Friday, June 11, 2010

The Proposal, and why I didn't run a marathon last May

I distinctly remember feeling very angry the day after the Colfax Marathon in Denver. Even more than what I did feel, I remember the way I didn't feel; satisfied, accomplished, exhausted, or sore. I even would have been happy to feel a bit nauseous, woozy, or like I'd been hit with a brick wall. But I didn't feel any of those things...because I didn't run in the Colfax Marathon. For the life of me I can't remember what I did that day; I probably blocked it from memory. I must have eaten at some point, maybe worked out, done some homework. The day was completely uneventful. Even as I write this, it kills me that May 16th isn't the historic date that I ran my first marathon. If, in the years to come, I do remember something about that day, it will be the fact that I didn't run those 26.2 miles. Mark Twain once said, "20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Smart man, that Twain. The pain from the experience (or lack thereof) is still fresh, and when I think about what I could have accomplished that day, pangs of regret take hold of my heart and squeeze until I can hardly breathe.

I'm a dreamer by nature. Even as a little girl, I can remember waking up in the morning, deciding what to be when I grew up, and planning my day around that goal. In my earlier years I wanted to be a dancer; I'd grab my tutu, leotard, and princess crown and march myself to the tile in front of the fireplace where I’d practice tap-dancing for hours. Never mind that I was one of the least coordinated girls in my class, or that I couldn’t remember routines we learned. I just made them up as I went along, and that meant my performance was original. Years later I decided that I would be a National Geographic photographer and journalist; there was a period of about six months where I carried around this little journal with me everywhere I went. I wrote stories on the local wildlife to send in to the magazine and drew pictures in the margins because I didn’t have a camera. My grandparents heard countless tales of my career-driven endeavors; when we visited their house my grandpa’s first question often was, “What are you going to be today? An astronaut?”

I’ve never let go of this habit of dreaming. I still wake up in the morning preparing for the goals I want to accomplish, and planning what I’m going to be when I grow up. Which is why, I think, Aaron wasn’t surprised when I told him I wanted to run a marathon. He even chose to join in the fun.
Our similarities and differences in personality make us the perfect pair to train for a marathon together. I possess ridiculous enthusiasm and cheerleader-like gusto, he has the stubbornness and work ethic of an ox (do oxes have work ethic? You get the idea…) Also, we both love to work out. And we both have a tendency to crack jokes about situations when they suck. I feel like this is essential when training for any endurance sport…and life in general now that I think about it. So we ran. And ran. And ran. To the point where we ran much farther than we’d ever run before, and in the back of my mind, farther than I’d thought possible. There was laughter, tears, and exhaustion. There were some blisters. There was indigestion. Thank God there wasn’t GDF (look it up if you don’t know). More than anything, there was a sense of accomplishment. Every weekend we had a new goal, a new reason to drag our sleepy selves out of bed at 6 in the morning. I felt so proud of myself, and so proud of Aaron. I remember watching his heels kick out behind him at the end of our first run marking the longest distance we’d ever gone. His stride was smooth and efficient, showing little sign of the 14 miles we’d put in. I remember jumping into his arms, and him lifting me high into the air. I remember knowing that this was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I guess he felt the same way.

We were a few weeks out from our first half-marathon, and I was burned out. Between intense midterms, raising funds for our race, and running, my brain and body were fizzling out on me. We didn’t get to run with our group that weekend, and decided to go for a long run that Monday. God must have known what was going to happen because the weather was phenomenal, and the world looked absolutely stunning. We headed out to a familiar trail close by our house, and I let my body fall into a slow jog, my breath falling into the steady rhythm reserved for long distance running. Fresh snow covered the ground in a dazzling blanket, sparkling like a thin layer of diamonds. Aaron dropped a few feet behind me, and I lost myself in the warm sunshine, the glorious mountains ahead of us. I didn’t notice he’d stopped until I heard him call out, “Wait, I have something in my shoe.” I shook myself out of my trance, and waited, somewhat impatiently, for him to dislodge whatever it was so we could continue along our wintery trek. Then I noticed that he was on one knee…I think I screamed before he could say anything. I covered my mouth and stared at him, wide-eyed, completely in shock. He told me how we’d been through so much together; getting through crazy work hours and shift changes, applying for our commissioning program, moving to Colorado, and now training for a marathon. He told me he wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, and asked if I would marry him. Of course I said yes!

Which is why I knew I couldn’t run the Colfax Marathon without him. He’d proposed to me while we trained for that race together, and that made it “our” race. It was about our long journey together, literally and figuratively, and I didn’t want to experience it without him. We ran our first half-marathon together; shortly before the race Aaron started to experience some serious foot pain. Because he’s one of the most stubborn people I know, he continued to run for over a month through the pain. I should have made him stop, but our plan was to just make it through the marathon and then take some serious time off so he could recover. Probably about a week out from the race, we knew it wasn’t going to happen. He was only cross-training during the week, and even that was starting to bother him. It was starting to hurt when he walked. I wondered if he’d cracked a bone in his foot. If he went through with the race, there was a good chance he’d do some permanent damage, and we both knew it wasn’t worth it. It’s so frustrating when life gets in the way of our ambitious plans. Which is why I was angry; not at him, not at his foot, but just at life. I knew I wanted to run that marathon. I also knew that emotionally I couldn’t get through that race without him. It wouldn’t have felt right, and would have tainted the magic of an event that we’d been training to do for nearly 6 months, and wanted to do for years.

So we didn’t run. And I questioned whether I wanted to continue running long distance at all. So much time and effort goes into it! Most people don’t realize that running for 3 or 4 hours on a Saturday not only takes the actual running time, but pre-run preparation, and post-run recovery (which can last all day depending on how much of a beating your body takes!) The truth is I don’t know why I like running. I’m not fast. My body takes forever to recover. The thought of ingesting another gel ever in my lifetime makes me want to puke. But we ran the Bolder Boulder 10k at the end of May (Aaron’s last run before starting physical therapy) and I loved it. I don’t know why I run, but I know that it makes me feel happy. I know it makes me plan, and makes me dream. So I’m starting over again, and it’ll be interesting to see how the runs are different when I do it on my own. Maybe it will be a good thing. I signed up for the Copper Mountain Half Marathon in Colorado on the 4th of July. I’m easing into the training, remembering to embrace the process and enjoy the runs to prevent early burnout. My tentative plan is to run the Denver Rock and Roll Marathon on October 17th…almost exactly a year after I started training the first time for my first marathon. I know I want to do it. I know it’s going to be hard. I know fate could step in and deliver unforeseeable events that will prevent me from running it.

Right now I’m searching for that little girl who knew, beyond a doubt, that she was going to do something great, and woke up every morning with the initiative to make it happen.