Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Falling in Love, Again

This morning I put my "fast" running shoes on. I braided my hair to keep it off my neck. I gulped down some water to wash down a half of a banana. Then I headed to the next town over, where the hills aren't quite as menacing and the rolling country roads are indeed less traveled.

Over the past nine weeks, Wednesdays have become the day of the week that I meet with almost the same anxiousness and preparation that I do for long training runs on the weekends. I've spent most of the past nine Wednesdays heading to a track for workouts that make me feel like I could puke, or taking to the roads for a fartlek run. I'm never really sure what a new week will bring, but when that training schedule appears on Sunday nights, it's almost always the first day I look at.

See, as this Type-A girl with some subtle control-freak tendencies is learning to cope with a life of horrifyingly little structure this summer, my training schedule is what keeps me sane. Running has always been a stabilizing force in my life, however the combination of an uncertain future, an obsession with avenging last November's Philadelphia Marathon/Chicago Marathon debacle, and a desire to be held accountable for something (anything!) while I'm figuring out the rest of my life, have all conspired at the same time, making my marathon training this year seem like something more than just a hobby.

The side effects of my training mania have been a pleasant surprise, to be sure. Last fall I was ready to give it up forever. I had spent two years struggling with a serious plateau in my performance and finding that running was more of a chore than something I was enjoying. I'm not a professional runner, obviously, so it struck me as pointless to keep battling through a training schedule that was seemingly only adding stress to a life already way too stressful. It was frustrating that running wasn't filling the role that it always had for me--it was supposed to be the one thing I could rely on when everything else seemed like it was crumbling. Instead, it was turning on me. That made me angry and sad, so after I crossed that finish line in Philadelphia, 49 seconds too late, I walked away.

After two months of eating too many cookies, drinking too much beer, and leaving my "racing weight" a distant memory, I headed to the pool for a winter of swim practices and put my bike on the trainer in front of the television. I rode many miles in my living room and was disciplined about making it to swimming a few nights each week, but my running shoes stayed tucked away in the corner, collecting dust. I was punishing them for betraying me.

But soon, the slush of the DC winter was gone and all those spring races I had registered for months ago were coming up fast--specifically, the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon and the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. I went through the motions for each of them, posting some personal worst times in the process. I knew it was time to make a decision, because I'm not the kind of person who is at all happy in merely participating...for me, the joy is in the hard work, in doing my absolute best, and achieving the goals I set for myself in the process.

I decided to give my old friend, running, a second chance. And, not to be dramatic, but I am in love, again...antsy on my day off each week, enveloped by that incomparable feeling of getting stronger each day, grateful that it's back in my life.

This morning, as I finished my last interval with the same fervor as my first, I couldn't help but smile. Like any true friend, running is there for me when I need it most.