Ready to Begin
Ever since my dad gave me that beat-up copy of The Self-Coached Runner, I've been trying to get to the point where I could follow one of the training schedules. That is the main thrust of the book. But I was so far away from even the lightest, easiest one, even the one for like, "We know your stamina run is the jog to the diner on the corner, but here's a pretend practice schedule you can follow" that it never made sense to even attempt any. The only day I could manage on any schedule was the rest day. So I kept to The Philosophy and Practice of Training and skimmed through a little bit about Form although that's so far beyond what I need to worry about really. Some seasons I would try to stick to a practice schedule, and I finally trained for a few races last fall that Alex, Dara, my dad and my cousins also ran. (My cousin Will won best for his age, doing better than 7-minute-miles. Whenever I am making good progress I'm hit with the image of Will sailing along for 6 miles at that speed! Alternately motivates and infuriates.)
Nothing requiring any physical strength or skill comes easily to me. I did love to ride my bike as a kid, climb trees, go to dance class, and even played a few seasons of soccer ending in a memorable if dubious slide kick (well-placed slip in the mud?) in the 11th hour of a vicious, rain-soaked game. I am so much the antithesis of an athlete that for years my friends have told the story that back in high school I was the clumsy kid in the bleachers always getting hit on the head with a basketball, as if the lack of athleticism was so fierce it drew stray balls to me like a magnet. I stopped protesting the myth after it took on regular rotation in 3 am conversations, both because it amused me and because it was true enough, if not entirely accurate.
Still off and on since college I've always had these bursts of trying to get in shape. Yet after a few weeks, the reasons not to go would spiral out: It’s hot, my running shoes are worn out, I don't have time to shop for groceries let alone run. Or the expectations could inflate to absurd proportions–-I want to train for the marathon–-and cancel the whole thing out. Actually going out and running would expose just how far I was from my goal, and therefore felt in some twisted way like a step backward.
Something finally broke through, and it's connected to other "breakthroughs". The sense of not having control over one's time or one's life, when really we have so much. The reason I quit going to my therapist M. was because she would just about literally roll her eyes at most things I said. I wasn't writing enough. "Write more." I wasn't able to say no to people. "Say no." I wasn't sure if I wanted to live in New York. "Move." Alex annoyed me today. "Are you sure you're in the right relationship?" True she was great about deeper stuff, but rarely wanted to "Go there" although she gave wonderful Freudian dream analysis that was most deeply connected to the various breakthroughs and turning points. Yet the real behavioral change did come in simply changing my behavior. This dumb motto that I'd come up with "The only difference between doing it and not doing it is doing it." (I told you it was dumb.)
So, for the first time in my life, again with major gaps and time off (like most of the summer), I have been dedicated to becoming a better runner. And the other day I did something not amazing in any way at all, but something which puts me on the map. I ran 4 ten-minute-miles. To anyone who runs or jogs to the corner diner, you may think there's a typo. But six years ago, when I received that battered book with schedules and goals so far away from my reach, my goal for an entire summer was to run ONE ten-minute-mile. I did it, huffing and puffing and red-faced for an hour afterward and just trying really really hard. But this time, the 4 miles was nothing. It wasn't even a reach. I would have gone on longer, but I had to be somewhere else. A lot of times the milestones I reach are not within my reach, as in I spend a minute or more literally gagging after I'm done as I attempt to "walk it off". I've never pushed myself very hard in many areas of my life, but in this one area, in keeping myself going around some impossible blurry final stretch, I do. That one 4-mile run alone doesn't qualify me for the slowest schedule in the book, but on a really good day, I can just about make the markers that say training for a 55-minute 10K is attainable. With gagging. And almost falling over. And people next to me who look like hell asking, "Are you okay?"
After 6 years, after basically wrestling with myself on and off, mostly off, but many good, hard, tiring, "Why do I want to run again?" days on, I am now ready to begin.