I could try to state why I haven’t written or posted anything in awhile, and the reasons for it would look similar to most reasons why we don’t do something: busy, distracted, tired. But even through the busy-distracted-tired-and-feeling-of-overwhelmedness that has been my life lately, I have still created and made the space to run. It’s just that important and I would never give it up. Like therapy. So other than a set of reasons, the real issue behind my lack of blogging and creating words is that I just wasn’t feeling it. Nothing was being inspired in my head for a need to create this kind of space.
But here I am now.
I feel like the past month or so of running has been more about performance for me than actually about what I love: the feeling of running. Amount of miles per week, tempo, pace, distance, hill workouts–all of it with a goal of going further, faster, stronger. If felt icky. And while I did run a 4 mile race last weekend in which I both PRed and won it (26:49…that’s a 6:43 minute per mile pace. Damn.), I didn’t ever really enjoy myself. I mean, the winning and the finishing was fun, but when it comes down to it I don’t like the feeling of my body running that fast. I’d rather run at an even tempo for 8 hours, than an uncomfortable sprint for 25 minutes.
I did my second 50 mile race Saturday. It was so amazing. Two days before the race I spent a huge chunk of my night in the emergency room. My throat was burned raw from puking, which made it impossible to swallow water. Any fluids I did get down was accompanied by a horrible gag reflex from the burnt throat–which means that most of what went down came right back up. I basically had no fluids in my body. My muscles were in spasms and shaking because of this. I know an I.V. should not be my way of staying hydrated, but it was absolutely necessary Wednesday night.
All of my friends were worried about me. None of them thought I would run on Saturday. The idea of not running my race never even crossed my mind. In fact, for me, I needed those 50 miles more than ever. For the past 6 weeks I have just barely been “functioning”–living outside of my body. I needed to get back in. And running 50 miles is my way of getting back into my body. That sort of distance is an open door to a different type of mental and physical space for me that is so completely necessary, and I have yet to find another way to get into it.
So it worked.
Throughout the 8 and a half hours I ran, I constantly stayed present and aware in how my body felt. I made sure to eat early on–to concentrate on my physical and nutritional needs, (this is something I failed to do during my first 50 miler. In that race, it wasn’t until mile 30 that I realized I would have to actually eat something other than Gu in order to finish, and by then it was almost too late). The focusing on nutritional needs totally worked for me this time around. Not once in the entire race did I hit a wall. I never thought, No, I can’t do this. Or, Stop, please. I just kept moving–even up the rocky, muddy hills that had started to make my legs burn at mile 10.
These are the facts of it all, but there’s something deeper I want to get to.
These past few weeks there has been one thing I’ve thought about and experienced while running that I have wanted to write about. “Keep moving.” At the corner of Greenview and Devon every weekday morning from about 7-9am, there’s this crossing guard that is stationed at that intersection. I imagine her name to be Mary, but that’s probably because the only other crossing guard I know is named Mary (this unnamed one really does look like she could be a Mary, though). I usually refer to her as that Crazy Crossing Guard, and my friends who get up early know who I’m talking about.
She shouts. She shouts to herself. She shouts to herself about the crossing situation at Greenview and Devon.
When I first ran into her, I thought she was shouting into some hidden walkie-talkie, trying to communicate what the crossing situation at Greenview and Devon was like to her fellow crossing guard stationed down the street at Greenview and Granville. Nope. No walkie-talkies. No one that she’s shouting to. And it’s not just that she shouts that is amazing–it’s that the whole morning her shouting is about the events of that intersection.
“Keep moving! If there’s no one in your way then move!”
“Wait your turn then go!”
And my favorite:
“We got a runner crossing! Runner coming! If it’s your turn than move!”
“Keep moving, people! Keep moving!”
I’ve never actually seen this woman help anyone cross the street, but her voice is there, dominating the morning air. I imagine none of the drivers can actually hear her–their rolled up windows and music muffling her commentating.
At first, once I realized she wasn’t actually talking to anyone in particular, I thought she was insane.
Then, as I ran by her every chilly winter morning–all wrapped up in her neon orange ankle-length coat with matching hat and mittens–I realized that maybe this was just what she did to help her get through the morning. To help her to keep moving.
And now, I absolutely love this woman. I look forward to her crackly voice telling the world “We got a runner coming through! If it’s your turn, then go!”
“Come on people! Keep moving!”
I thought about this crossing guard a lot during the Ice Age 50 miler on Saturday. She’s got a good philosophy for ultrarunners: just keep moving. When you have so much distance to cover, it’s true that all you have to do is to keep moving, and eventually you’ll get there.
So I kept moving. Tired, sore, aching ab muscles from keeping my balance on the steep, rocky, muddy downhills–I just kept thinking about how to just keep moving.
Feeling in my body with a post-race kombucha.
This keep-movingness brought be back into my body. It helped me to fill up the space of my body, to breath her in and to go forward with her. I had friends at this race who mostly came so someone could drive me home afterwards, and so they could get out of the city for a second. Of course they were there to support me, but they weren’t there to be my crew–checking in with me every 5 miles to see how I was doing and what I needed. In fact, I didn’t even see them until mile 40–a full ten miles sooner than I expected. It was so amazing to have them there, to have them be present with and witness this part of my life. I could feel their love and excitement (and loving concern) for me in the air that surrounded them.
Rose was one third of my "crew." Awake and alive at 5:30am, Saturday, May 9, 2009.
But it was so different to run this race with essentially no crew. It was perfect, actually. Something that I needed without even knowing it. I felt like I was on a therapeutic adventure with myself. Because I didn’t have anyone to check in with me at each aid station, I was totally responsible and dependent on myself. It felt so beautiful.
I was both constantly aware of what I needed–how I was doing, preparing for what I needed for myself at the next aid station–AND I was able to zone out and into myself–to get lost in my own thoughts, and not really have to talk to anyone unless I wanted to. It felt really different to not have anyone to check in with but myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to be in that situation again, but for this race–this race where my sole purpose was to stay in tune with my body, to listen to her for every step, and to reconnect with her–it was absolutely perfect.
And so I became my own crew, and that crew kept telling me to keep moving. It felt so full and so right.
But at mile 45 I got really sad. I got sad because I realized how silent the world was in this space, how beautiful the trail and forest were, how good I felt in that silence/stillness/alone time, and how I didn’t want it to end. I wanted it to continue forever. I was sad to be finishing. At mile 48 I considered running more once I finished. Maybe just a few more miles in the forest to continue to soak it all in. And then I finished, and I was like, “fuck that, I’m done,” but I could feel that there was more in my body. I feel like I’m a (somewhat) good judge of my body’s limits (although my friends and therapists might disagree with this), but I’m an especially good judge when it comes to running. I feel like in relation to running I know what my body can do, and what it’s capable of. And when I finished, I felt like I could easily do another 20 miles, but that 30 miles would make me die from exhaustion. So maybe one day there will be more to come.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep moving.
Thanks to Pidge for the amazing photos.
Check out other photos by my awesome roomate, Pidge.