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Training Forward.

11 May 2015

This weekend I went on my first stateside trail run. It was 9.8 miles, and really only about half of it was on trails. paved bike paths comprised the rest. But I enjoyed it. I hurdled a fallen tree! I climbed difficult dirt paths, steep enough that stairs were cut into the path! It was a fun run on a well-traveled path. I can see immediately the appeal of trail running: it’s more technical. It requires care and attention to decide where to plant your feet; you have to think about two steps ahead. And it works all kinds of little muscles that straight-ahead road running doesn’t.

We ran with a guy from BB’s Monday running group. He’s in his early 50s, and has a similar fitness history to my own: in midlife he decided he was tired of being obese and started running, biking, and swimming. He lost a bunch of weight, and looks fabulous. He does short and medium distance triathlons regularly. On our nearly 10-mile run, he literally didn’t even break a sweat. That gives me hope. Not that I’ll stop sweating, of course, that’s probably a genetic thing. But that I will be able to be fit and vigorous throughout the next decade and beyond.

I really am tired of not having the body I want. I am just constantly surprised at how much work it is to get to where I want to be. A little more than a year ago, when I was training for my first half-marathon, I had these visions in my head of what a half-marathoner looked like. What I imagined I’d look like. But the truth is, you don’t have to be lean or especially fit to complete a half-marathon. It’s a race within reach of nearly anyone, I think, who is willing to work consistently at it for about four months. It does make huge changes in you. But it’s not a challenge that requires excellent or athletic fitness.

Now that I’m training for a marathon, I find myself entertaining the same thoughts about how I’ll look, what a marathoner looks like, feels. But I’ve seen people running marathons, faster than I’ll ever run a marathon, who don’t look like my narrow imagination once thought marathoners had to look. Everything is harder than I thought it would be. The body I want, the fitness I want, it demands more effort than I thought it would.

That’s ok. Part of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is “taking life on life’s terms.” I can do that. The fact is, I need to do a better job of food and of exercise if I am going to get where I want to be. I have to find another way to work a little harder. Go a little further. I am very fond of saying I’m willing to put in B+ effort for B+ results. Well, I put in what I thought was B+ effort, and I got B- results. So I have to work a little harder.

I don’t have much talent. Not physically. I’m bad at sports, and always have been. I tried to ski and failed. I tried to play baseball and failed. I’m just not an athlete capable of the fine-motor type movements required to be really good at sporting activities. But I can run. Not fast. But for a long time.

I like to do things that not many people will. I don’t say “can”. I think most people can do what I do. I’m not special. But I like to do things that not many will. I don’t have talent, but I think that I have the right kind of hard-headedness for distance running. I’ll never be fast. I’ll never be great. But I can finish things I start. And I’ve discovered I like starting races. My next one, at the moment, is the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I’ll start that race. And I think I’ll be able to finish it. And then from there, we’ll see.

I find myself feeling like I am supposed to apologize for what I want out of running. Like I should ask forgiveness for being proud of what I can do, and what I’ve achieved. Survivor’s guilt. Maybe I’m vain. Maybe I’m egotistical. Maybe I don’t care. My running is about me. About my sense of self. About my relationship. About my health. About my fitness. My body. My time. My strength. My drive. I’m not sorry about it. I don’t feel ashamed. I worked to get where I am. I’m not yet where I want to be. I’ll work harder.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. aimee permalink
    11 May 2015 11:10

    I think you have internalized a lot of body-image baloney that our culture spoon feeds us – that’s no accusation, it’s just the truth that all of us have brains that absorb images without too much reflection. All your life, until you actually started running, the images you saw of runners and other athletes were those you saw on magazine covers, TV ads, etc, in large part. Those people are athletes, yes, but they are also models. There are millions of athletes, as you are now aware, who are not models. Models have a very narrow range of physical forms – athletes have a wide range. Some elite athletes, like long distance swimmers and weightlifters, have bodies that look very different from our narrow ideas about what athletes look like. Consider our cousin Sam, a man who swims for a half mile at a time in the open sea with bricks in his hands. I doubt there a hundred people in this country who could do that. Go look at his Facebook page, he has plenty of pictures of himself up in his swim trunks. He looks strong as hell, but he also has a belly and some droopy pecs. If you want to look like an athlete – congratulations! You already do! If you want to look like a model, well, you’ll probably need liposuction for the abs.

    • 11 May 2015 13:07

      You’re quite right about internalizing imagery. But I also know I’m capable of being somewhat closer to my ideal, because I’ve both gotten closer and keep doing things that keep me further. I’ll never be a model. But I don’t have to have a big spare tire either.

      And you are especially right about athletes and body types. Only the elite of the elite look the way the magazines say we should (Neymar). I realized this not too terribly long ago and after I should. I tried to say it in this piece: athletes are widely varied.

  2. 12 May 2015 07:02

    Oh dear. You sound like me when I was at the peak of fitness (for me). I apologized. When I said I ran a marathon, I felt the need to say I was slow. I thought anyone could do it, basically because I did it, and therefore it must not be much.

    Then I turned 60, and found out I can’t do it anymore. I look back at my race photos and see an entirely different person than I saw at the time. I was fit, I was happy, I was healthy.

    Please don’t undervalue your accomplishments. They are HUGE.

  3. 13 May 2015 22:12

    I agree with Mary Christine celebrate your accomplishments. It only matters what you think about yourself. It was hard to find anything in your post that sounded like your gave yourself any credit for doing something few people even try to do. B- what is that about?

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