A Gander Back on 2011

Insights, highlights, whines, and epiphanies on My Year in Running, 2011! In no particular order:

Marathons: I am unabashedly and definitively over them.

Yes, folks, this is the year that I grew so ambivalent toward marathons that I removed the embarrassing 26.2 sticker from my car’s bumper and never even pulled my Look! I Ran Boston! jacket out of the corner of my closet. 

Why? I can’t exactly say. Of course, I’ve never been all that great at mega-distance, so there’s that level of understandable bitterness. And I attribute my months of injury this past year to training for 2 marathons only 8 weeks apart. Still, I can recall nearly every one of the 21 marathons I’ve run with some level of bittersweet fondness and pride. I recall every single finish line. That’s more than I can say for any other race distance. I could hardly say I hate marathons.

I think, perhaps, it’s more the weird obligation/insistence/perception that one MUST run marathons if one is a runner. It is the first question out of non-runners’ mouths: “Oh! You run! How many marathons have you done?”

Eesh.

Aside from the fact that I don’t really like being part of anything popular, I also cringe at the idea that racing has been distilled, in the popular mind, into a neat package of One Event that generally (anymore, for 95% of people) has nothing to do with actually running fast. It is a check-mark, a parade, a party, a cocktail conversation.

Even the majority of runners seem to be swept away with the idea that running is marathoning. When I now say that I’m done with marathons, I often get a bewildered, “What?!” followed by something that is a mix of sympathy and consolation. On occasion, runners are so perplexed that they just stumble away in a haze of confusion and angst.

Anyway. It’s okay. I still have a sense of self-worth. Contrary to popular belief, I’m still a runner.

Injury is Underrated: As some of you may know (ha ha), I suffered a pretty major injury this year. It took me out of running and racing nearly a third of the year. I know this is a very wrong, horrible, and frightening thing to say, but…..I really enjoyed the break from running. (AAAGGGHHH!!!)

I think the injury served as a nice nudge out of this period of obsessive running. What I mean is this: Since I was 17, I’ve gone through 4-6-year chunks of time where running becomes monumental, laser-focused, rock-like. Then, for one reason or another, running drifts for a while into something a tad more gauzy and sand-like. It’s always there (always), but it morphs and relaxes for a while. Otherwise, how could it ever peak?

For me, I believe this is the key to how I’ve continued to run all these years. I’ve never gotten over it, because it’s always new at some point.

More than a few times this year, in conversations with other runners about my injury (because I know every breathing creature on this planet wants to hear another harangue about the arch of my left foot) and how I didn’t run much for a few weeks, I’ve heard people say, “I just worry that if I ever stopped running, I would never start back.”

I don’t get that. At all.  To me, stopping running or cutting back on running for a while is like jumping down on the diving board. It’s the downward that creates the upward.

All this to say, I’m thankful for my injury this past year. Not running, keeps the waves in motion. I know that’s counterintuitive, but there you have it.

My Favorite Races! Naturally, having just dissed marathoning, I’d like to mention that the Mercedes Marathon was a serious highlight this year. Having reached a new level of elderliness, my time at this race qualified me for Boston by 23 minutes. But that paled considerably (or pretty much was meaningless) next to turning 50, feeling great, and loving running. I know that sounds kind of squishy and Pollyanna, but give an old hag a break, people. Plus, I discovered that I could drink an entire bottle of champagne within one hour of finishing a marathon and still feel superior the next day. Everything pales in comparison to that.

As usual, the Beer Mile rocked. Plus, it was my only PR this year, and while I know some of you think that kind of PR is a tad tsk, tsk, for a 50-year-old-woman, I think my age only makes it a more glorious and astounding achievement of the highest merit. Thank you, very much.

Between the Beer Mile and a 5K just a few weeks ago were a lot of moderately depressing or frustrating races. After my injury (and even before), my 5K times were averaging around 23:00. I cut myself some slack injury-wise, but I really began to wonder if I’d ever see sub-22 again. Maybe I was just slowing down that much.

Then, 3 weeks ago at a 5K, I hit 22:10, my fastest 5K this year. In many ways, this was far better than a PR. It proved I could heal. I guess it didn’t mean that much to me to return from injury when I was, say, 25 or 30 years old. Injuries were just temporary inconveniences to get over and forget. Then you went right back to your previous times.

It’s a lot different now. I’m never sure at all that I’ll actually return. So, it’s a really amazing and reassuring thing to realize that the body can heal and rebuild. It can even get better.  That has always seemed like a bit of a no-brainer to me. But this year it was a serious brain-filler. I think about it a lot.

Speed and an Old Trail: As this year ends, I realize that 2011 was a kind of return to what I originally liked most about running.

I like to run fast. I know that some years ago, when I first started this blog, I wrote about hating 5Ks. Actually, I think I had forgotten 5Ks. I was in my More Miles is Better phase, and I was mesmerized by the long mild ache of distance as opposed to the short sharp pain of speed. But that kind of pain was my initiation to running decades ago. It’s all I knew when I started racing.

So, it’s been nice to return to that. I like the exhilaration of losing my mind in a 5K and feeling like I’m going to die. I look forward to intervals with an old craving that I’ve never felt for the long run. Seeing a track pleasantly unnerves me. I’m not a fan of the Garmin, but I have a fondness for stopwatches. I like to run fast.

This past summer, I also re-discovered a nearby trail that I hadn’t run in maybe 15 years. Which is strange, because back in my early 30s I ran it every week. The first time back on that trail, I was repeatedly struck by all these random and vivid memories of certain trees, corners, hills, and hot afternoons from so many years ago. I recalled a sharp detail of a side trail where I had seen graves and daffodils one February. All things, possibly meaningless but touching anyway, that would have been completely lost if I hadn’t, for some reason, decided to run that old trail.

So now I run that trail every week. Again.

Anyway. It’s been a good year for running. It circles back on itself, it crumbles, it rebuilds, it starts over again, it keeps going, always an adventure and a reward.

Happy New Year!

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6 thoughts on “A Gander Back on 2011

  1. I think Beer Mile PRs are glorious too. However, I’m someone that actually said to you this year, “I just worry that if I ever stopped running, I would never start back.” So I may be an idiot.

  2. I’ve been having similar thoughts about the marathon/5k. The contrarian within, I guess. Plus the intensity of the 5k–the workouts, etc.–is so nice. But holy crap, you’ve run 21 marathons?? Wow.

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