Racer

Yesterday I had planned to run a half marathon on Ward Parkway in Kansas City. The race started about half a mile from the house where we lived until I was 6. I’m on school break this week, and when I first signed up for the Providence Marathon, I thought this would be the perfect tune-up half marathon. I’d already decided to make this marathon training session serious (whatever that means–as opposed to the casual marathon training I might otherwise have done?) and planned to be in shape to smash my PR on this flat course.

In the past month, running and I have been at odds. I’ve been thinking a lot about why it is that this marathon training session just seemed to decimate me. I’ve made mental lists of all the things that are different in my life than when I ran 70 mile weeks and even tried to come up with reasons that I don’t feel as zippy as I did just four years ago when I last ran Boston. I used to dread/love hammering out a 20 miler at near race pace, being unable to do much of anything for the rest of the day, and walking up famished at 3am the next morning.

This time around, it wasn’t just that I didn’t enjoy those things, I almost felt like my body wouldn’t let me do them to begin with. Switching from the full to the half in Providence was a big relief, especially because I made the decision coming off two weeks of sickness, high-but-not-as-high-as-I-hoped mileage, and general “not in love with running” feelings.

So, here I am in Kansas City, having done the 5k instead of the half, and having run nearly 90 seconds slower than the last 5k I ran (in February), slower than i went through the 5k in either 10k I ran this year, my middle mile slower than any of the miles I ran in a February 20k, trying hard to take some really fantastic positives from the race. By far the best part was running with my dad. We have a tradition of going to a local Turkey Trot each year, but, this year, we did added this 5k to our schedule. My dad felt great, and I placed third for women. We had breakfast as a family and I got to do some research for a writing project.

Last night, we went out for a nice dinner with my cousins, who I love (I only have two) and hardly get to see. We were waiting for dessert when Stephanie turned to me and said “good thing you didn’t do the half marathon or you’d be falling asleep at the table!” How true.

I’m having a lot of mixed feelings about running right now. I love running. For 16 years, it has been a emotional release and an important part of my physical health. I think it tempers anxiety, makes me more confident, is empowering, has introduced me to wonderful friends, is a definitive part of my identity, and tempers what I fear might otherwise be irrational feelings about eating healthfully. When I think of running, I mean the physical act, of course, but I also mean competitive racing. I ran all twelve seasons in both high school and college, and have considered myself “serious” about every road race I’ve entered in the 8 years since graduation. It’s much better to be competitive about running than about, say, cooking or knowledge of wine, or the cleanliness of my classroom at school, and so I’ve always taken for granted that I am not only a runner but a racer.

I think this case of racing malaise will pass, but it has made me ask myself what I will do if it doesn’t. What would running look like if I wasn’t still chasing PRs? Keeping track of mileage totals? Would I do speed work at all? How would this change me? Would it matter at all?

I want to get after my half marathon PR in Providence, but I ran the middle mile of my 5k slower than that pace, and I’m not really sure why. I’ve run through the basics: diet (okay, I do love dessert and wine, but I think I eat a balanced, healthful diet), sleep (I don’t know what to do about this one), allergies? iron? mysterious slow sickness? burnout? oldness?

Of course, I’m doing all those things distance runners are taught to do from an early age: being patient, having faith in the work I’ve put in, listening to my body, embracing the spiritual element of the sport… but another part of me want to either go back to the course right now, in the rain at 6:18am, and see if I can at least run faster than I did yesterday. I don’t think I’ll do that, but I think, as I write this, I can see that it’s not quite time to walk away from my watch or my running log or my racing shoes.