I ran a marathon a couple of months ago. Did I get a personal best? No. Not even close, as I was off by almost 20 minutes from my best two year ago. Am I upset? Not a chance. Want to know why? Read on.
In 2012, I came off a big win at Ironman Canada in Penticton. I was in pretty good shape. I wanted to run the Goodlife Victoria marathon 6 weeks later, one of my favourite races. So, having expended myself in August, I rested for a few weeks, then slowly tried a few pace-specific runs. Apart from a sprained ankle (ow), I got to the finish line mostly fit, maybe a bit of residual fatigue, but definitely ready to run. After all, this was just a (less than) 3 hour race! Compared to Ironman at 9+ hours, it seemed like a drop in the bucket. Cruising along, my race pace felt light, fresh, gliding. And coming off that big of a win, you feel a little bit invincible.
Fast forward to 2014.
I'm running up the side of a mountain pushing a Chariot with a 22lb+ baby in it. I have a cast on my right arm because it's fractured (I fell on the start line in a mile race that I won), and I can't swat the horseflies that are circling me, because I need to hold onto the Chariot. It's HOT. The sun is beating down. I'm sweating, and running oh. So. Slowly.
I look down at my body as I run. This is a new body to me, different shapes, and different strengths. I'm breathing hard. Everything feels hard. I want to run the Goodlife Victoria Marathon in 2 months. I'm not sure how this is going to be possible, but I keep moving forward. I feel the opposite of invincible.
I'm still nursing my baby. Anyone who has nursed their child knows that it takes a lot of your physical energy to do so (remember how much you could eat and still not gain weight, mamas?) There are also hormones that come along with lactation that slow you down, make you rest, and tire you out. Some female athletes choose to wean early for that reason, but that was not my plan. Instead, I took it on the nose, and just accepted that I only had so much energy to give. (Never mind the whole waking up multiple times overnight thing – which goes without saying to any new mom or dad. We're all in a secret club.)
But that's what I did, taking care to only run so much or so fast with a cast, and then a splint on to let the fracture heal. I had seven weeks to get to the start of the marathon by the time the cast and splint came off.
Usually I have the ideal race prep. I realize, looking back in training, that one of my keys to success was repeated and uninterrupted consistent training. A constant inch toward improvement. My mental state was clear and focused, and perhaps this was the greatest asset I had. There is a time for single-mindedness in life, and I now believe that is the pre-child state. Now, I have a different perspective. I have different emotions. My heart has both literally and figuratively grown.
The training was hard, but beautiful. I felt the struggle again and I soaked in the reward: that quiet peace you have when you set out to expose your vulnerability, and emerge still ok. I wasn't speeding down the road, but I went as fast as I could, balancing my life, my health, my body. To me, my mental toughness was never in question. All I occasionally struggled with (besides chafing) was the fact that the outcomes I used to get would not match the effort I was still putting in. That was the ugly part.
The closer I got to the race, and then on the race day itself, I realized I just wanted to run. I just wanted to feel what running feels like. I wanted to see the same beautiful and familiar places, to hear familiar voices, to be connected to this part of me that means so much.
Of course, those old pressures did not evaporate, but I shelved them. They didn't deserve to overshadow that day. And when I finished, with what I think was a more than respectable time, it meant much more than the day I set a PB in the marathon. This outcome was much bigger, and eclipsed old patterns of thinking about makes you 'worthy' and 'good'.
I don't even have a name for what I would call the entirety of the feeling I had after. What I imagine is a crevasse, where you can look down and never see the bottom. That's what being me on that day felt like: much, much deeper, and a bit unknown.
And this to me, is an entirely new reward in sports, not like any I've had before. I know I'm not alone in this, as so many athletic parents I've talked to have just simply said, "racing changes."
It most certainly does.