One year ago I ran my first (and only to date) marathon. Yesterday I watched runners completing that same marathon down the streets of Chicago. It fueled my long run for the day. It is always exciting to watch other runners doing what we love. You can see the dedication on their faces and in the churning of their legs. Especially in a marathon, you are witnessing their bodies doing what it has been trained to do over and over again. It is almost automatic. It doesn’t FEEL automatic for a great portion of the race, but as a spectator you can almost see all the training runs that runner has put in.
After the excitement came a bit of sadness. I realized that it has been a full year since I have raced. No half marathons, no 10Ks, not even a fun 5K. I don’t consider myself much of a racer. Racing is a separate skill from running. There is strategy, precision, and competitiveness that all goes into being a good racer. I don’t have any of those. I haven’t raced enough to know what strategy works for me, pacing is still a major goal, and I’m really not driven, as some, competitively. That being said, I didn’t choose to be raceless this last year. If it was my choice maybe it wouldn’t have felt so bad, but because I couldn’t race it felt really horrible to think a year has passed.
I was raceless because my body gave out after Chicago. I was spent. Drained. On empty. Mentally I had dedicated years towards training without much of a break. I was constantly pushing every run. I was seeing the joy I got from running sliding into the background and sitting in the shadows, as the “I have to…” runs became the regular.
Physically, I was even more broken. My iron stores (or my ferritin) levels were VERY low. Despite my doctor feeling it was at the low end of normal, I could FEEL that it was not at all normal. Even more telling my performance was suffering when I tried to run. I couldn’t maintain my usual pace. The tendons in my feet were still healing and sore. My hamstring was the worst of it all. It hurt on every run and it gave me no power to drive forward. Then my hips began to hurt. My body was failing me.
At least that’s what I started to think. Until I realized I was failing my body. I was not respecting all the work my body did day in and day out. My body would carry me through 60+ miles a week, yet I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t run all those miles at my marathon pace or faster. My body had just plowed through a marathon in pretty quick time for a newcomer, yet I did not allow for rest. My body would endure double runs that I scheduled several days a week, yet I never slotted extra sleep in the morning to help with recovery and repair. Sure, I would have my rest day, but one rest day was not going to help me if 6 other days I was slamming my body to its limits.
Finally, it began to crash. And I woke up and took notice as to why it was crashing. Ever since I saw my tower beginning to collapse, I vowed to respect my body. Now providing myself not just a full diet, but also the supplements I need to keep things healthy. I promised to take easy days easy. EVERY single training plan does not tout easy days, yet not mean to actually take it easy. I am not beyond what even the professionals runners do (THEY DO EASY RUNS!). Pulling back takes as much effort sometimes as drilling myself into the ground. And it takes courage. It takes knowing that running slower does not mean I am losing fitness or not a “insert race and race time here (i.e. 1:35 half marathon…)” runner. I need to have confidence that those runs are actually what benefits me AS MUCH as the fast tempos and speed sessions and long runs. While I wish I could have back the time I had to take off from running, I wouldn’t give up some of the lessons I had learned in that process. I truly believe I am a better runner (be it faster or slower…) because of it.
Congratulations to all the runners who ran Chicago yesterday! You made me smile and reflect, yet again, on what last year’s Chicago marathon taught me.