With Month Two of Marathon Training Behind Her, Mountain Mama is learning a lot about running, but even more about life.
Some people would prefer electric shock therapy than be alone with their own thoughts. At least that’s what the findings of a study published in Science found.
I can relate. Faced with the prospect of going solo on my first double digit long run, I searched for someone to run with, paying a babysitter to squeeze a run in Thursday evening, finishing with a headlamp. Ten miles alone seemed so long, all alone in the woods, left alone with my thoughts. But it turned out that no matter how much I tried to avoid thinking, running that long presented quiet pockets that I couldn’t avoid.
My first ten-miler started off pleasantly enough. We walked to warm-up before trotting onto a trail with dips and swerves. I’d had a long week at work, and enjoyed the distraction of hearing about my friend’s new running shoes and life updates.
I was still in an optimistic frame of mind when the single-track stopped in front of an old road. My friend turned to me and causally asked, “Have you ever been on North Boundary before?”
“Nope.” I was already economizing on words, mentally struggling with the run. I was tired and couldn’t imagine how I’d actually finish ten miles.
He must have picked up on my need to be distracted because, usually a man of few words, he carried on a one-sided conversation for the next ten minutes uphill.
“It’s not so bad, is it? A long uphill, but the slope is gentle,” he said in a cheery voice that only served to make me feel worse. Because it was bad for me, I was struggling with that unending hill. The top of every switchback hid the next ascent, the canopy overhead giving me false hope that we were about to crest the mountain.
I could only manage an “uh huh.” Then I was back in the prison of my mind, which turned to all my friends who had recently told me of their travel plans. One was in Hawaii as I huffed and puffed up the mountain. Others had told me about winter trips to whitewater kayak in Ecuador and complete yoga teacher certification programs in Bali. With my bank account balance hovering dangerously around zero, any extra money was going to replace my fifteen-year-old hot water heater. Heck, I wasn’t even going to Gauley Fest (like every other friend in the Southeast who kept posting on Facebook about packing) or the Feather Fest (like all my California friends who were excited to escape the smoke from fires for a weekend). Everyone was living a Big Life, going to exotic places and having amazing experiences. Except for me. My life felt small and mundane and full of ascents.
My friend pulled me out of this pit of misery pointing to the view on our right, where the canopy gave way to blue-tinted mountains lining the horizon, like waves stretching into infinity. The late evening sun backlit the mountains, making them look dreamy and soft, enshrined with a magical blue halo.
“Wow!” I said, really meaning it. I kept my eyes glued to the right, anticipating every gap in the trees to watch the setting sun. The trail climbed upward and we trotted along. My stomach rumbled from my decision to drink a late afternoon latte and two snack sized Snickers. My feet still felt weighted and my body sluggish. But my mind felt different.
We ran in silence, taking in the beauty that existed a few minutes from our backdoors. I inhaled into the hill, pulling one foot after another up, up, up. I breathed in the beauty of the mountains and felt my resistance to the long run soften.
Finally the top of the mountain came into view. My feet felt lighter, my pace quickened at the prospect of summiting. We stood there for a minute, gulping in air along with the view. I swelled with the abundance of being able to run with a friend surrounded by the mountains and the woods. I beamed down at my legs who had taken me there to that moment.
But the sun was setting and we weren’t halfway home so we turned down a steep single-track and leaned down the mountain. My feet danced with the terrain, waltzing with roots, rocks, and ruts. I flirted with gravity, pushing my torso forward and daring my feet to keep pace when it occurred to me that I was going somewhere.
I was running down the mountain, chasing the last of the waning sun. And I realized that focusing on what was right in front of me was pretty exciting. I didn’t have to go halfway around the world for an adventure or to live the kind of big life I dreamed of. I’d been putting so much energy into everyone else’s lives and the extraordinary things they were doing that I was missing out on my own.
I let go of my pathetic bank account balance at mile 5, the office bullshit at mile 6, my parenting woes at mile 7, and my epic love failures at mile 8. After that, it was all I could do to see the last two miles of trail.
A few stars guided us as we cooled down, my mind quieter and less frazzled. Endorphins flooded me. We high-fived, congratulating each other on a great run. I chugged water that tasted like heaven in my mouth.
The big lesson I’ve learned from month two of marathon training has nothing to do with warming up, negative splits, hydration, or the right gear. I’m learning how to run when I don’t feel like running. I remind myself that I chose to run this race and it’s a luxury to have the time to focus on doing something so good for my mind and body. Marathon training has taught me to stop comparing myself to everyone else. I’m living the hell out of the life I have.