, I almost feel as though I just got started, like this is my beginning. And while sure, I want to improve with each race, it’s also that — as weird as this might sound — running is sort of like, weight-lifting for my brain muscles as much as it is strengthening the muscles in the rest of my body.
[photo credit: @christopherdan]
See? Look! Endorphins! We’re glowing! I want more of that.
Also: BIG congrats to Amber, who also ran and finished her first half-marathon! WAY GO TO, GIRL! And another BIG congrats (and thank you!) to Nicole, who finished her eighth half-marathon, and because meeting me in San Jose and running this race with me was one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever received. I love racing with friends because it’s not just personally motivating, but is so much fun to be there to see them achieve big things, too.